Denni’s: deeds keep City on top Published on: 11-01-2011

Denni’s deeds keep City on top - Kevin Azzopardi

Denni took a while to find his feet at Valletta but his stellar performances in the famous white shirt in the last two months showed why the Citizens were prepared to go the extra mile to capture the Brazilian forward from Tarxien Rainbows last summer.

In the 18 months he spent with Tarxien, Denni, full name Denni Rocha dos Santos, forged a reputation as one of the most dazzling forwards in the Premier League.

His impact on the emerging Rainbows last season was such that Denni made the final five-man shortlist for the Malta FA Footballer of the Year award and scooped The Times best player accolade.

News that Valletta had identified Denni as one of their top transfer targets didn’t come as a surprise, especially after they had sanctioned the departure of their best foreigner in Cameroon winger Doding Priso who followed former coach Ton Caanen to AEK Larnaca on a season-long loan deal.

Initially, Denni struggled to live up to the fans’ high expectations but that is no longer the case as the Brazilian is now the darling of the Valletta faithful. Further proof, if any were needed, that Denni has rediscovered his best form was provided last Saturday when he scored two brilliant goals to inspire Valletta to a 3-1 win over champions Birkirkara.

“I’m satisfied with how I’ve been playing lately,” Denni said.

“I believe I’m showing my best form at the right time.

“At the beginning, it was hard for me to make an instant impact because I had just come to a new club. I had new team-mates and a new coach but I settled in quickly and that helped me to improve.”

Denni’s pursuit of success influenced his decision to leave Tarxien for Valletta but he admitted that playing for a bigger club brings added pressure.

“Everything is different,” Denni replied when asked about his move to Valletta.

“There’s more pressure at Valletta and they’ve got a bigger supporters’ base.

“I still love my former team-mates at Tarxien. I have great respect for them. After all, Tarxien were the club who opened the door to Maltese football for me.

“If I had to go back to Tarxien one day, I would have no problems about that.

“However, I’m very happy at Valletta and here I have a better chance of achieving success. That’s the only way I’m thinking at present.”

Before accepting Tarxien’s offer to continue his career in Malta in January 2009, Denni had a positive 18-month spell with Australian A-League club Newcastle Jets.

Malta is a drop in the ocean compared to Australia but that didn’t deter Denni from moving here.

“I chose Malta after my family and I decided to move out of Austalia,” Denni said.

“I was unable to agree terms with Newcastle Jets over a contract renewal. It was then that I felt that Malta was the best place to move to. We have no immediate plans to leave because we’re happy here.”

Unbeaten in 12 matches, Valletta led Birkirkara by 10 points going into their second-round meeting last Saturday.

The champions threatened to put the brakes on Valletta’s positive streak when Michael Galea gave them a 1-0 lead early in the second half but Denni’s two-goal flurry put Valletta in the driving seat.

“I think Birkirkara are one of the best teams but I was surprised with how they played against us,” Denni said.

“At first, Birkirkara looked like they were happy to play out for a draw but they surprised us by taking the lead. Thanks God, we made a strong reaction to win the game as this success has strengthened our position at the top.”

With Birkirkara 1-0 up, Denni embarked on a surging run into the box to reach Kevin Sammut’s long pass and arrowed an angled shot past Michael Fraser eight minutes into the second half.

Barely 14 minutes later, Denni hogged the limelight again with a scintillating goal.

Put through by Gilbert Agius’s deft touch, Denni flicked the ball into the air to slip past the Birkirkara rearguard before beating Fraser with a cute lob.

Although pleased with the execution of his goals, Denni insisted that he’d happily settle for normal goals as long as Valletta win.

“I’ve scored more beautiful goals in the past,” Denni answered to a question as to whether he ranked his second goal against Birkirkara among the best of his career.

“But, getting the goals is what really counts. I was happy that my goals on Saturday helped my team win the game.”

Denni’s position as Valletta’s second-best marksman with seven strikes is testament to his scoring prowess – he had 15 for Tarxien last season – but opinion is divided over his best position.

Valletta coach Jesmond Zerafa’s quest to bring the best out of Denni resulted in the latter being deployed in a variety of positions.

Having filled in as main striker, adjunct forward, winger and central midfielder, Denni stressed that he’s prepared to play anywhere as long as he’s in the team.

“My best position… as long as I’m in the first XI, I’m willing to play anywhere,” Denni said.

“I just want to play in any position I’m asked to fill.”

At 27, Denni is at the height of his career. Many foreigners have gone on to play for overseas clubs after making their mark in Malta and Denni would appear to have a good chance of following suit.

However, the Brazilian, who has a four-year contract with Valletta, insisted that he’s only focusing on the Whites’ title bid.

“I’m not thinking about personal aims right now,” Denni said.

“My objective is to do my part and help Valletta win the league and other honours. We’re in a good position but there’s a long way to go.

“I want to be part of a title-winning team before I start to look at personal goals.”

Quizzed about the possibility of continuing his career abroad, Denni said: “I’m not considering that but if any club is interested, they would have to speak first with president Victor Sciriha because I’m contracted to Valletta.

“I’ve been approached by people who claimed to be working for foreign clubs but to be honest, I don’t know if it’s true or not.”

The 13th day of the 2010/11 BOV Premier League was a fruitful one for leaders Valletta who consolidated their position at the top of the standings with a 3-1 victory over rivals Birkirkara as nearest pursuers Tarxien Rainbows were held to a draw.

Saturday’s big match attracted a sizeable crowd to the National Stadium and those present were not disappointed with the fare offered, particularly in the second half, as Valletta came from a goal down to overcome the Stripes and maintain their unbeaten run in the championship so far.

Michael Galea blasted home from close in to put champions Birkirkara ahead soon after the restart but Valletta relied on the exquisite talents of Brazilian Denni who scored twice in quick succession.

The Whites soaked up the pressure before league top-scorer Terrence Scerri sealed the issue with a stoppage-time penalty goal.

Birkirkara have now slipped to fourth place, 13 points behind the leaders but with points to be halved at the end of the second round, the Stripes could still have their say in the title run-in.

Tarxien are now nine points behind Valletta. On Sunday, they could not go beyond a 1-1 draw against a revitalised Qormi in another entertaining encounter.

Source: times of malta