Former Chapecoense defender finding comfort in Malaysian football

Vijhay Vick

It is a sad reality in the history of football that crashes involving air travel have had a deep and profound impact upon the sport.

The crash involving the Torino Football Club in 1949, Manchester United’s ‘Busby Babes’ disaster in Munch in 1958 and the 1993 accident off the coast of Gabon that killed most of the Zambian national team. Three tragic examples.

But Brazilian centre-back Demerson (seen above left) never thought he would be able to relate personally to such disasters.

That was until those 71 people – which included 19 Chapecoense players, plus club officials and some football journalists – were killed when LaMia Airlines Flight 2933 ran out of fuel and crashed into the mountains outside the Colombian city of Medellin.

“It was very bad… I lost many good friends and we were like a family,” Demerson told FourFourTwo. “Everyone there were good people. The staff were all great too.

“I was very close to Bruno Rangel, our striker… He was a good goal-getter and had scored over 80 goals in three years.

“I was among the nine that stayed back because matches are back-to-back in Brazil and there was another game after the Copa Sudamericana final. The coach asked us to stay back and prepare for that game.”

That Copa Sudamericana final – which is the South American equivalent of the Europa League – was scheduled to be held over two matches between Chapecoense and Colombian side Atletico Nacional.

Reaching the final had been the biggest achievement in the Brazilian club’s history, but the matches were never held and Chapecoense were ultimately declared the official champions by the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) and by Atletico Nacional.

As a result of the tragedy, Demerson felt he and his young family had to leave Brazil so he could regain his focus and continue his career.

“The crash made me want to leave Brazil and play elsewhere,” the 31-year-old said.

“My life was not the same after the tragedy because I kept remembering everything. I was traumatised.

“I wasn’t there for many years, but I still think of them sometimes these days.

“Being away is helping me move on. I feel much better and can focus on my football once again. I pray that their souls rest in peace.”

Settling down in Kuching

For the second time in his professional career, Demerson left for Asia and had several trials before signing for Malaysia Super League (MSL) side Sarawak for the 2017 season.

His previous stint in the continent was at then-Chinese second division outfit Jiangxi Liansheng in 2015. He moved back to Brazil 15 months later after the club was relegated to the third tier.

The defender has found it easier to settle in Malaysia, as he had experienced some language issues during his time in China.

“Going to China was difficult, but Malaysia has been better because everyone speaks English,” he said.

“My wife and two children are feeling good and are happy in Kuching. Things are laidback there, which is good for me to unwind and get over things back home in Brazil.

“I still have another daughter in Brazil though.”

Sarawak just need confidence to get season going

Demerson has earned the praise of Crocs coach David Usop for comfortably slotting in alongside Ronny Harun in the heart of the Sarawak defence.

They have yet to get their season going and are in the relegation zone after nine rounds, but Demerson feels Sarawak just need some confidence for the situation to improve.

He pointed to the team’s performances against Selangor, Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) and Felda United, matches the Crocs lost but showed some encouraging signs.

“We have good players … some young talent too. I think what is lacking is confidence. Once we have more of that, we’ll win more matches and climb up the table,” he said.

“We played well in some matched but ended up losing. In football, if you don’t have confidence then you are in danger.

“Now we are in a dangerous position and must pick things up. We need a change of fortunes and to build on that.”

Sarawak are sitting 11th in the 12-team competition, although they are only three points behind seventh-placed T-Team in a congested bottom half of the ladder.

Their next match is at home to fifth-placed Perak on Saturday, followed by the second leg of their Malaysia FA Cup quarter-final against Terengganu.

Photos: unless stated

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