Paris Saint-Germain's Portuguese defensive midfielder Danilo Pereira has had a long journey from Guinea Bissau to the City of Light - via Portugal, Italy, Greece and the Netherlands - with his love of the round ball, a strong work ethic and plenty of perseverance. Portrait of one of the pillars of the Paris Saint-Germain squad.
With 75 Ligue 1 Uber Eats appearances and nine goals to his name over the last three seasons, Danilo Pereira has become a key man at the Parc des Princes since arriving from Porto in 2020.
Despite often being played out of position as a central defender, the burly midfielder has simply gotten on with the job and thus carved out a place for himself at the club - and in the hearts of the fans. But it took a long road to get here...
"There are many stories to tell," Pereira told PSGTV. "There have been many trips and many sacrifices and we have managed to build a very beautiful story all together."
A story that begins in Guinea Bissau with a first journey - a first sacrifice.
"I had to leave Danilo in Guinea when he was only two years old," explained Pereira's mother Quinta Djata. "He lived with my mother and me. I left to try to find better living conditions. So Danilo stayed with my mother in Guinea. And then my mother died and he stayed with my sisters. Then, after three years alone in Portugal, I came back for him. And at that time he was already five years old."
That must have been difficult for a young Danilo, but he clearly understood the assignment.
"Her objective was always to get us away from the life we had in Guinea," he explained. "What we had there in terms of comfort was very basic and she wanted more. She wanted me to have more in my life. So she left for Lisbon to try to get us a better life."
And it was difficult for Djata too.
"When I found him, he didn't recognise me," she recalled. "When I went to pick him up, it was at the airport, he didn't know me then. There weren't all these means of communication that exist today. There weren't as many mobile phones. And all these sophisticated things. But it worked out and we found each other. Life wasn't easy. I'm a nurse and I work a lot. I had two jobs at two different hospitals – and he was often at home on his own."
Danilo found comfort and refuge in football.
"Since he was a little boy, he's always loved playing with a ball," recalled Djata. "When I was here and he was in Guinea, I would send him gifts, and he would always ask for the same thing: a ball. And then, when he joined me here, it continued. He played all the time. Sometimes he would go out in the street and play with his friends in the neighbourhood."
The start of something? Yes, but slowly...
"I had friends in the neighbourhood who played football for a club," said Danilo. "And one day they asked me to come with them. I went there but just to watch them train."
"He didn't want to play at first," laughed Pereira's first coach, Senhor Rui. "He was there on the sideline with the other kids. But he didn't dare to come and play with the ball. I went up to him and threw him a ball, and asked him if he wanted to join in. And then he started to hesitate. Eventually he agreed, and that's how it all started."
His mother could see right away that his love for the beautiful game was strong...
"He was always convinced he'd become a professional footballer," explained Djata. "He even said he'd play for the Portuguese national team one day."
What it takes
And Senhor Rui felt that the young Danilo had the mettle he needed.
"He had a strong character," explained the coach. "But he was always very responsible. He was a good kid who always behaved well. In fact, he was always an example for the others here at Arsenal 72 – even for the older kids. He was always the captain of my team - he always wore the armband because he was a leader even then."
And he was already starting to attract attention.
"Benfica wanted him when he was just nine, but he didn't go because the club couldn't organise transport for him," explained Rui. "It's about 20km from here to the training centre in Lisbon… and at the age of 9, he couldn't go on his own."
The scenic route
His time would come though. At 14, he joined Estoril, a club in the suburbs of Lisbon, before finally getting picked up by the Benfica academy. But after three years at the academy, Danilo was released - and a new journey commenced.
"He went to Italy, to Parma, then to Greece, then to Holland with Roda JC, and he never gave up," explained Djata. "For him, it was perhaps not difficult because what he wanted to do was to play football, but for me it was very hard. I could see that he wasn't ready to leave at 18 and live alone. But in the end he managed on his own."
After crossing Europe, Danilo returned to Portugal, to Maritimo, before catching the eye of FC Porto and stepping up to the next level.
"He was successful in Porto," she noted. "The fans loved him very much and he was the captain of the club. A great source of pride. And then, he joined Paris. A real blessing. It was a big step for him because Paris Saint-Germain is not just any club, it's a very big club."
A team in which the Portuguese has carved out a place for three seasons now. Danilo has established himself as a key figure, a player who always steps up - an accomplished footballer and an accomplished man.
"He has always chased his dream and that's what we should all do," said Djata. "When we want to become someone, when we want to reach a certain level, we have to chase that dream. We have to fight. That's what he did, it got him to where he is now. That's something he can be very proud of."
So what does Danilo feel about the sacrifices and efforts made by all concerned?
"I'm proud, it's true, not only proud of me, but proud of them," he smiled. "They are very important people in my life. People who will always be by my side."