As part of The Samba Series, I remember Doni’s time at Liverpool and his chastening trips to England with Roma…
How do you assess the impact of a goalkeeper who played nine games on English soil, but only four of them for an English side?
A goalkeeper who conceded seven goals on his first appearance in 2007, and was sent off in his seventh, which arrived fully four years later.
A goalkeeper whose departure from these shores was shrouded in mystery and intrigue, only for it to later emerge that he had suffered a heart attack during a routine medical.
That is Doni’s lot.
The Brazilian was the unfortunate goalkeeper on the receiving end of Manchester United’s 7-1 humbling of AS Roma at the quarter final stage of the 2006-7 Champions League season. His fortunes in this country have followed a similar narrative.
On his return to Old Trafford in 2008, he managed to restrict United to just the single goal. Another Champions League date arrived a year later, ending in a single goal defeat at Stamford Bridge, before a 1-0 defeat at Arsenal in the Last 16 of the 2008-9 competition.
He was even between the sticks for Roma’s 1-1 draw in the Europa League at Craven Cottage in 2009.
But the Brazilian soon fell out of favour in Italy, a mixture of injuries, competition for places with Artur and Julio Sergio, and a constant carousel of managerial changes limited opportunities.
With his contract run out, he was snapped up by Kenny Dalglish as he embarked on his second spell as Liverpool boss. Yet Dalglish appeared to have little time for poor old Doni, who spent the season warming the bench as understudy to Pepe Reina, and keeping Brad Jones on his heels.
Dislodging Reina had been a thankless task for many; indeed Doni became the fifth deputy in seven seasons for a goalkeeper who had not missed a minute of Premier League action since May 2007, when he had been rested ahead of the Champions League final. Even Diego Cavalieri, Liverpool’s first Brazilian goalkeeper had been restricted to occasional run-outs in Champions League dead-rubbers and cup ties against lower league opposition.
Doni was not afforded such luxury. With Dalglish so focused on cup competition success that season, Reina played every single minute of Liverpool’s Carling Cup journey – including 90 minutes against Exeter in the second round. Doni didn’t even earn a call for home FA Cup ties against Oldham Athletic and Brighton.
Miraculously Doni’s opportunity knocked, when Reina was sent off in April 2012 for raising his hands to James Perch in a 2-0 defeat at Newcastle. With all three substitutions made, the Brazilian had to watch Jose Enrique see out the last 10 minutes, before making his eagerly-anticipated Anfield bow against Aston Villa a week later.
Reina’s three-game suspension left the path clear for Doni to start in the Merseyside Derby FA Cup semi final just a fortnight later; inevitably Doni found a way to cock it up.
Liverpool travelled to Ewood Park in the midweek prior to the Derby, and were coasting at 2-0 inside 15 minutes thanks to a Maxi Rodriguez brace. Barely 10 minutes later and Doni, struggling to reach an inexplicable hospital back pass from Jon Flanagan (who was perhaps lucky to still be on the pitch after two clumsy challenges on Marcus Olsson), upended Junior Hoilet as he raced through on goal. Doni promptly received his marching orders, and his FA Cup dreams lay in ruins.
Fate is a cruel mistress; substitute Brad Jones saved the resultant penalty, and then in the second-half with the scoreline 2-1, the Australian received the benefit of the doubt from the referee that had deserted Doni when he pushed over Yakubu in the six-yard box.
Brad Jones played in the Wembley semi-final, and made a series of fine saves as Liverpool vanquished their local rivals. As Liverpool’s league season fizzled out into mediocrity, Doni returned to the starting eleven for a home game against Fulham and a trip to Swansea. Liverpool promptly lost both games 1-0.
As Brendan Rodgers swept into office in the summer of 2012, the rest of Doni’s Liverpool career was shrouded in mystery. He was granted temporary personal leave and returned to Brazil, where he remained. As luck would have it Pepe Reina suffered a series of niggling injuries, and, with Doni supposedly AWOL, Brad Jones made seven league starts in 2012-13.
Doni was released to Brazilian side Botofago in January 2013, whereupon he revealed the mystery surrounding his disappearance:
“I was taking the medical exams and I had a cardiorespiratory arrest. I was unconscious for 25 seconds and almost went ‘to the other side’. After that, I went to London and had several exams that confirmed I didn’t have any sequels. Then they sent me back to Rome, where one of the finest doctors in Europe took care of me for six years. After yet another load of exams, the doctors asked me to stay a few more months on the sidelines.”
Doni never played for Botofago, and was forced to retire in August due to heart problems. He plans to set up a football school in his native Brazil, with close ties to Roma.
The nature of his time in England, from away trips with Roma and his time on Merseyside, remains a source of amusement: P9 W0 D2 L6 GA 14. The Blackburn game should probably count as a ‘win’ given that Liverpool were 2-0 up when he was sent off. But it was ‘So Doni’ that the one time he kept a clean sheet in England he was sent off anyway.