Daniel Brings Up 100

When Daniel Lins Cortes was unveiled as a Phoenix player on the last day of May 2007, it’s a fair bet not a single football fan in New Zealand had ever heard of him.

When Daniel Lins Cortes was unveiled as a Phoenix player on the last day of May 2007, it-s a fair bet not a single football fan in New Zealand had ever heard of him. It didn-t take long for two of the three names to become redundant and for him to become known simply as Daniel.

Now, as the only player to ever wear the Phoenix-s number eleven jersey prepares to become the second man to bring up 100 matches for the club, he-s one of the most recognisable footballers in the country, and one of the sport-s most popular personalities.

From day one, Daniel was a hit. He ensured his place in club folklore by scoring the Phoenix-s first ever A-League goal; a header from close range against Melbourne Victory in the pulsating 2-all draw which marked the club-s debut. Many have since forgotten that he missed a penalty earlier in the match.

He stepped up again though three weeks later against Sydney FC to calmly slot home from the spot, only to have the goal ruled out for player encroachment and a re-take ordered. No problem - he coolly found the back of the net again for what would be the winning goal in the Phoenix-s first ever away win. Another spot-kick was converted in the loss to Adelaide the night before the Beckham game.

The high point of Daniel-s debut season was a masterful display against Perth when he was a constant threat and had a hand in three of the Phoenix-s goals in a 4-1 thrashing of the Glory. He also scored the winner when the Phoenix visited Perth for the first time a month later.

Daniel-s dazzling dribbling ability, close control and pinpoint crosses quickly made him a crowd favourite, as did his obvious passion for Wellington and the Phoenix fans. At his best, he was one of the stars of the A-League.

Daniel-s major problem in season one was a tendency to pick up daft bookings - mainly through an inability to refrain from silly fouls - which led to seven yellow cards and subsequent suspensions. In a sign of increasing maturity and self-awareness, Daniel quickly changed his ways, and the numbers bear that out. He picked up seven yellow cards in his first 16 Phoenix matches. In the 83 games since, he-s been booked just six more times. He-s never been sent off.

Daniel also had the tendency, especially early in that first season, to be somewhat theatrical in his quest to win free-kicks. He was however the most fouled player in the league, evidence of the threat he posed to opposition sides. While sometimes the Brazilian propensity for dramatic diving slips back into his game, he-s curbed his natural instincts in this area in subsequent seasons as well.

In the club-s inaugural campaign, Daniel was one of four Brazilians at the club alongside Cleberson, George and Felipe. In a statistical quirk, Felipe and Daniel played exactly the same number of matches in 2007/08, both starting 14 games and coming off the bench three times. While Felipe showed flashes of footballing brilliance, he drifted in and out of matches a little too frequently. Cleberson and George were quickly revealed to be rather poor footballers, and when 2008/09 rolled around, Daniel was the only South American who remained.

Just days before the first match of the 2008/09 Pre-Season Cup against the Central Coast Mariners, Daniel-s grandfather passed away. It was only right that it was to be Daniel who scored the winning goal in that game, which he immediately dedicated to a man who-d had a huge influence on his footballing career. Daniel played the same number of A-League games in season two as he had in season one, but started only half as many matches. He also failed to score in any of his seventeen appearances. However, he did more than enough to earn a two-season extension to his contract in November 2008.

Daniel started 2009/10 on the bench too, but after the side-s sluggish beginning to the season, he was brought into the starting eleven where he stayed for the best part of four months, during which time the Phoenix lost just three matches. The highlight was Daniel-s first brace - the first and third goals in the 6-0 flogging of Gold Coast United - and his trickery, accurate crosses and mazy dribbling continued to delight the fans.

Unfortunately, injuries and Manny Muscat-s conversion to a central midfielder which led to a formation change lessened Daniel-s involvement after Christmas. However, his contributions as an impact player were significant, including the sixty-yard run which led to Paul Ifill-s second goal against the Mariners in the last game of the regular season and a similar attacking foray which finished with Eugene Dadi-s decisive extra-time strike against Newcastle in the sold-out playoff match at Westpac Stadium. He made the match-day fifteen for the Preliminary Final, where he featured as a second half substitute.

The theme continued in 2010/11 with twenty of Daniel-s 29 appearances coming as a replacement. Furthermore, he was substituted in all of his nine starts, meaning he didn-t complete ninety minutes in any match. However, an injury-free campaign meant he played in all but two of the Phoenix-s 31 games with only Tim Brown and Chris Greenacre featuring more often.

Daniel is certainly not what you-d call a ninety-minute man. In fact, in just thirteen of his 99 matches has he been there for the first and last whistle. However, his ability to deliver a unique attacking option from the bench means he-s rarely left out of the match-day squad when fit.

What you ask of your substitutes is the ability to make an impact, and in 2011/12, Daniel has certainly done that, both from the bench and from the start. Again, he-s featured in virtually every game and jointly leads the league in assists with five so far. He-s formed an exciting and dangerous partnership with Dani Sanchez and the two ran riot against Newcastle pre-Christmas, with Daniel-s lobbed pass for Sanchez-s opening goal particularly memorable. He-s also re-discovered the goal-scoring touch with two of his own, and on the occasion of his 99th appearance, it was he who delivered the free-kick for Brown-s winner in the Phoenix-s crucial win away at Gold Coast United last weekend.

The Wellington Phoenix is more than just a football club for Daniel. He constantly refers to the team as part of his family and does more than anyone else to spread the Phoenix gospel. In particular, he-s exceptionally generous with his time and energy around the younger members of the club-s fan base, and relishes the opportunity to chat and kick a ball with kids of all ages. Like the Pied Piper, children are drawn to him and his infectious personality. He-s never refused an autograph or photo or failed to return a wave to a fan. Rarely is he seen without the smile for which he has become famous and universally loved.

Daniel-s grasp of the English language was pretty much non-existent when he arrived in Wellington, with interpretation provided by his brother Ricardo. Nearly five years on, the Brazilian accent is still thick but his English is good as he engages you in conversation. Often that discussion will turn to his one remaining football dream - representing the country he now calls home. With New Zealand citizenship secured, he is now an option for Ricki Herbert-s All Whites and it-s certainly not beyond the realms of possibility. He-d be a pretty valuable asset off the bench when something different is required to break down a stubborn international opponent.

And so, as centurion status beckons for this most popular, polite and personable of footballers, the over-riding image is one of step-overs, samba and celebration. Football was meant to be played with a smile on the face, and for Daniel Lins Cortes, there is no other way.

THE NUMBERS

2007/08: 17 appearances (14 starts), 4 goals 2008/09: 17 appearances (7 starts), 0 goals 2009/10: 22 appearances (14 starts), 2 goals 2010/11: 29 appearances (9 starts), 0 goals 2011/12: 14 appearances (8 starts), 2 goals TOTAL: 99 appearances (52 starts), 8 goals