Saturday 05 February 2022, 06:00

Dudu: I believe Palmeiras can become world champions

  • Dudu represented Al Duhail at last year’s FIFA Club World Cup

  • The skilful playmaker is out to enhance his Palmeiras legacy at UAE 2021

  • He discusses their trophy hopes, Chelsea and 15-year-old sensation Endrick

“He’s the only player I’ve seen who can dribble past two opponents within a square foot.” The quotee was Johan Cruyff. His subject was Romario. Close to three decades on and another European said the same about another pocket-sized Brazilian. “He somehow gets past opponents in space that doesn’t exist,” said Abel Ferreira of Dudu. Seemingly non-existent space is something the 30-year-old playmaker is seeking elsewhere: somewhere, on his ink-brimming body, to tattoo the FIFA Club World Cup™ trophy. Dudu represented Al Duhail in last year’s tournament, brokenheartedly watching on as his beloved Palmeiras failed to climb on to the podium. Now back in green, the club legend – despite playing in midfield he has hit 76 goals in 336 games to rocket into the top 30 of the 107-year-old club’s all-time leading marksmen – is determined to inspire the Paulista superpower to glory, as he tells FIFA.

FIFA: Dudu, you went to the last Club World Cup with Al Duhail. What was that experience like? Dudu: It was a great experience. Everyone knows how prestigious the Club World Cup is. I think Al Duhail gave a good account of ourselves. But last year was very different from now. When you’re playing for a club like Al Duhail, you’re there to participate, to gain experience. When you’re representing Palmeiras, you’re there to win the trophy. The demands are very different.

How difficult was it to watch Palmeiras lose in the semi-finals and on penalties in the bronze-medal match? It was very difficult for me. I was part of the club, I was a supporter, my kids are supporters, and it was really sad for us all. Palmeiras had a lot of things hindering them last year, they had been on a crazy sequence of games. But fortunately we’re back at this competition and we have an opportunity to make up for it. We really want to become two-time world champions for our fans. Can you tell us about the Palmeiras fans? Everyone from Sao Paulo, from Brazil, from South America knows how passionate the Palmeiras fans are. They’re fanatical. This club has a great history. We know what this club means to them. We know how desperately the fans want to be two-time world champions, and we want to achieve this for them so, so much.

Even given Palmeiras’s Qatar 2020 campaign, and the fact that no team from outside Europe has conquered the trophy since 2012, expectations haven’t lessened? Not at all. A club as big as Palmeiras, the target is to win every tournament we enter. And that’s what we believe we will do at the Club World Cup. We know that we will have a very tough semi-final. Ahly and Monterrey are both very good teams who we respect a lot. But we’re very well prepared, we have a lot of confidence. What do you think of Chelsea? Chelsea are one of the best teams in the world. They have an outstanding coach who’s just been named the best in the world by FIFA. I think having Tuchel is huge for Chelsea. They also have excellent players and work really, really well collectively. We also have an outstanding coach who will prepare us well for Chelsea, but first we have to get there. Right now us players are fully focussed on Ahly or Monterrey. If Palmeiras win the Club World Cup, is there any room on your body for another tattoo? (laughs) Not much but you can always find a little space here or there. I still haven’t got one of the Libertadores title, so If we win the world championship, I will get a tattoo them both.

What do you think of Weverton? Firstly, he’s an absolutely sensational guy, an incredible person off the pitch. As a goalkeeper, he’s without doubt one of the best in the world. He’s been in great form. He’s established in the national-team squad and, for me, he has everything to be Brazil’s first-choice goalkeeper at the World Cup in Qatar. And look, I know exactly how good Ederson and Alisson are, I respect them a lot. I really hope Weverton helps Palmeiras become world champions and I would be very happy for him if he plays at the World Cup. He deserves it. Speaking of the Seleção, you scored and starred on your last appearance for Brazil in 2017 but haven’t played since. Have you given up hope of going to the World Cup? The World Cup is the dream of every player and I’m no different. You can never give up hope but I’ve always been very clear: my focus is on Palmeiras. Brazil has so many great attacking players and we know Tite has an established group of players who he trusts. But we’ve seen players break into the squad recently and if I keep playing well, maybe I’ll get a chance. If I have a good Club World Cup, help Palmeiras triumph, who knows, I might get a chance with the Seleção. But my life is Palmeiras. The Seleção would be a consequence of me playing well for the club I love.

Finally, what do you think of 15-year-old sensation Endrick? He’s a kid. He’s a kid who has everything to become of the best players in the world. He impressed everybody at the Copa Sao Paulo and he’s really impressed us players since he started training with us. He has to be careful not to let all this go to his head, to remain humble. Fortunately he’s a humble kid and importantly, his father is a really nice, humble guy who won’t let all the hype get to him. I hope he can become a great striker for Palmeiras and the Seleção and I think he’ll end up playing for huge clubs in Europe.