Former Arsenal midfielder Denilson has opened up in a revealing interview about how he struggled with loneliness and isolation during his time at the club.
The Brazilian was officially on the books at the Emirates Stadium for seven years, but spent the final two of those back in his homeland after joining Sao Paulo on loan. He would go on to mutually terminate his contract with Arsenal, penning a four-year deal to return to Brazil on a permanent basis.
Speaking to FourFourTwo, Denilson has now spoken of his experience of playing in England, candidly opening up about how difficult he found adjusting to life in London – largely because he didn’t have any friends or family with him after sealing a £3.5m move to Arsenal aged just 18.
“Going home after training was fine, but after a game, I’d just played in front of 60,000 fans cheering for me,” Denilson said. “I’d have a shower at the stadium and go home, but once I got there I found myself alone.
“I’d log on to MSN Messenger hoping to speak to someone, to see if anyone had watched my game, but there was no one online.”
“That sort of thing started to affect me, as you think to yourself, ‘The match is over, I want to talk to someone, but there’s no one around’. People only see us as professionals, but they forget we’re also human beings.”
He continued by revealing how fellow countryman Gilberto Silva had unwittingly become a role model for him, and that he spent time with his family to alleviate some of the pain of being alone so often. Despite that, he felt unable to confide fully in Gilberto as he did not want to burden the defensive midfielder with his problems – even leading him to spend one Christmas on his own.
“Some days, I was feeling all right and wanted to go for a walk in the afternoon,” he continued. “But then you see the weather – it was depressing and you give up. I thought, ‘Dear God, is this my life?’ You don’t have anyone to talk to, no one online to chat to and discuss stuff other than football.”
“I struggled a lot with that but didn’t mention it to anyone. I kept it all to myself. I never told Gilberto Silva, for example. He often invited me to his house, but I never felt comfortable. I thought, ‘He has his own life, his wife and his kids. I don’t want to keep bothering him’.”
“One Christmas, he invited me and I didn’t go. I stayed locked up at home, alone, as I didn’t want to inconvenience him.”
Denilson played 153 times for Arsenal in all competitions, making 96 Premier League appearances. He failed to win a trophy under Arsene Wenger, but was a League Cup runner-up on two occasions – losing out to a brace from Chelsea’s Didier Drogba in 2007, before coming up short in 2011 against Birmingham after a calamitous mix-up between Wojciech Szczesny and Laurent Koscielny allowed Obafemi Martins to net a last-gasp winner.