There is a deliberately thin line between impudence and arrogance. A little bit too much of the latter can turn a magician into a sideshow, a theme that’s central to the fascinating but fleeting top-level existence of Djalminha.
The eternally matter-of-fact Wikipedia describes him as being “blessed with above-average skills but also having a troublesome character.” That would threaten to neatly undermine the next 1,000 words or so, until you check the Portuguese version of Djalminha’s page, which talks of “disconcerting dribbles and milimetric passes”, and suggests there are more layers to peel away.
“Little Djalma”, the son of a Brazilian international defender, spent his formative football years with Flamengo, for whom he played a bit-part role in their 1992 championship win. Halfway through his fifth season as a professional, though – and despite glimpses of talent out on the left side of a potent attacking trio – his petulant side was clearly approaching full bloom.
An on-pitch spat with striker Renato Gaucho made its way down the tunnel and up to the Flamengo boardroom, where it was decided that Djalminha was more trouble than he was worth. He was offloaded to Guarani, where he formed another dangerous attacking trident alongside future Brazilian internationals Luizao and Marcio Amoroso, either side of a curious six-month loan spell in Japan with Shimizu S-Pulse.
Once he had outgrown that pond, though, Palmeiras were waiting to catapult him on to a bigger stage. 1996 was undoubtedly Djalminha’s year. Alongside him in a freescoring forward line – Palmeiras fired in 102 goals on the way to the Rio state title – was a leggy youngster with his own lofty ambitions. 18 months Djalminha’s junior, Rivaldo had been voted the best player in his position in 1993 and 1994, only to be overshadowed by the maestro of their title-winning team two years later.
Rivaldo e Djalminha pic.twitter.com/dt1PMgTITx
— palmeiras.jpeg (@palmeirasjpeg) December 29, 2015
Djalminha claimed the 1996 Bola de Ouro as the best player in the Brazilian championship, so often a de facto visa to European football: the previous year’s award had gone to a Barcelona-bound Geovanni, while the next went to Edmundo before his tumultuous spell with Fiorentina.
For the moment, at least, Djalminha’s career was on track, one parallel to that of Rivaldo. A year after the latter had secured a move to Deportivo La Coruna – despite originally agreeing a deal with Parma – Djalminha would follow for a fee of £8m.
At the age of 26, Djalminha’s introduction to European football was a relatively late one compared to his similarly blessed attacking contemporaries. The reunion with Rivaldo was a shortlived one – 21 goals in his debut La Liga season was enough for Barcelona to stump up the £20m release clause. Djalminha, at least, had the chance to be the unequivocal main man for the first time.
His timing wasn’t bad – Deportivo were on their own upward curve. They finished 12th in Djalminha’s first season, sixth the next and then – in a remarkable 1999/2000 campaign – took the Spanish title from Barcelona, despite losing 11 games in the process.
One of the defining moments of that title triumph was a 5-2 win over European champions-to-be Real Madrid at the Riazor, in which Djalminha resisted for barely six minutes before pulling out a gloriously unnecessary lambretta…
…before following it up with a rather more useful free-kick, that whipped irresistibly into the far corner.
Naturally, Djalminha still found time for a running battle or two. Local Galician rivals Celta Vigo had their own maverick in the shape of Andrea Pirlo stunt double Aleksandr Mostovoi, with whom Djalminha shared some excellently childish off-the-ball nonsense, but the Brazilian exacted the best revenge of all.
Djalminha’s penchant for leaving goalkeepers with their pants down was already well established. He had been a prolific exponent of the Cavadinha (roughly translated: “little amount of digging”), Brazil’s answer to the Panenka, and he was soon taking it on a European comeback tour from the San Siro…
At international level, Djalminha’s peak was cruelly brief, but again he had stolen a march on Rivaldo.
The 1997 Copa America proved to be his only major tournament in a Brazil shirt, where he scored in the routs of Costa Rica and Peru, only to face competition in a stellar starting lineup from upstart Denilson. The World Cups of 1994, 1998 and 2002 – for various reasons – came and went for the overlooked Djalminha.
While Rivaldo’s turn-of-the-millennium career trajectory took him to superstardom and, eventually, allowed him to parachute gloriously into retirement, Djalminha was already winding down by then. Talk of a move to Chelsea in part-exchange for Tore Andre Flo – surely one of the most incongruous swap deals ever to have been mooted – came to nought in 2000, before the red mist first seen at Flamengo descended once again.
That training-ground headbutt on Deportivo manager Javier Irureta spelled the beginning of the end for Djalminha not only in La Liga but with the national team. Luiz Felipe Scolari was persuaded by his wife Olga to discard Djalminha’s temperament in favour of a 20-year-old Kaka for the 2002 World Cup, and Deportivo followed suit.
Djalminha spent the 2002/03 season squeezing home the odd trademark penalty on loan at Austria Vienna, of all places, when perhaps he could have become the most Sam-Allardyce-at-Bolton signing imaginable. He would almost certainly have been merely a footnote in the English top flight, but it’s a Premier League Years cameo that really ought to have been.
Ultimately, with Vienna unwilling to part with the wages to keep him and Deportivo equally unprepared to welcome him back into the fold, Djalminha bowed out (via Mexico, obviously) to pitch his tent in the showboater’s paradise of showbol – an odd compromise between futsal and regular five-a-side.
Claiming the golden boot at the 2006 Showbol “World Cup” – ahead of a near spherical, 46-year-old Diego Maradona and an huffing, puffing Ruud Gullit – perhaps wasn’t the crowning moment Djalminha’s career deserved.