It’s not very often that footballers thank the almighty when it comes to their contracts being terminated. Paulinho Dias’ first reaction when he hears the word ‘Chapecoense’ is to thank his lucky stars with a gesture to the skies.
“I remember that day clearly. I was in Curitiba (the capital of the Brazilian state of Parana) when the news broke. I woke up very early, at 5.30 in the morning and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I knew 20 of those guys (on the plane). I thought I was dreaming,” he recollects.
The 29-year old joined Chape back when they were in the Brazilian Serie C, the third division, in 2012. It has been quite a journey for the graduate from the Cruzeiro academy, who enjoyed two successive promotions with Chapecoense.
He has happy memories of the club. “Most important for me is the fact that they were a small club and I know the amount of hardships they had to conquer to get to the first division.”
When prodded further about Chape and the nature of the club, Paulinho explains, “They are more of a community run club, where everyone is very familiar with each other. All the players are very close to the general public and wherever I went, people knew me.”
On the 28th of November last year, a chartered flight carrying the entire first team of Chapecoense crashed in Colombia, as only six of the 77 passengers onboard, including three players survived.
Dias says he’s proud of the club which was on its way to the first leg of the Copa Sudamerica clash against Atletico National. It would have been apt to have termed it a fairytale, had Chape played and won, having risen from the third division to winners of a continental competition in four years.
“I was going to play with them in the first division but the coach froze me out. The president wanted me and I wanted to stay with them. In the end, we decided to mutually terminate the contract,” says Paulinho, who made 47 appearances for Chape, scoring four goals in the process.
The defensive midfielder would then link up with current Dynamos head coach Miguel Angel Portugal at Atletico Paranaense, where he would be under contract till 2017, till the Dynamos swooped in for his signature.
For the season, Dias hopes that the newly-formed Dynamos team can reach the play-offs under Portugal. His mind, however, drifts back to the day that he describes as the day that ‘football was paralysed’ in Brazil.
“I was driving later on in the day and we were in the middle of traffic. I was thinking about the incident and inadvertently stopped. The police even gave me a ticket for it,” says Paulinho.
Since the day, he has gone back to meet with the widows of his friends to share their grief, “Football is a way of life in Brazil but it had stopped. Everybody was sad, including the rest of the players. It’s surreal to imagine... the footballing community, we all have the same routine, travel in airplanes and stop for games.”
“Tournaments were stopped to honour them. I went to visit the families, to show them we’re with them, that life continues. My wife, Catelin, she is still in Brazil and interacts with the other wives. It is difficult for families who are without their husbands.”
For Paulinho, the crash has provided a new perspective to life beyond football in it’s aftermath, “We value lives more. Wives, kids, the need to be in contact with the family and the urge to be with them is stronger. Why? Because life can go in any direction at any given point of time.”