Dante’s Peak

by Adam Battams

Reaching the European Champions League final is regarded as one of club football’s highest achievements for rising stars all over the globe. May 25th saw the very first all-German final, and for Bayern Munich’s players it is a chance for redemption, a chance to capture the trophy that has eluded them in three of their last four finals in the competition, most recently against José Mourinho’s Internazionale side in 2010. The progression in the squad has been duly noted since their 7-0 aggregate demolition of Spanish giants Barcelona in the semi-final, and they only seem to be getting stronger after the announcement of their first summer signing – Borussia Dortmund’s midfield magician Mario Götze.  But with all the Bayern attacking players gaining the credit, a centre back by the name of Dante Bonfim Costa Santos has gone more unnoticed during their march to Wembley.

The 29-year-old Brazilian has had a rather low-key football career so far; a relative unknown in Brazil when he came through the youth system at Juventude, French club Lille first brought ‘Dante’ to Europe in 2004 though he only managed 12 appearances in two seasons with Les Dogues before moving to Belgium for stints with Charleroi and, more successfully, Standard Liège. Dante impressed during his debut season in Liège, missing just one game in a title winning season, and it was midway through his second season with the Belgian club when German club Borussia Mönchengladbach came calling. The Brazilian defender made his Bundesliga debut in March 2009, and during his three years at the club he helped keep ‘Gladbach in the top flight after successive relegation battles, coming up with the odd goal to help along the way. The 2011/12 Bundesliga season saw Dante’s prestige rise more as he played the full 90 minutes in 38 games, catching the attentions of major European clubs, notably Bayern Munich.

In hindsight, €4.7 million looks even more a bargain with every game Dante plays. That was the fee Bayern captured the Brazilian for in April 2012. The 2012/13 season kicked off with Dante in the heart of the Bavarian’s defence as they defeated newly promoted Greuther Furth 3-0. More impressive performances followed as Bayern’s season gathered pace. Dante bagged his first goal for the club against Hannover in November as he cemented his starting place. Solid, consistent displays alongside interchanging partnerships of Daniel Van Buyten and Jérôme Boateng only strengthened his ever growing recognition as one of the top defenders in world football, as Bayern’s season went from strength to strength in all competitions. In January this year, Dante’s impressive performances prompted the returning Brazilian national team coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, to call him up to his first national squad for the friendly against England. The defender made his debut, starting in central defence in the 2-1 loss at Wembley, though impressed Scolari enough to earn a call up to the 2013 Confederations Cup squad. Back in his domestic season with Bayern Munich, Dante was helping the Bavarians recapture the Bundesliga title from rivals Borussia Dortmund as well ease to the German Cup final. Bayern’s season was hitting its peak as they faced Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final, but again with Dante leading the defence, Munich kept clean sheets in both legs whilst putting seven past the Catalan giants in what was a very telling European tie. Bayern were in the Champions League final once again and Dante was at the top of his game.

Jupp Heynckes’ side confirmed the inevitable on April 6th as they defeated Eintracht Frankfurt 1-0 to win the Bundesliga title with six games remaining, a record in Germany. Dante had undoubtedly the most successful season of his career in terms of performance, with Bayern conceding just 18 goals in the league. He was seen celebrating with the Bayern fans in the stand following the result, though more was to come for the newly crowned German champions. May 25th saw the all German Champions League final at Wembley as Dante’s Bayern Munich faced rivals Borussia Dortmund. A closely fought match ended with Bayern as champions of Europe for the first time in 12 years, and Dante played a key role once again as the culmination of his glorious season peaked on the Wembley turf. Bayern still have the German Cup final to play as they look to create more history in German football with the first treble won by a Bundesliga club. But what is certain is that Dante could well be a key figure in the next few years at the Allianz Arena, as Pep Guardiola’s revolution gains momentum. There will no doubt be interest from other top European clubs over the summer but with his ever growing reputation, and coolness, Bayern will need the afro-haired defender to help keep their feet on the ground next season. Internationally, at 29 years old, Dante’s Brazil career won’t be a long one, but with the World Cup coming up in Rio de Janeiro in 2014, it could be a fairytale end to Dante’s fascinating journey.

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