Brazilian centre-back Naldo has bid farewell to the Bundesliga, ending a highly successful 13-year association with Germany’s top-flight with stints at Werder Bremen, VfL Wolfsburg and Schalke. Naldo leaves behind a record-breaking legacy accented with derby heroics and belting free-kicks - here are five of his most memorable moments.
1) The record-breaker
If, for some mad reason, you doubt Naldo’s legendary status in the Bundesliga, just take note of his 358 appearances and 46 goals over the course of his time in Germany. It is more Bundesliga games than any other Brazilian, edging out compatriot Ze Roberto (336) in Schalke’s 2-0 win over VfB Stuttgart on Matchday 20 of 2017/18.
He marked the occasion by opening the scoring with a trademark header from a free-kick on what the veteran defender described as “a great day for me”.
"It's an honour for me to overtake Ze Roberto as the Bundesliga's record Brazilian appearance-maker. It shows that I'm always there to support my team," he said at the time.
2) THAT Revierderby equaliser
There is no doubting that, and his Bundesliga career is pockmarked with evidence of the 36-year-old standing up and being counted when he’s most needed.
And there are no more compelling examples than his Revierderby heroics last season.
With Schalke trailing bitter rivals Borussia Dortmund 4-0 at half-time, Naldo & Co. were staring Revierderby ignominy in the face. However, a miraculous recovery saw the Royal Blues respond with three unanswered second-half goals that set up a stellar finish. Naldo would prove to be the derby day hero by completing an astonishing turnaround. Leaping highest and heading home, Naldo levelled the match in stoppage time with a bullet header that made it 4-4 and capped what will likely go down as the greatest Revierderby of all-time.
The Naldo legend grew even greater as a result, with goalkeeper Ralf Fährmann suggesting the birth rate would soar in Gelsenkirchen after the last ditch draw and that a high proportion of Die Knappen nippers would be christened 'Naldo'.
“I laughed very hard after I heard that," said the Brazilian. "But why not? I would definitely be happy about many little Naldos named after me!"
3) All those free-kicks
As much as Naldo will be remembered for muscling opponents out of the way, rising mightily above packed penalty areas and powering headers home from set-pieces, he will also retain near-mythical Bundesliga status for his thunderbolt free-kicks. The sight of Naldo lining up and then rocketing a shot past goalkeepers from seemingly impossible distances has become one of the league’s most satisfying sights for more than a decade.
From his very first effort in a 4-1 win over Cologne in 2005/06 to his tenth - and latest - that wrapped up Revierderby glory over Dortmund in April last year, Naldo has provided a highlight reel that will take some beating from the best forwards in the league, let alone his fellow defenders.
Naldo’s eye for goal is something he is most keenly remembered for and in 2006/07 he made Bundesliga history by becoming the league’s first defender to score a hat-trick by bagging three in Bremen’s 6-2 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt. Typically, his treble included a marauding run and sublime finish for the first, a header from a set-piece for the second and his third came courtesy of a long-range free-kick of his own.
Naldo in a nutshell.
4) The DFB Cup wins
Naldo has been a perennial Bundesliga bridesmaid over the years, narrowly missing out on lifting the Meisterschale four-times by finishing as league runner-up twice with Bremen (2005/06, 2007/08), once with Wolfsburg (2014/15) and once more with Schalke (2017/18).
The Brazilian also tasted UEFA Cup final defeat with Bremen in 2009 where his goal (of course it was a free-kick) sent the match to extra-time, before Jadson would seal a 2-1 win for Shakhtar Donetsk in the 97th minute.
However, Naldo has enjoyed success in German football and has four trophies to his name; twice taking home the DFB Cup with Bremen (2008/09) and Wolfsburg (2014/15), winning the German League Cup with the Green-Whites (2007) and also the German Supercup with the Wolves (2015/16).
The four-time Brazil international was also part of his country’s 2007 Copa America winning side, a tournament in which Naldo featured once; in Brazil’s 6-1 quarter-final victory over Mexico.
5) Overcoming the odds
Let us hear from the man himself for this last one, with Papai [Portuguese for father] - as he’s known by his Schalke teammates - recalling one of the standout moments of his career in an interview with DW.
“I will never forget returning to the pitch after my serious injury [in the 2010/11 season]. It was on my birthday and it was against Hamburg, so it was a derby. The whole stadium stood up and shouted my name - it was a very special day for me.
“I'm a positive person and I knew I would come back. I fought and overcame the injury. An injury is nothing though when you see how many people are in hospital fighting for their lives. What are three months out when others are battling cancer? We have to think that way - that's why an injury is never really that bad.”
Naldo has not looked back since and was one of only four players last season - alongside Matthias Ginter (Borussia Mönchengladbach), and Christian Günter (Freiburg) and Benjamin Pavard (VfB Stuttgart) - to play every second of all 34 Bundesliga games. And he did so aged 35. That’s right, 35!
Thanks for the memories, Naldo. You'll be missed!