Hannover defensive midfielder Walace has been called up to the Brazil squad for the first time since January 2017 thanks to a solid start to life with the Reds – but it has been a tough road to redemption after a tempestuous end to his 18-month spell with Hamburg.
Walace has already tasted glory with the Seleção, helping Neymar and Co. to finally win the country's first Olympic gold medal at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. The young defensive midfielder played four games during the tournament – including all 120 minutes of the final against Germany, which was eventually settled on a penalty shoot-out.
Olympic appearances are not counted as senior international caps, but Walace had already made his first official outing for Brazil a few months earlier, coming off the bench in a 7-1 rout of Haiti at the 2016 Copa America Centenario. He was given his first start the following January, playing the full 90 minutes in a 1-0 friendly win over Colombia.
It was a few days after the Colombia game that Walace decided to take the plunge and move to Europe, joining Hamburg from Gremio – the club where Ronaldinho and former Bayern Munich winger Douglas Costa both made a name for themselves.
"The important thing for me is to get settled in quickly so I can start to produce good performances on the pitch," Walace said, after trading hot and humid Porto Alegre on Brazil's south east coast for snowy Hamburg in northern Germany. "I hope I can help the club in the difficult situation we're in."
The Brazilian could hardly have made a better start to life in the Bundesliga, scoring Hamburg's second goal in a shock 3-0 win at RB Leipzig on his debut – but a few weeks later the harsh realities of the relegation scrap set in, as HSV slumped to a devastating 8-0 defeat at Bayern. Hamburg eventually survived by the skin of their teeth, leapfrogging Mainz and Wolfsburg on the final day, but Walace was an unused substitute for four of the last five games of the campaign.
If player and club had got off to a slightly bumpy start in 2016/17, the following season would turn out to be much stormier. The very first game seemed to set the tone, as Walace set up Nicolai Müller for an early winner against Augsburg – only for the striker to rupture his cruciate ligament while celebrating the goal and rule himself out for seven months.
A run of five defeats in six saw Walace dropped to the bench, and he featured in just three more games before the winter break. Unhappy and unsettled, the Brazilian extended his stay back home over Christmas and reported late for training in January 2018. Things really came to a head after another chastening defeat to Bayern (6-0) in March, when the Brazilian refused to play in central defence against Hertha Berlin and went home instead of to the Volksparkstadion. He was suspended from the first team and spent the rest of the campaign training with the U21s, as Hamburg's 55-season stay in the top flight came to an end.
"Walace has failed to fulfil his contractual obligations repeatedly in recent weeks," said club director Bernhard Peters. "After his misconduct at the start of the calendar year, it was taken for granted upon his return that the player should act with the team's interests at heart first and foremost. We couldn't tolerate the fact that he didn't come to the stadium to support his fellow teammates fighting relegation."
At that point, the idea that Walace could be back in the Brazil setup within just six months would have seemed ludicrous, but that shows the strides the 23-year-old has made to improve his attitude. There was clearly no future for him in Hamburg, so he opted to join Hannover in July 2018 – where he quickly set about ensuring that it was his behaviour on the pitch that caught the attention.
Ein Olympiasieger für #H96! 🙌 Der Brasilianer #Walace Souza Silva wechselt vom @HSV an den Maschsee: 👉 https://t.co/2r9s3eCA6w. Bem-vindo, @walacess12! 🤗 #NiemalsAllein ⚫️⚪️💚 pic.twitter.com/7jlkTjgkq8— Hannover 96 (@Hannover96) June 26, 2018
Translation: An Olympic champion for #H96! The Brazilian #Walace Souza Silva joins the club from @HSV. Welcome, @walacess12!
"Walace is an excellent player, and his qualities make him exactly what we're looking for in his position," Hannover sporting director Horst Heldt told the club's website. "He wanted to stay in Germany and the Bundesliga, to prove that he is somebody a team can count on, both in terms of sporting talent and character. We're impressed with his ambition."
"I'm pleased to be starting a new phase in my career," Walace added. "I know Hanover is a football-mad city, and there are great opportunities in the team, which has clear goals for the future. I want to keep improving and show my best football. I'm dying to get going."
So far, the Brazilian has been as good as his word, performing with a spark that had clearly gone missing in Hamburg. While he spent last season alternating between the pitch, the bench and the stands – making just 18 Bundesliga appearances and 16 starts – he has played every minute of Hannover's first three games. He is covering more ground – 7.2 miles per outing, compared to 6.9 last term – while his pass completion rate has progressed from 83 to 90 per cent.
Last season, he was fouled just six times in 18 outings, but he has already won Hannover three free-kicks in three games, showing that he is getting more involved in their attacks. He has also had a hand in one of the team's three goals, too, setting up Miiko Albornoz in the 3-2 defeat to Leipzig.
Walace's renewed hunger has done enough to convince Brazil coach Tite to bring him back into the international fold, and he could be granted the freedom of the Seleção midfield as they take on Saudi Arabia and Argentina in friendlies in Riyadh and Jeddah next month. The call-up also makes him the first-ever Hannover player to be selected by the five-time world champions.
The industrious midfielder will now be looking to prove that his newfound determination is no flash in the pan as he tries to help Hannover negotiate a busy Englische Woche, with games against Nuremberg, Hoffenheim and Eintracht Frankfurt in the space of nine days. Things haven't always been straightforward for Walace in the Bundesliga, but if the early part of 2018/19 is anything to go by, he could be set for a starring role in the future.