Nice's derby loss to Monaco underlined the problems they're likely to face without inspirational captain Dante. Ligue1.com pays tribute to the outstanding Brazilian veteran.
Stretchered off in the Round 9 win at Angers, the worst fears were confirmed for the 37-year-old as an ACL rupture of the left knee was diagnosed. On Thursday November 5, the centre-half underwent an operation in Lyon and now faces a race against time to feature again before the end of the season, when his contract expires.
At Nice since 2016, the 2013 Champions League winner with Bayern Munich has been at Les Aiglons longer than he has been at any other club and there's every chance we will see him in Nice colours again - even if his comeback is delayed until 2021-2022. In August, Dante said: "Football coming to a stop because of covid reinforced my desire to play football for longer. It's something I missed so much and I'm not prepared to walk away from it. It's not worth asking me if this is going to be my last season."
Such is the Brazilian international's influence on and off the pitch that he's affectionately known as 'Commandante' at Nice and Julien Fournier, the club's director of football, was reassuring when it comes to the defender's future, quoted in L'Equipe as saying: "Dante is facing a new challenge for him because it's his first major injury. His reaction when he knew it was the cruciate was to ask when he'd undergo the operation and what the rehab process would be. It won't be the end of his career and it won't be his last match for OGC Nice. He's an example of professionalism on the field and I know he'll give his rehab 400% and will get back to his best. His future is at OGC Nice, as a player for as long as he wants, and then in another role."
LEADER AND KEY PLAYER
In a very young squad, Dante acted as the wise old head, cajoling his team-mates and organising the team, always there with a word on or off the pitch to inspire the team. It helped that he had a preponderant role on the field as OGC Nice's most important player. Not only was he the club's defensive rock, he also had a massive part in launching attacks with his accurate distribution and passing range. On top of that, Dante was a massive set-piece threat.
The stats back up Dante's importance. At the time of his injury, only Damien Da Silva had played more Ligue 1 minutes since the former LOSC centre-half's return to the French game in 2016. Moreover, Dante (8,476) had played more passes in that time than anybody else in the French game, including Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti, second on the list with 7,940.
LIFE WITHOUT DANTE
At home to Monaco, Patrick Vieira decided to switch Morgan Schneiderlin - the squad's other 30-something - from midfield to part of a three-man backline. Vieira admitted it didn't work: "Dante was a big miss for us today but some players have to do a lot better than they did in this game. It was tough for us and Morgan was finding it hard and that's why I changed it at half-time. After the break we were a bit better in the 4-3-3 formation."
Vieira will keep working on the team's shape and no doubt find the best possible solution yet the fact remains: Dante is irreplaceable.