Dante could have walked along the Copacabana without attracting a glance, merely another face in the crowd.Like so many of his compatriots, he has playedalmost his entire career abroad.
The Salvador native headed to Europe after barely more than a single season in Brazil. His dream of returning home for the Selecao’s first World Cup on home soil in more than half a century was for so long little more than a pipedream.
But 2012 changed all that. His fabulous form in Germany for Gladbach attracted the attention of Bayern Munich, and a move to the Allianz Arena turned heads back home – including that of Luiz Felipe Scolari.
Dante went on to become a leading member of the Scolari Family which went into the World Cup with such high hopes. He never forced his way into the starting line-up but, his trusty banjo never far away, he became a key figure in the group, leading the pagoda sessions that served as an illustration of the unbreakable bond in the squad.
The era came to an end with the historic 7-1 defeat to Germany, however. And Dante, who came in for the suspended Thiago Silva that night, has not appeared for his country since.
But anyone who’s spent more than a few seconds with Dante will know he’s never one to dwell on the negatives, and he told Brasil Global Tour that he still recalls his time with the Selecao with great fondness.
"The victory over Spain in the Confederations Cup final was a great moment,” he told Brasil Global Tour.
We had some great games in that competition. We often talk about the fact that had the World Cup came to Brazil in 2013 we likely would have made the final.
“I will never forget living that dream, of winning a title for Brazil, of seeing the fans so excited in the Maracana. It was a wonderful moment.”
Like so many of that group, however, Dante has moved on. Last year he called time on eight years in Germany, which had brought three Bundesliga titles and UEFA Champions League success with Bayern - joining Nice and returning to France’s Ligue 1 where he’d enjoyed two years with Lille between 2004 to 2006.
"I wanted a change of scenery. I had already accomplished so many of my goals. I wanted some new motivation, to reinvent myself and put the pressure back on.”
And it’s gone better than he’d expected. Nice are the surprise contenders in the Ligue 1 title race this season. Third in the table, they sit four points off leaders Monaco and just one behind big-spending PSG.
“At the start of the season we did not think we would be in this situation right now, fighting for a title. Now we’re in the final stretch, and we have nothing to lose so we have to focus on every game, stay positive and hope that the other two stumble. We could do something historic. It will be very difficult, but it’s possible.”
Key to their chances will be the mercurial Mario Balotelli, who has once again grabbed headline both on and off the pitch.
“Mario Balotelli is a great player,” believes Dante.
“Off the field he is calm, too, but he is a guy who needs to enjoy his own moments. He is a very fun guy, and a nice person. I am learning a lot about him because people have spoken about a lack of application and professionalism, he is a really interesting team-mate.
"He has become a great friend, he’s a great guy and I hope he continues to make a difference for us until the end of the season.”
Last month one of Nice’s title rivals, PSG, suffered an emphatic defeat to Barcelona, squandering a 4-0 first-leg lead in the Champions League as they were hammered 6-1 at Camp Nou. Dante was a keen observer, and admits it brought back some memories.
“It was a huge defeat for PSG. And we were all very sad, actually, even more so because I had Brazilian friends playing for them.”
While PSG hope to pick up the pieces, though, Brazil have moved on from their night of terror. New coach Tite has led the Selecao to eight consecutive victories in World Cup qualifying to become the first teamto seal a place at Russia 2018 alongside the hosts. And Dante has been very impressed.
“I'm really very happy. Even though I'm not being called up anymore, it’s been amazing for the Selecao and I a lot of my friends, and that’s the most important thing.
“Brazil have a great chance to be world champions in 2018.”
33-year-old Dante is still a dreamer, but concedes his time may have passed. “People sometimes ask if, if because of my good form in France, I still think of returning to the national team.
“I always just say, ‘just because I’m in good form it doesn’t mean I should return. Others are in good form too’. Today, Brazil have a very young group, a squad facing the future, so I think, seeing the quality of the Selecao, the age of the players, there are still many who are in front of me.
“They’ve won eight games in a row. Why should they change anything? But of course, I will always be ready, praying for the best and that we become champions again.”
If they do need a change, however, Dante will always be ready. And this time he will be a welcome and familiar face.