Few footballers can boast a list of achievements as broad as Anderson Luís de Souza's – that's Deco, to you and us. In an 18-year career, the former Chelsea midfielder won league and cup honours in four countries, as well as being one of a select group of players to have won club football’s biggest prize – the Champions League – with two different clubs (Porto and Barcelona). After opting to play for his adopted Portugal ahead of his native Brazil, Deco made 75 international appearances, scoring 15 times.
After retiring in 2013 he’s moved into player management, splitting his time between Barcelona and Sao Paolo. He’s also the face of Tiger Street Football in Asia, an annual tournament that took him to Cambodia and Mongolia, and concluded in Singapore where FFT caught up with him to answer your questions.
As we await Deco’s arrival in the luxurious Fullerton Hotel, an old-school, red English post box stands in the centre of the Post Bar – a nod to the building’s former life as Singapore’s main post office, and symbolic given the nature of today’s One-on-One where Deco will be answering FFT readers' mail (even that which arrives digitally these days).
Deco arrives on his own with no entourage in tow, in keeping with his understated character. He greets everyone while apologising for being a little late – he’s been struggling with jet lag.
Unlike many modern day players – most of whom haven’t achieved a fraction of what Deco has – he’s clearly not comfortable with being the focus of our photographer. However, as we sit down over a coffee, he relaxes and opens up on the range of questions that have arrived from FFT's readers around the world...
Who’s the best player you've ever played with?
Ruben Cardoso via Facebook
It’s difficult to say one... maybe Leo [Messi]? But Ronny [Ronaldinho]... sometimes he did things that I never saw anyone else do. When we’d be winning the game, we’d start to enjoy ourselves and he’d bring it all out.
You've played with both, but who is the better player in your opinion: Ronaldo or Messi?
Dion Byrne, Ireland
It’s difficult to make a choice, not because I’m friends with both but because they're different. When you compare players like Cristiano Ronaldo and the Brazilian Ronaldo, or Messi and Maradona, it’s a bit easier because they are similar players, but it’s difficult with these two because they are so different. The goals that Cristiano scores, Messi doesn’t score, and goals that Messi scores, Cristiano doesn’t. Messi has the talent he was born with. Cristiano also has talent but it’s unbelievable how hard he has worked, how professional he is. You [fans] can choose because you like one more than the other, but you can’t say one is the best.
If you could have played alongside one player, who would it have been and why?
Nathan Salt via Facebook
[Pauses and thinks] Ah, Zidane. He was my generation, a fantastic player.
Who would you say was your toughest-ever opponent?
Ed Mackey via Twitter
[Thinks for a while] Maybe Diego Simeone – he was a real tough competitor. Paul Scholes too was one of the best players I’ve ever seen. For me, he was one of the best midfielders in the world and in history. It’s never easy in a big team, and he didn’t score a lot of goals, but he organised the team fantastically. When a side has good midfielders with quality, it’s easier for the attackers.
You were one of my favourite players and I was so disappointed when you retired. What have you been doing since retiring, and how are you coping with not being a footballer anymore?
Bill Waldron via Twitter
It’s a difficult decision, but at one time you need to decide [to retire] or someone would decide for you! I was playing in Brazil as I had to move back for personal reasons, but during the last season I had a lot of injuries and decided to retire. Now I manage players and I’m an ambassador for Tiger Street Football travelling to different countries in Asia, ending here in Singapore. I came to Asia before as a player but you never have time between training and playing. This is different, as I now have time to meet with the people and experience more of the cities.
You've played in Portugal, Spain, Brazil and England. Why, in your opinion, are English players so far behind in terms of technical ability?
Tim Lloyd-Williams via email
I don’t think that, because I played with some great technical players such as Joe Cole and against players like Steven Gerrard, but the game is so competitive and there’s not so much importance on controlling the ball and possession like in Spain. The [English] game is more direct and the players are stronger, so it’s different football. But I don’t think that’s because of a lack of technical ability.
In your view, are great players born or made?
Mark Williams via Twitter
The talent... born. But of course just talent is not enough. You need to work, you need to learn.
Who is the best manager you have ever played under?
Owen Coe via Facebook
I think the best coach is Jose Mourinho. But I had a lot of important coaches in my career. Fernando Santos was very important for me when I came to Porto at 19-years-old. He taught me a lot of things that were important in the future. Carlo Ancelotti was a fantastic coach too, but I only worked one year with him. Scolari too, of course. But at that time Mourinho brought something different; he brought the ambition, because at that time in Portugal it was difficult for a club to think it could win the Champions League. Of course, Porto had won it in the past but it was a different time. After Bosman it was easier for players to move around, and clubs like Barcelona, Chelsea, Madrid, Manchester United had money to buy the best players. If you play well for one or two years at Porto it’s very difficult for them to keep the players, and therefore very difficult to win the Champions League. But Mourinho brought this confidence to us; we had a fantastic team and he gave us that final push to believe it was possible.
Which league would you consider better – La Liga or the Premier League?
Cormac Kennedy via Facebook
Right now, Spain is better. In the last four or five years a lot of clubs didn’t have money but it’s now getting better again. In Spain all the teams try to play – even against Barcelona and Madrid they play well. The competition in the Premier League is different. The game is different, really competitive. When I watch the TV now as a fan, I’d prefer to watch the Premier League.
Which player you’ve ever played with had the best banter?
Joe Ellis via Facebook
What’s banter?! [FFT: Biggest joker, wind-up merchant, y'know...] Ohhh. At Chelsea, Jose Bosingwa – if a player had got hammered in the newspaper they’d arrive at training to find it pinned up in the dressing room for everyone to see. In Portugal, it was always Maniche. He’s funny, and was always talking and making fun of the way people run.
Who were your biggest idols as a youngster? They don’t have to be footballers...
Owen Mizon via Facebook
For now the kids look at Messi and Cristiano. In my time it was Maradona, Zico. They were the players I looked to growing up. I also had one coach when I was growing up called Diogo, who taught me and the other kids a lot of things – the passion to play, how to pass and control the ball. Outside football? No heroes, but maybe Michael Jordan [pauses and then interrupts FFT’s next question]. Sorry, Ayrton Senna too!
Where does the nickname Deco come from, and when did you first get called it?
Callum Talbot via email
[Laughs] Since I was one! My uncle passed his nickname onto me.
Of all the goals you scored in your career which is your favourite and why?
Mark Collins via Facebook
Maybe a goal I scored for Porto against Benfica... a free-kick. We were losing 1-0, I scored to make it 1-1 and then took this free-kick. Top corner!
How scary was it arriving in Portugal as a teenager when Benfica signed you? And how disappointed were you to be loaned out so quickly?
Steve Weber, via Facebook
It was difficult because at that time we didn’t have the information like we do today. I didn’t know how it’d be like there. I knew something about Porto but I didn’t really know Portugal. I knew a little because my grandfather was born there, but it wasn’t information that was up to date. I was 19, I came to Portugal and they told me that I was going to Benfica. Then suddenly, I was in Alverca – a small club. It was difficult in the beginning like I said, but I had a lot of friends from that time who helped out.
Tell us a bit more about the move from Corinthians to Benfica. Were you eager to play in Europe or sad to leave Brazil?
Wei Zhi Ko, via email
I was at Corinthians and starting my career in Brazil, and I couldn’t decide my future at that time. The manager told me that I needed to go to Portugal and I just couldn’t make up my mind. I think I was leaning towards staying in Brazil, but after it’s all said and done, the move turned out to be the best choice for my career.
What was it like to play for Jose Mourinho at Porto, and are you still in touch?
Philip Glover via Facebook
Yes, still, we are friends and we still speak. He brought something different; new ideas and the confidence to win something with a Portuguese club. Mourinho had studied the game for a long time before, watching other teams, and the good thing was that everything we did in training happened in the game, which gave players confidence in the coach. When you have been prepared for each situation that could happen, it means you are more prepared than the other team.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic wrote in his book about how Mourinho once threw the tactics board across the changing room at Inter. Was he prone to such moments of madness at Porto?
Ryan Joseph, via email
Mourinho, he’s a winner. It’s difficult for him to accept results that don’t go his way. I can’t remember something like that but sometimes when we lost a game - which if you can remember wasn’t all that often in our time! - he would find it difficult to accept.
Your Porto team was heavily criticised by Martin O’Neill after the 2003 UEFA Cup Final for play-acting and time-wasting. Did Mourinho instruct you to play like that, or was O’Neill just being a bad loser? And what did you make of the Celtic fans that night in Seville?
Marc Macdonald, Hartford
I don’t remember! [laughs] But the Celtic fans, for me they are one of the best fans in the world. Unbelievable. There were 2,000 fans outside the stadium. It was one of the best finals that I have ever played in.
What was the best moment of your whole career?
Lewis Wilks via Twitter
It’s difficult to choose one because I had a lot of great moments in my career, but winning the big titles stand out because of what it meant for the fans. At Porto, a lot of them had never seen them winning the Champions League and for them to see it was amazing. At Barcelona the same. When I arrived there I remember the fans were desperate to win the title as it had been six years since they’d won the league, and 1992 was their last Champions League. It’s important for the fans... it’s history. At Chelsea it had been four years. At Fluminense I won two Brazilian championships when the last time was 25 years ago, so all the young fans of Fluminense had never seen their club win.
What do you think could've happened if the 2004 Porto team stuck together for another season?
Paulo Pincaro via Facebook
Our team was young, and Mourinho too. If that was at Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United or Chelsea who don’t need to sell players and could even bring one of two more in, then that team could have gone on to win more titles in Portugal and Europe. We were very strong. But of course, Porto needed to sell players.
In June 2004, you told a Portuguese radio station that you were almost certainly going to follow Jose Mourinho to Chelsea and that a deal was all but finalised. In July, you signed a four-year deal with Barcelona. What changed? Is it true Bayern Munich were after you as well?
Laz Schmidt, via email
Nothing changed. Barcelona was always the club that I dreamt I’d play for. My decision was because of this, not because of Mourinho.
Maybe it would have been good with Mourinho, but Barcelona were there from the beginning. After 2003, they wanted to bring me to the club but Porto refused to sell me. I wanted to play for Barcelona and that was my decision. Bayern were always after me too since I was at Porto in 2000 or 2001. It was a big club but Barca was a dream from when I was young, and that’s why I went there.
How did you feel when Phil Scolari asked you to play for Portugal, yet never asked you to play for the country of your birth, Brazil, when he managed them? Any regrets on that decision?
Paul Malecki, Manchester
No, no, no... no regrets. A lot of people talk about that but my decision was made before. There was no problem with Scolari. I decided to play for Portugal after they’d been talking to me for two or three years before. I decided because of the relationship I had with the country and the people. When Scolari came into Portugal his influence was good for me, of course, but it had nothing to do with my decision.
How close do you think you came to a Brazil call-up? Did playing in the 2002 World Cup ever cross your mind?
B Bell, via email
Always. When I was 21, Brazil called me up to the Olympics team, but I had an injury and I couldn’t play. But no, the decision I made was different. It was based on my relationship with Portugal, and not because I couldn’t play for Brazil. Portugal means a lot to me and it’s a country I love. For me it was a decision from the heart.
I don’t know about 2002, because at that time I was playing at Porto and Brazil were a big team. When Scolari came to Portugal, he told me that they were watching me. But I never think about that, my decision was not due to whether or not I could play for Brazil, but rather because of my relationship with the country – Portugal is my home. That’s why I made this decision.
You left Barcelona the day Pep Guardiola took over from Frank Rijkaard in summer 2008. Could you have foreseen the era of dominance that followed at the Nou Camp?
Tein Seow via Twitter
It’s easy to say afterwards! But they had a fantastic group of players, the best generation of Spanish players ever, and the best player in Messi. When you have those two things, and are a good coach like Guardiola, then it’s easier.
He stated you weren’t part of his plans during a press conference. Did you feel the blame for the team’s slump was blamed on you/Ronaldinho/Eto’o?
Eve Craig, Ashford
The problem with Barcelona is that when you’re winning, everything is good. But when you start to lose, of course the response is to blame the important players. It’s not just Barcelona, and it’s something we’ve seen before back in the days of Johan Cruyff . With this team it was the same.
Be honest: have you ever regretted not working with Guardiola, or do you not care less?
Kev Perkins, Bristol
No. He’s a good coach but I can’t talk about him because I didn’t work with him. I worked with the best coaches in the world, like Ancelotti, Mourinho, Scolari, Riijkaard... Guardiola had his time at Barcelona and he did very well, but no, I have no regrets. I think it’s normal that you have a time at a club and that you finish with that club. I had my time at Barcelona and then I moved to Chelsea, which was good for me. The time after I left was good for Barcelona too, so I don’t think about it.
Lionel Messi says you were a player he learned a lot from. How much of his brilliance can we thank you for?!
Paul Day, Kingston
Of course, for him at that time, he was joining one of the biggest teams in the world. It was important that we gave him our support since it’s difficult for any young player, even Messi! It made things a little bit easier for him as he was breaking into the team. Now he’s one of the best players in the world. We saw that when he was young, but like any other young player he had to get there step by step.
You scored a 30-yard cracker on your debut for Chelsea, but it’s fair to say you lost your way a little in your first season at Stamford Bridge. Why do you think this was? Did you want to leave as soon as Scolari was sacked? What went wrong for Big Phil?
Cass Gonzalez, Manchester
It’s difficult to say. The first four months we were leading the Premier League, but we had a lot of problems with important players after that. Some players were not playing, and it’s really difficult to say what happened. I had a lot of options when I decided to leave Barcelona, and my decision was not because of Scolari. It’s because the club called me, I spoke with them and they wanted me there. Scolari was my coach in the national team and was my friend, but the decision was not because of him. In the end I was having personal problems with my family that meant I needed to go back to Brazil.
He is an emotional coach who needs to talk and express his feelings to the players. He couldn’t do that at Chelsea. Another thing was that at that time some players, if they had a problem with the coach, didn’t speak with him but instead communicated directly with the directors. That isn't good for a team.
People forget how many trophies you won at Chelsea after Scolari was sacked! Who did you prefer as a manager after he went: Guus Hiddink or Ancelotti?
Anthony Wade, Gateshead
They are different, but both know a lot about football to manage one team with big stars. Ancelotti is very good at that.
You went to play in Brazil for the first time since 1999, with Fluminense. Considering the 75 caps you’d won for Portugal during the time, were you worried about how the Brazilian fans would treat you? Were you surprised by the abuse Diego Costa received at the World Cup – and was his situation different to yours?
William Black, Weybridge
I was surprised because the people respected me a lot even though I never played for the national team. And when I went to Fluminense, we won the Brazilian championship after 25 years and for the fans it was amazing. I certainly enjoyed my time in Brazil. Diego Costa’s reception didn't surprise me. It was his decision, but of course playing for Spain is not the same thing. I’m not surprised they were unhappy. But we’ll see – he’s young and he has time to prove that his decision was the right one.
How did it feel to see the headlines about you failing a drugs test in May 2013? And even though the ban was overturned do you think it tarnished your reputation?
Lawrence Leong, Singapore
Of course it was tough when the news came out, but I knew that I was innocent and that it must be a mistake from the laboratory in Brazil. That was proved, but it still wasn’t nice for my family.
You are one of the few players to have won the Champions League with two different clubs. Who would win a cup final between Porto 2004 and Barcelona 2006? (You get to play on both teams!)
Sean G, Norwich
With me, Porto would win the cup! [laughs] I’m just kidding. Our team in 2004 was very strong mentally, it was so difficult for us to lose games. Barcelona 2006 was more spectacular; Ronaldinho, Samuel [Eto’o], me and also Xavi. The technique was different and for me it was one of the best teams that was ever made. But Porto’s mentality was second to none.
Who’s your favourite player currently playing?
Param Chandarana via Twitter
Messi for sure. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos from the German team as well. I normally look for the midfielders. And I think Luka Modric at Real Madrid is one of the best midfielders playing at the moment.
Have you got any plans to move into coaching? And if not, what will you do next?
Roha Ahmad via Twitter
I don’t know. To be a coach I think you need to learn. Just because you’ve played football doesn’t mean you can be a coach. It’s a different profession and you need to be prepared for that but at the moment I don’t think so.
You have three sons – are any of them showing signs of following in their dad’s footsteps?
Duncan Mpora via Facebook
I have five sons! No, I don’t think so. João and Pedro, the eldest, are playing football but it’s their decision. If they decided they wanted to go for it then I’d be happy, but if not it’s their decision. No pressure.
It’s the 2018 World Cup Final in Moscow, Brazil vs Portugal. Who are you cheering for?
Faith Davies, Shrewsbury
For my relationship with the fans, with the club and the national team, of course for Portugal.
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