While Debinha’s talents have been distinguishable for many years, they may never have glistened quite like this. In a team that could quite conceivably be the best club side in the world at present, the Brazilian is the sleek, samba sprinkling, and whether the greatest individual accolade ever comes her way, in song at least, she is already immortalised.
Débora Cristiane de Oliveira. Within the past year, Brazil’s incisive attacking star has shone from North Carolina to France, from Middlesbrough to São Paulo, and more in between. A little international tour for a performer not just reaching the top of her game, but elevating what that upper limit supposedly was.
Off the back of her first World Cup, the 28-year-old was Championship MVP as Paul Riley’s North Carolina Courage strode with devastating assurance to back-to-back National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) titles. Over the years, the aim of this site has been to not just profile players through their most obvious craft, their profession, but also via music and its individual significance to them.
Like a sumptuous touch from a South American playmaker at just the right moment, the light-hearted question of which teammate(s) from her career Debinha would (hypothetically) choose to record a song with unlocked something heartfelt and unusually wonderful.
“I would like to record a song that a friend of mine made for me called ‘Mulher guerreira’ (‘Warrior woman’),” came the Courage number ten’s response. “If I can record with him, even though he doesn’t play football professionally?”
After the somewhat casual disclosure that a song has been made in her honour – and not just in the crowd on a game day – she explained more when prompted.
“(The artist’s name is) Lucca Martine; stage name. We have been friends since childhood.
“We grew up playing on the ‘polícia e ladrão’ (‘police and thief’) street, playing ball in the square, on the court and skating,” she recalled with fondness.
The track was a personal (and highly polished, as you will hear) pick-me-up for Debinha at a time when ‘Lucca’ knew she could use a lift. A singer/guitarist, he takes up the story:
“It was at the time that she had an injury which took her out of the (2015) World Cup. When I heard about it, I was sad about the situation, and coming home after work, I had an idea of melody and lyrics.
“I was singing so as not to forget, and when I got home, I ended up writing it all in about 30 minutes. With the help of some musician friends, I managed to record at no cost and send it to her as a gift.
“I thought about comforting the moment behind the music, and also as a tribute for everything she has become in the sport. Considering that I know her from childhood, I know a good part of everything she has gone through to get where she is.”
‘Mulher guerreira’ (‘Warrior woman’), written for Debinha by childhood friend ‘Lucca Martine’
Indeed where she has come from, Debinha says, is the most important piece to understand about her.
“I think my origin; city, family and friends. Brasópolis is a small city; I know everyone from there, so it’s always very good to go back there and see the people.
“My childhood was surrounded by friends, of all ages, and even today it is still like that. I think that leaving a small town helped me a lot to grow as a person.
“I will never forget my origin and the friends who still live there.”
A small setting in the south-eastern Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, there is plenty of contrast between Brasópolis and the various spots she has seen around the US since her switch to North Carolina in 2017. One undoubtedly shared aspect, though, is the lust for expression. Brazil’s footballing and rhythmic identity is world-famous, while projection of personality is rarely difficult to find in America.
Debinha’s North Carolina Courage are a team seemingly equipped with every ingredient necessary. From fitness to finesse, there is graft, guile and goals, so why not a whole clan of locker-room DJs into the bargain?
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US Women’s National Team pair Jess McDonald and Crystal Dunn, goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland and defender/midfielder Meredith Speck are the usual suspects in that regard. Dancing inevitably follows, though the pre-game DJ may not necessarily be a razor-sharp mover!
It is difficult – or perhaps even illegal? – to be a Brazilian without rhythm, so Debinha is automatically qualified to judge who she believes is the Courage’s slickest stepper. Her answer should come as a surprise to precisely nobody with half a handle on women’s soccer’s vibrant personalities.
“The best is Crystal Dunn, for sure! I’m not much of a dancer in a locker room, but I always sing and try to interact with the girls.
“Depending on the game and the day, sometimes I prefer to put my phone on and listen to music according to what I’m feeling.”
There was something of a ritual that Courage head coach Paul Riley shared with the club’s equipment manager last season. Soon after he reached Sahlen’s Stadium, at 6:30am during the week no less, the Liverpudlian got dialed-in for the day ahead by cranking the speakers to The Beatles, Rod Stewart, Elton John, and other such icons. As well as getting staff spirit soaring, music has its role in keeping the player Riley referred to as ‘the new Marta’ in check.
Having opened the scoring in the decisive 3-0 victory over Portland Thorns in 2018, Debinha was right at the heart when the Courage stormed to another NWSL championship last October. Adding to her extra-time, semi-final goal against Reign FC, she netted the first as they dismantled Chicago Red Stars 4-0.
Debinha tells more of how certain songs help restore the vital balance for her during a season.
“It is certainly one of the things I like to do in my spare time; put on loud music to relax a little bit, and before games, too. I try to listen and get out a little of that tension from the game.
“I’m pretty eclectic. I like to listen to music according to how I feel, but at the moment, I think MPB (popular Brazilian music).
“I really like the song ‘A mais pedida’ (‘The most requested’) by Raimundos featuring Ivete Sangalo.”
On that song, it is one of Brazil’s best-selling female singers adding her vocals to a punk-inspired band’s old track. For all its social power, music is personal, and it can be one crucial cog of familiarity someone needs when away from home.
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That is something Debinha can identify with. The popular teammate has recalled how she spent less time with her Courage colleagues when she first arrived in the US, due to her initially much more limited English.
The player with ability to bring thousands to their feet in appreciation takes the sounds of home with her, and she remembers life back in Brasópolis growing up having rocking influences aplenty.
“I think one of the first I listened to was Charlie Brown Jr. but my childhood was marked by Raul Seixas, Zé Ramalho – it was a good time!”
The soon-to-be international centurion (97 caps, 34 goals) is a born performer in her own right, and also, partial to a viewing of The Voice. Is she, though, a concert-goer? If she could see anyone from all-time, who would she have in mind?
“I’m not really into going to shows, but when I get the chance, I really want to go to a Coldplay show, and if (lead singer Chorão) was still alive, it would surely be Charlie Brown Jr I would choose.”
When last summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup rolled around, Brazil were in a barely-believable run of nine defeats in a row. Nevertheless, they brought their customary energy to France – Marta’s ukulele leading the song as the players arrived pre-match – and they overcame both Jamaica and Italy in the group phase.
At her first World Cup, Debinha was given Seleção’s number nine shirt for the tournament by coach Vadão, who sadly passed away this week at 63.
It was Debinha who swung the cross in for Cristiane to head home for 2-0 against Australia before that dramatic three-goal turnaround in favour of the Matildas. It was also her run at the Italian defence that earned the penalty for Marta’s winner late in Valenciennes.
Her incisive delivery led to Thaisa’s equaliser against the hosts in the last 16, and French breaths were firmly held in extra-time when she scampered in off the left to knock a goal-bound effort beyond Sarah Bouhaddi, only for Griedge Mbock Bathy to save the day. After their exit later that night, a new era was on its way, under ex-Sweden and USA boss Pia Sundhage – if ever someone was made for a singing initiation.
Debinha has also played in Norway and China during her career – for Avaldsnes IL, where she was 20-goal Toppserien leading scorer (2014), and Dalian Quanjian – so has she ever had to sing for her teammates when joining a new club?
“No, never! But we made some newcomers sing in the national team!”
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Passando para agradecer a todos que nos apoiaram e acreditaram em nós do começo ao fim!! O carinho que todos demonstraram por nós não tem preço.. Sensação única.. Momentos marcantes vivi nessa olimpíada!! Obrigada meu Brasil.. Vocês deram um show !!! 🇧🇷🇧🇷🇧🇷 #OrgulhoDessaEquipe #GrataPorTudo #OSonhoContinua 🙏🏼🙏🏼
Sing and dance as a newcomer you may, but if it’s the team DJ role you have in mind, well, there is a certain legendary sister of spin to get past! As she spoke about in her interview on this site last year, forward Cristiane has more than just a passing interest in DJing, and she still steps up to rock the house with the national team, Debinha confirms.
Like the ex-Paris Saint-Germain star, she has played her club football on different continents, which also means some significant life experiences. Debinha is a person now three years into a new culture and language, and when the NWSL Championship’s post-game procession took place in October, she spoke to the crowd on the microphone after being named game MVP. Her willingness to oblige was a further sign of how at ease she has come to feel in NC.
It gets said on many occasions that a player plays ‘for the love of the game’, and of course, most people get started with the sport for reasons of enjoyment. However, not everyone who gets to play it professionally actually relishes it.
From the weight of trying to get results to keep their club in a league and keep people in jobs, to feeling like they do not want to let friends and family down, to pressure to win that next contract, there can be so many reasons why.
Debinha reflects on the happiest and hardest times, reaffirming that North Carolina is indeed the pinnacle of her career to date, in various respects.
“All the clubs that I went to have always welcomed me very well. I lived great moments, not only in football but with the friendships that I have made during my journey so far, but today, I live a different moment in my life.
“I can enjoy everything that maybe in other clubs I could not afford to. Even so, for sure I was always happy, and happy with little.
“The most difficult moment for sure was my injury in 2015, where I was out of the Pan American Games and World Cup.”
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An alternate for London 2012 as a 20-year-old, she played a part in every game at the 2016 Olympics on home soil, scoring her penalty in the last-eight shootout against Australia in front of 52,660 in Belo Horizonte. Her goals and creativity also helped Brazil on their way to winning the 2018 Copa América in Chile, qualifying them for both the World Cup and (now 2021’s) Tokyo Olympics.
At the peak of her powers now, Debinha was among the NWSL’s top scorers and assist providers last year, while her international form included a match-winning double against World Cup semi-finalists England in Middlesbrough. Alongside some admittedly extremely worthy contenders, she can stake as strong a claim as any to be considered the most in-form individual player at the top level of the women’s game, albeit with no games happening just lately.
Does the thought of eventually becoming recognised as the best player in the world ever cross her mind?
“I think the good part of the sport is this competition that you create within yourself; never settling. Today, I have it within me that if I take care of myself and dedicate myself to evolve more and more, I can make a difference and be in the fight to be the best, and if that doesn’t happen, I’m sure I will leave a legacy for those who are arriving now, or for those who dream of one day being in the national team.”
What is for sure is that in a time where more eyes than ever are on the women’s game, she is footballing box office. Here, then, is a game that would be worth every penny to see happen.
As has been customary on Beats and Rhymes FC for many years now, we end with a fantasy small-sided scenario, in which Debinha gets to put forward some of the teammates from her career who she knows would do her 5-a-side line-up justice. With a Courage core, she calls in the Seleção icons to help her weave an irresistible attacking spell.
“In goal – Katelyn Rowland. For another defensive player – Meredith Speck.
“And of course, Marta and Cris (Cristiane) in the attack; they can’t be missing, right?!”
To catch each of these interviews, you can follow me: @chris_brookes
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