A Letter to the Brazilian Fans

Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune

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Dear Brazilian People,

Let's be honest with each other. From player to fan. No sugar-coating.

I'll start. For a long time, we haven’t been good enough. 

This doesn’t mean we didn’t try, that we didn’t dedicate ourselves, or that we didn’t feel the sting of defeat. Don’t get me wrong, nobody knows how much each of us sacrificed to be here. We’ve given up everything for the Brazilian National Team. As I always say before games, we are a group with a lot of hunger, and a lot of pride in representing our country.

At the same time, we see and hear what is being said about us. Somehow, we haven’t been able to show how much we are willing to sacrifice for this jersey. I’ve used this preparation period for the Copa América to emphasize that the only way to change this image is to give everything we have on the field.

Well, now it’s your turn. What are you all saying in your football discussions at the bar or at barbecues with friends? And the media? The truck drivers? The ladies at church? What do you all think of us? 

“They don’t care.” 

“They don’t want to be there.” 

“They’re just rich guys who don’t love the jersey.”

We’ve all heard it. We can’t escape social media, even if we turn off our phones.

And, honestly, I understand why you say these things.

There’s a barrier between us and you. This isn’t just in Brazil. It’s everywhere. It’s our society. You go on Instagram and what do you see? Lots of fake or superficial things. A guy posting a picture with his Ferrari. Everyone always happy. Everyone always at the beach.

I have my share in this too. I don’t blame anyone facing much bigger problems daily for looking at us and thinking: they don’t value what they have.

But I can say from the bottom of my heart that every player who wears the yellow jersey feels the weight of it, no matter what people say.

“Oh, it’s just another match. We don’t feel the pressure. We’re professionals.”

Bullshit! It’s Brazil. You always feel the pressure.

Douglas Mango/AFP via Getty

I’ll never forget the first time I was called up for the U-20 National Team. We were playing against Paraguay, and the night before, the only thing I could think about was how my jersey would look hanging in the locker room. Would it be yellow or blue? Please, let it be yellow.

The next morning, I cleaned my cleats three times out of anxiety. Finally, I got to the locker room, and what I saw was this: 

D A N I L O 

The perfect yellow jersey. The green number. My name. Damn! I sat there holding the jersey like a newborn baby, and that’s what my face looked like….


I swear to God.


I told myself: You will play the game of your life. You will give your all. For your family and friends. For everyone who has helped you get here. For the whole country. You will crush it!

Man, I went on that field and completely forgot how to kick a football! I was so nervous… A simple pass? Piiiinnggggg. Kicked it into the stands. I was shit!

The jersey felt like it weighed 50 kilos. And for 50-odd minutes, I played the worst game of my life. Then I got a yellow card, and the coach took mercy on me and subbed me off.

But you know what? When I left the field, I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t even mad at myself. Because I can honestly say I couldn’t take another step. I ran until my legs almost gave out. I thought: If this is the last time I ever play for Brazil, at least I gave her everything. 

For me, that’s the most important thing in football – to give everything you can. Because there are going to be many, many moments when your legs just don’t work. When you wake up feeling terrible, when everyone hates you, and you feel you don’t deserve to wear the jersey.

I know that feeling well.

Listen, I’m human. I haven’t always been at my best. To be even more honest with you, during my first season at Real Madrid, I was depressed. I was lost, feeling useless. On the field, I couldn’t make a five-meter pass. Off the field, it was like I couldn’t even move.

My passion for football disappeared, and I didn’t see a way out. I wanted to go back to my home in Brazil and never play football again.

I wasn’t seeing myself as Baianinho, Baiano’s son (that’s what they call my dad). I was seeing myself as Danilo, the “31-million euro transfer” — the most expensive defender Real Madrid had ever bought at the time.

Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune

When we played against Alavés a few months into the season, Theo Hernández stole the ball from me and crossed for Deyverson to score. We still won 4–1, but it was a mistake you can’t make at Real Madrid. I’ll never forget going home that night and not being able to sleep.

I wrote in my journal: I think it’s time to quit football. 

I was 24 years old.

Which part of me was really feeling the pressure? The guy who had been a revelation as a right back at Porto? Or the boy from Bicas who suddenly signed with the biggest team in the world?

The answer was clear. You will always be the boy inside. 

I didn’t tell anyone what I was feeling. Casemiro tried to help me, but I “swallowed the frog,” as they say. And it kept getting bigger. But after a few months of suffering, I started seeing a psychologist, and he really saved my career.

The most important lesson he taught me was to see the game through the eyes of a child again.

When you play football as a child, you never think too much, right? Your body and mind are in sync. Basically: you don’t care if you make mistakes. You just play.

Suddenly, I stopped seeing myself as Danilo, the 31-million-euro transfer.

I started seeing myself as Danilo from Bicas, the boy who always locked my locker at América Mineiro because I kept a roll of toilet paper in there like it was “gold.”

Helping out with 1 Real every Sunday with my five friends so we could buy a pizza.

Begging my friend for 90 seconds on his phone card so I could call my girlfriend.

Bargaining with the guy at the internet café so I could e-mail with my family from afar.

“Hey brother, I know an hour costs 1 Real, but I only have 50 cents in my pocket! Can you give me half an hour, please?”

Sleeping with cockroaches, spiders, and scorpions in the training center….

Vanderlei Almeida/AFP via Getty

I don’t want to romanticize the hardships I went through. I know the older generation reading this won’t be impressed with the story about the cockroaches. Whenever I talk to my dad, he gives me a reality check. Here, I’ll pretend we’re sitting around the kitchen table at our home in Bicas, barefoot, having coffee for five hours: 

“Danilo, wake up, my son! You didn’t have any real problems! Do you know what it’s like driving a truck???” 

(Yes, Dad. Go on.) 

“One night, it was raining like crazy and my truck broke down by the side of the road. In the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t safe to sleep on the shoulder. Too dangerous, thieves everywhere!” 

(So what did you do, Dad?) 

“Well, I got out of the truck, and remember, son – it was a deluge, a storm like you’ve never seen! So I went into the bushes and found a banana tree. I took a piece of cardboard from my truck and made a little tent under it. Always look for a banana tree, son! They have the best leaves! I slept there during the downpour and…. Do you know what I did, son?”

(What, Dad?) 

“I walked 8 kilometers to the city to fix the broken wheel! And 8 more back! Then I drove another 12 hours! Just so you and your brothers could eat! Only then did we have enough money to do your mom’s grocery shopping that month! Four kids at home! My God! Do you know how much rice four boys eat??? Millions. So, don’t talk to me about spiders under the bed, son.” 

And it goes on like this for another hour….

But my dad is right, of course. Nowadays, if my shower is a bit too hot, I pick up the phone, and suddenly there are 10 guys at my house with wrenches to fix everything. It’s these little things that start to disconnect us from our essence — not just as football players, but as people.

I think that’s part of what happened to me at Real Madrid. I had to remember my roots and the joy of playing football, not for fame or money, but for fun.

If my career was saved at that moment, I need to thank two things: One, my therapists. The other, my kids. My two boys.

Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune

Miguel was born in 2015, just before I went to Real Madrid. He’s a little intellectual. He reads and writes all day. He has 50 biographies in his room. (“No, Dad, I have 28!”) He’s reading about Einstein now. He doesn’t care about football. He doesn’t even know which foot he kicks with.

For him, it doesn’t matter much if Brazil won or lost.

But my younger son, João, he doesn’t accept losing.

João was born in 2019, just before the pandemic, and he’s our football player. I’ll never forget when I came home after we lost to Croatia in the last World Cup. I went to bed, and my kids were still waiting for me. They came into the room, and João said, “I know Brazil lost. I saw the score.”

He’s straightforward like that.

I started crying because I felt I had let my kids down, as well as the whole country.

Miguel got into bed with me and said, “It’s OK, Dad. I know you did your best.”

I lay there and cried for an hour, and he hugged me and said it was fine, and that he was proud of me. 

Sometimes, we need our kids more than they need us.

It was a major turning point for me. After the double blow of the pandemic and the World Cup elimination, I could have relapsed. I could have fallen back into depression. I was 30 years old. I could have said: “OK, I had a good career. But I’ve reached my peak. I can relax now.”

Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune

But I did the opposite. I started talking to my therapist every day. I started reading more. I began challenging myself to be a better leader. And that’s when everything became clear to me.

When I received the captain’s armband at Juventus, it was a great honor.

But when I received the captain’s armband for Brazil, it was something entirely different. An immense, incomparable honor.

When Dorival Júnior told me I would be the captain in the friendlies against England and Spain, I told myself: “No matter what happens in the next game or beyond, I can die happy.”

That’s why I was choked up before the game against England. When I saw my teammates, I needed to express everything I was feeling. When we wear this yellow jersey, we have to give everything. We can’t leave a single drop of sweat in our bodies.

If we want to get closer to the energy of the Brazilian people, we need to reset our mentality.

That’s what the Brazilian people deserve. Every run we make on the field has to be for you, who criticize us, who push us, who give us a hard time, but who only do so because you truly love the team and care about our squad.

Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune

We’re not here to show off our new cleats or take selfies, but to show the people that we have blood pulsing through our veins.

And you know what? I think we could all learn something from the younger players, like Endrick, the youngest in the group. Look at what he did against England. (By the way, he’s still a kid, for real. I look at his face and think: Damn! I’m really old!)

I hardly knew how to talk to him while we were having breakfast at the hotel. I called one of the younger players and said, “Tell this to Endrick for me.”

I felt like an uncle!

But I looked into his eyes before the game against England and saw that he was ready for the moment. We were under a lot of pressure from the opponent in that match. When he scored the winning goal, everyone ran to celebrate with him near the advertising boards. But I didn’t even go there. I saw they were reviewing the play with VAR, and I was so exhausted that I took the opportunity to go to the bench and get a drink of water.

(See, as an old uncle, you have to be smart….)

When they confirmed the goal, Endrick came to hug me like a kid having fun in the park.

But you know the truth? When I met Endrick after the game, as the captain, I had to be honest…. I told him: “Endrick, you were incredible. But you should have scored the second one, man.”

Michael Regan/The FA via Getty

He replied: “Danilo, I didn’t even know what I was doing anymore!”

I hope this game serves as a new chapter for us. A new mentality. A new spirit.

When we left the field, all the questions were: “Don’t you think you were too aggressive? It was just a Friendly.”

No, no, and no. That’s the point!

Look at how other teams play against us, how they go hard on our attackers. There’s never any leniency. We have to be the same way. Sometimes, we have to go in hard too. This is a tough lesson I think we’ve learned in recent years.

As captain, I know exactly what the National Team means to our country. And the Copa América is a great opportunity to show that our group understands the weight of the responsibility of wearing this jersey. I think we have to play as if we were fighting to become professional footballers again. Because that’s the specialty of the Brazilian people, right? It’s in our DNA. To fight, to be brave, to never give up. To sleep under a f***ing banana tree.

Let us not fight like footballers this summer, but like Brazilians. 

My final message to you all is very simple:

We are not here to take pictures. We are here to suffer

We are here to fight for the Copa América.

Your captain,