Arsene Wenger once said that he didn’t want to ‘kill’ Denilson by buying a proper midfielder, but the king of the sideways pass never made it at Arsenal, so where is he now?
Denilson Pereira Neves is a player who represented Arsenal during the Banter Era who will be remembered for being outpaced by the referee, jogging back as Arsenal were hit with a counter by Manchester United who scored to make it 3-0.
Signed in 2006 from Sao Paulo for £4.5m, big things were expected of him and he was given 153 games to prove himself as the player Arsene Wenger described as “a little bit in between Tomáš Rosický and Gilberto.”
Sadly, he couldn’t manage it and in 2011 Denilson was sent back to Sao Paulo on a two-year loan before signing for them for free in 2013.
His time there, however, lasted only two years before he was sold for £2.79m, the only other transfer fee ever paid for him. Off to Dubai he went to play for Al-Wahda FC, but just 23 appearances over three years saw him released in 2018 after a loan spell with Cruzeiro, who declined to take up the option of signing him permanently.
Denilson was 28 at this point and without a club for four months until he signed with Botafogo but he was there just six months before he was, again, without a club.
It was another 15 months before he found another team, signing for Sliema Wanderers in the Maltese league, an island with a population of just over half-a-million.
Denilson’s contract there, however, only runs to the summer and he is expected, once again, to be without a club.
The Brazilian midfielder is now 33 and has never matched the number of appearances given to him at Arsenal with any of his other clubs. 10 goals and 14 assists in London also dwarfs his contribution across the rest of his career which totals just two goals and eight assists with four other clubs.
Injuries, it must be said, hit him hard. Denilson had knee surgery in 2017, leading to Al Wahda eventually terminating his contract. He joined Botafogo in 2019, but only made one appearance as a substitute before further injury problems.
Speaking to The Athletic in 2020, Denilson explained the personal issues he suffered during his time at Arsenal. It’s clear that, regardless of what was happening on the pitch and at the training ground, he just never settled in North London.
He hasn’t really seemed to settle anywhere.
At Arsenal, there were people who did their very best to help him adapt. One of those was fellow Brazilian Gilberto Silva, and the other – unsurprisingly – was Arsene Wenger.
“My grandchildren are going to know exactly who Arsene Wenger was,” Denilson said. “I say that because he really helped me on a personal level.
“We worked a lot on tactics and my technique, which really improved, especially my passing. But he also made a difference away from the pitch. He knew I was alone in London. I went to England with my agent at the time, but I was on my own a lot.
“Wenger would call me into his office for a chat every now and then, to ask me how I was doing. He really cared about me as a person, which made a real impression on me.
“For me, he’s not just an excellent coach. He’s the best I ever worked with, not because he is a big name or because he spent so many years at Arsenal, but because of the way he treated me.”
Quite where he goes from here is anyone’s guess. Denilson made it clear he wasn’t ready to retire and said in 2020 he felt like he had another ‘five years’ in him.
The last year, however, has changed a lot of things for many people.