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Born: Monday 8 October 1928, Campos dos Goytacazes, Brazil
Died: Saturday 12 May 2001, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Position: Inside Forward/Midfielder
Brazilian star Didi played a vital role in defining the modern midfield player as part of his country's 1958 World Cup winning team, being named as the best player in that tournament. An inside-right who gradually dropped deeper to bridge the gap between the half-backs and the forward line, he was one of the most technically gifted players the game has seen and during a long playing career became a club legend at both Fluminense and Botafogo.
Didi, whose real name was Waldyr Pereira, was born in the town of Campos dos Goytacazes in Rio state on 8 October 1928. Growing up in a poor family, he earned money working as a peanut seller and learned the game of football playing on dusty streets with his friends. His hopes of become a professional were nearly ended after a bad leg injury in one such game, with a subesquent infection almost causing him to have his leg amputated. After a long recovery process, he begin to play again and signed for hometown club Americano in 1945.
Moving to Madureira a year later, he spent three seasons building his reputation with an often struggling team and eventually attracted the attention of Fluminense. Joining the club ahead of the 1949 season, Didi was soon considered one of the most promising young players in Brazil. Composed and confident with the ball at his feet, his range of passing was unusual for his era and made him ideally suited for deeper midfield roles. While at Fluminense he also developed his most famous skill, a remarkable ability to make free-kicks seem to drop out of the air at the last minute, completely fooling the opposing goalkeeper.
In 1950 Didi was selected for a Rio State XI to play against a team from São Paulo in the first ever game at the Maracanã stadium, having the honour of scoring the first goal in the new arena in the Rio team's 3-1 win. The following year he won the first major honour of his career as Fluminense won the Rio state championship after a play-off against Bangu, earning himself a first international call-up to Brazil's Panamerican Championship winning squad.
Later in 1952, Didi helped Fluminense to win the Copa Rio, one of the first club tournaments to match South American sides against leading European teams. The remainder of his time with the club was however to prove frustrating. His relationship with the club soured after a failed attempt by Rio rivals Botafogo to sign him, while on the pitch Fluminense regularly had to settle for second place finishes in the state league.
In the spring of 1953 Didi was part of the national team for the South American Championship in Peru, where Brazil lost the title to Paraguay after a play-off. His first World Cup came in 1954 in Switzerland, where he scored a trademark free-kick in a 5-0 win over Mexico. He also scored a vital equaliser in the second group game against Yugoslavia which sealed Brazil's place in the quarter-finals. The tournament however ended in chaos for Brazil, with an on-pitch brawl at the end of their violent 4-2 defeat to Hungary.
Ahead of the 1957 season, Botafogo made another attempt to sign Didi, this time successfully. It proved to be a great year for him, beginning with a fantastic goalscoring run in the South American Championship in Peru. Didi scored his only international hat-trick in the 4-2 opening game win against Chile and added five more in the next four games to give Brazil a chance of the title, but a 3-0 defeat to Argentina in their final match ended their hopes. Didi's eight goals placed him joint second in the scoring charts for the tournament.
At club level, he contributed 12 goals as Botafogo battled with his former club Fluminense for the Rio state title. The two clubs met in the final game of the season with Botafogo needing to win to be champions. They did so 6-2, giving Didi the second state title of his career. He was by now one of the undoubted leaders of the national team, taking control of games by dropping back to intercept passes in midfield and launching counter attacks.
At the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, Brazil were among the favourites. They cruised through their first round group without conceding a goal and beat Wales 1-0 in a tight quarter-final. In the semi-final against France Just Fontaine cancelled out Brazil's early lead, but Didi got his team back on track with a stunning 30-yard strike, before Pelé's hat-trick sealed a 5-2 win. When Brazil fell behind early against Sweden in the final, Didi didn't panic and calmly assured his team-mates that they turn the game around. Brazil recovered to record another 5-2 win and take their first world title, with Didi named player of the tournament.
Didi impressed many of Europe's leading clubs in both that tournament and the following year's South American Championship, where he scored in Brazil's first three matches as they fell just short of the title after failing to beat Argentina in their final game. He signed for Real Madrid in the summer of 1959 but surprisingly failed to settle, not getting on with team-mate Alfredo Di Stéfano. After just 19 appearances he returned to Botafogo, where he would help the team to win back-to-back Rio state titles in 1961 and 1962.
Didi was very much a senior member of the Brazilian squad by the time of the 1962 World Cup in Chile but still played a crucial role in their defence of the title. He had lost some of his pace but none of his ability and helped Brazil through to another final, his biggest disappointment being that Di Stéfano missed the tournament through injury. Feeling that he had a point to prove after his time in Madrid, Didi had hoped to face his former team-mate in the group game against Spain.
Having eased through the group, wins over England, Chile and Czechoslovakia made Brazil only the second team to retain the World Cup, providing a triumphant end to Didi's international career. At the end of 1962 he left Botafogo to briefly become a player-coach at Peruvian side Sporting Cristal. After a return to Botafogo and short spells with Mexican side CD Veracruz and also with São Paulo, Didi finally retired from playing in 1966 and returned to Sporting Cristal for a second spell as coach.
In 1969 Didi was named manager of Peru's national team, leading them to the World Cup in Mexico. He led his team through their group with wins over Bulgaria and Morocco, before losing 4-2 to his home country in the quarter-finals. Leaving Peru after the World Cup, Didi went on to coach in various countries including brief spells with former clubs Fluminense and Botafogo, as well as River Plate in Argentina.
Perhaps the peak of his coaching career came in a three year spell with Turkish side Fenerbahçe which brought league titles in 1974 and 1975. He also won the Mineiro state title in Brazil with Cruzeiro in 1977. Didi's final managerial position was back in Peru with Alianza Lima, after which he retired and enjoyed a quiet family life. In his early 70s his health began to fail and in 2001 Didi was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He died on 12 May of that year, aged 72.
References (all accessed 8 October 2012):
- Published on Monday, 08 October 2012 14:22