Denilson is a defensive central midfielder for Brazil and Arsenal in the English Premier League. Denilson isn’t afraid of getting tackles in, with a never-say-die attitude that was first used by Sao Paolo in their 2005 Copa Libertadores victory. He has played in defence in the past, when his physique wasn’t suitable for battles with older central midfielders, but is fast becoming a force in the middle of the pitch. He has captained Brazil at every youth level, and was called up to the full squad in August 2008.
Denilson was born on 16th February 1988 in Sao Paolo, Brazil. He has a typical Brazilian rags-to-riches story – he grew up in one of the most dangerous areas of Sao Paolo, living in a favela that had regular gun-fights and drug problems. He managed to escape the many problems in the estate by concentrating on his football, encouraged by his semi-professional father. He struggled when he lost his mother aged 10, but vowed to make the most of his abilities, and make his parents proud.
Denilson was a member of the world-conquering Sao Paolo squad that won the FIFA World Club Cup in 2005, and also took home a winners medal from the Copa Libertadores victory. He was never more than a substitute midfielder for the Brazilians, though his talent was being recognised in the Brazil youth teams.
Arsene Wenger first heard about Denilson from his South American scout who had seen an accomplished performance from Denilson for the Brazil U17s. Arsenal paid Sao Paolo £3.5m for Denilson, as Wenger looked to bring in a future replacement for Patrick Vieira.
He made his debut in October 2007 against West Bromwich Albion, and remained part of the ‘Carling Cup Kids’ team the following season, gaining invaluable match experience.
In July 2008 Gilberto Silva, who had treated Denilson like a son, left the club, and the central midfield spot was up for grabs. Denilson made the strongest claim for the spot, and became the first-team regular partner to Cesc Fabregas.
Denilson first came to prominence on the world stage with his performances for Brazils U17 squad, and he has gone on to captain Brazil at every youth-team level. He received his first call up to the Brazilian national side in August 2008, when Dunga brought him in as a late replacement for Gilberto.