La Liga Lowdown
Spain: The Stories Behind The Shirts - 1998/99 Real Betis
Written by Gregor Chappelle
July 1998. It was the month that Brazil won the World Cup. It was also the month that Real Betis sent shock waves around the globe by capturing one of the most skilful players ever.
Denilson, who was known as "Canhoteiro" or "the left-footed one", has always been remembered for his signature step-overs and Brazilian flair. He’d even showed off his silks off the pitch as part of a now-famous Nike advert in which the Seleçao are sitting around in an airport, bored, and so they start dribbling a ball in and around everything they can see.
Denilson had first burst on to the scene the year before at the friendly international tournament known as “Le Tournoi”, contested between France, Italy, England and Brazil and held in France itself. What followed his displays at this tournament was a bidding war among some of European football's premier clubs. Manchester United, Lazio and Real Madrid were all reported to be battling for the winger's signature…Barcelona, however, seemed to have won the race to actually sign him, having agreed terms with the player and his club São Paulo. However, the deal was subsequently scuppered by a tax issue and the player’s future was up in the air once again. It was Real Betis who would seize the moment.
Their outspoken chairman, Manuel Luis de Lopera, ended up presenting Denilson with a mind-blowing 10-year contract supposedly worth £2m a year. The transfer itself cost Betis a world-record transfer fee of £21.9m, smashing the record previously set by his fellow countryman Ronaldo when he had moved to Inter Milan the previous year. The excitement around the Andalusian capital was palpable, and Betis hoped that this huge investment would be the catalyst they needed to challenge their rivals at the top of Spanish football.
Unfortunately, the success that Real Betis envisioned with this landmark signing never materialised, and Denilson simply didn't live up to the hype. He made up part of a very dangerous attack of Finidi George, Alfonso and Oli up top, and after finally breaking his duck in a 1-1 draw against Racing Santander on Valentine’s Day, he only mustered one more goal in his maiden season - a disappointing return on an astronomical outlay to say the least.
The following season Betis got relegated and he was loaned back to Brazil as Los Verdiblancos tried to cut costs. Although he did return to the Benito Villamarín, the love affair was fizzling out, and 7 seasons after arriving in Seville, Denilson departed again.
Betis fans are known for being “locos de la cabeza” – crazy heads. And who can blame them when they have episodes like this in their history. A luxury player definitely, a vanity project maybe, and ultimately a failure as a signing, but Denilson made Betis into headline-makers when they made him the most expensive player on the planet. And let’s face it, it was fun.
Kappa have a track record of producing timeless shirts, and this is no exception. A collar is always a smart addition and the lack of sponsor makes it an instant classic. This would be a welcome addition to any football aficionados’ collection, for both the shirt and the story.
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You can also check out all of the shirts in this series, on the CFS website: http://www.classicfootballshirts.co.uk