KASHIMA, IBARAKI PREF. – New Kashima Antlers striker Davi has wasted little time in making an impact at the seven-time J. League champions, but the Brazilian will not be satisfied until he has stamped his name on club history forever.
Davi joined Kashima over the offseason after a nomadic career in and out of Japan, with goals the only constant since he first arrived at Consadole Sapporo in 2007. The 29-year-old scored 32 for Ventforet Kofu last season — more than half the team’s entire tally — en route to the second-division title, attracting the interest of a Kashima side looking for new blood after finishing the campaign in a club-worst 11th place.
If last weekend’s 3-2 win over Vegalta Sendai is anything to go by, Antlers have chosen well. Davi scored twice in an explosive home debut, and with 75 goals in 130 J. League games to his name going into the new season, the striker has every reason to be confident.
“I was very relieved to score my first goals,” he said at Kashima’s training ground earlier this week. “It was our first home game and we were playing against last season’s runnerup, so hopefully we can use that to go on a winning run and I can keep scoring and contributing to the team.
“I thought I had scored my hat trick but the referee didn’t allow it, and I looked at the video afterward and I saw that I was a little bit offside. The most important thing is that I scored two goals, which was good for me and good for the team. Aside from that I was also able to create some chances, so I’m looking to maintain that level of performance.”
With strike partner Yuya Osako in fine form alongside him, Davi could be celebrating a lot more over the course of the season. Osako scored in Kashima’s opening 1-1 draw with Sagan Tosu before hitting the target again against Vegalta, and Davi sees the basis of a fruitful partnership.
“He’s a very intelligent player, and there are some similarities in the way we play,” he said of the 22-year-old. “I can speak a little Japanese and he can speak some Portuguese, and I think that ability to communicate is very important for our partnership. Hopefully this is the start of something good between us.”
Given Kashima’s illustrious connection to his home country, Davi certainly has a lot to live up to. Zico, Jorginho, Leonardo, Bismarck and Marquinhos are just some of the Brazilians who have earned their place in Antlers legend over the years, and Davi is keen to join them.
“A lot of Brazilians have played at this club, and a lot of them have been able to make a big impression,” he said. “Antlers have a long association with Brazil, and because of that, this is a very comfortable environment for Brazilians to come to. But rather than allowing that to spoil me, it drives me on to work harder and make myself a better player. I want to write my name on more than one page in Kashima Antlers’ history.”
The fact that 1982 World Cup midfield general Toninho Cerezo is Kashima’s current manager serves as a daily inspiration.
“He is an excellent manager because he has a lot of experience,” Davi said of Cerezo, who has returned for his second spell at the club having won the title in 2000 and 2001. “He has experience as a player and as a manager, and he has a lot to teach us. I want to learn from his experience. I think this team can grow a lot with him in charge.”
Davi will, however, be hoping that things work out better than in his previous stint at one of the J. League’s heavyweight clubs. The striker scored 10 goals in 17 games for Nagoya Grampus in 2009 before leaving midseason for Qatar’s Umm-Salal, but with Grampus stuck in 10th place at the time of his departure, the achievement counted for little.
“It made me very sad,” Davi said. “At the time I said in interviews that I would trade in my goals if only the team could win. That’s more important than me scoring. At a big club you have to win — it’s your responsibility. I was only at Grampus for half a year, but the fact that the team didn’t do well still rankles with me.”
Davi’s move to Qatar followed a trend for Brazilians swapping Japan for the Middle East, but there have also been exceptions to the rule. The man Davi replaced in Consadole’s attack, Hulk, left the J. League for Porto in 2008 before joining Zenit St. Petersburg in a blockbuster transfer last summer, but Davi insists such paths are not open to everyone.
“Hulk is a great player,” he said. “He has grown a lot and made his mark in Europe. He moved from J2 to Europe, but transfers like that always require a lot on the business side of things.
“There are a lot of good players here in Japan who are not lucky enough to get that kind of chance. It’s not enough just to have talent — you need to have the right kind of people around you and be in the right environment.”