It has been a season of superlatives for Schalke defender Naldo. Now in his 12th Bundesliga campaign, the Brazilian has been more impressive than ever, even at the ripe old age of 35. With more minutes and goals than ever before in 2017/18, bundesliga.com looks back over a campaign that proves age is but a number, and that a place in the Brazil squad at the 2018 FIFA World Cup would be more than deserved.
Season in a nutshell
One of just four outfielders to play every minute this season, never in his previous 11 seasons with Werder Bremen, Wolfsburg and Schalke has Naldo played more minutes in the Bundesliga. In fact, the only match he missed at all was the very first of the season in the DFB Cup against Berliner Dynamo.
Watch: Does Naldo make it into your Team of the Season?
But it’s been Naldo’s performances on the pitch that have made him so indispensable for Domenico Tedesco. Defensively, only seven players in the entire league have won more individual duels than the Brazilian, while only two have won more in the air than the 6’6’’ central defender as Schalke finished the season with the league’s third-best defence.
However, it was not just defensive work that has thrust Naldo into the headlines, but his knack for scoring goals – and important ones at that! Seven strikes this season represent his joint-best return in the Bundesliga, making him the top-scoring defender in the league, while they have come at such key moments (in both Revierderby fixtures, a late equaliser at Eintracht Frankfurt) to help Schalke to their first second-place finish since 2009/10.
A god in Gelsenkirchen
Twice this season he has rescued the Royal Blues a point in injury time – most famously with a thunderous header against fiercest rivals Borussia Dortmund as Schalke came from 4-0 down at half-time at the Signal Iduna Park.
Watch: Naldo's injury-time header earned Schalke a point from 4-0 down at Dortmund
And if that wasn’t enough to endear the already lovable defender to the Gelsenkirchen faithful, he struck again against BVB with a rocket of a free-kick clocked at 78 mph to beat the old enemy 2-0 and finish above them for the first time in three years.
What they’re saying…
"Naldo is one of the players we've got our eye on. The centre-back positions aren't all taken. Everyone playing at a high level has a shot." – Brazil boss Tite.
“He’s a role model for all of us. He still runs around like a young deer.” – Schalke teammate Alessandro Schöpf.
“Naldo is a wonder. He’s 35 but still one of the best players in the Bundesliga with his physical traits and his amazing mentality.” – Schalke teammate Amine Harit.
Could we be seeing Naldo in Russia this summer? Even up against the likes of Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, David Luiz and Miranda, the Schalke man would more than deserve the chance to add to his four Brazil caps. Beyond that, the 35-year-old has another year left on his contract in Gelsenkirchen, where he is looking forward to a return to the UEFA Champions League for the first time since 2015/16, when he scored twice in a group win over Manchester United before his Wolfsburg side lost 3-2 to Real Madrid in the quarter-finals.