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Darlan is expected to play in his first Olympics this summer in Paris

Filled with major events, such as the Volleyball Nations League and the Volleyball Olympic Qualifying Tournaments, the 2023 international volleyball season took some players around the world to another level in their careers.

Brazilian Darlan de Souza is probably the one to best represent that category as, after starting the season as one of the several options the South Americans had at the opposite position, the 21-year-old ended it as the main responsible for the team’s qualification to the Paris 2024 Games.

Known mostly as the younger brother of fellow national team opposite Alan, he had left a solid impression by helping Brazil take bronze at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball World Championship, but things weren’t going well for him in the first part of the international season.

Left out of the Brazilian squad that competed in the VNL, Darlan wasn’t selected for the South American Championship either. He was part of a young squad that competed at the Pan-American Cup, in August, and after Felipe Roque withdrew due to personal reasons, he was called by then-head coach Renan Dal Zotto for the Olympic Qualifier.

Initially viewed as a rotation piece in the Brazilian squad, Darlan stepped up during that week in Rio de Janeiro, ending the event as Brazil’s top scorer and playing a major role in the team’s second-place finish, which was enough to book their tickets to the Paris Games.

A few months after his breakout, Darlan has been getting even more love from passionate Brazilian fans and seeing his unique Naruto serving routine become a trend in his country.

Volleyball World caught up with the Brazilian rising star to know what has changed in his life and what his plans are for 2024.

Volleyball World: What was the feeling at the end of the last season, which was so remarkable for you? Any moments you still catch yourself thinking about?

Darlan: I can only be grateful for everything I accomplished with the national team in 2023. A moment I still think about is the tie-breaker against Ukraine at the Volleyball Olympic Qualifying Tournament. They were leading 13-10 when I went to serve and I was only thinking about doing my best and helping the team. I remember I looked at the bench and the stands and everyone was pushing me and cheering me on. I did a very good job with my serves and we tied it 13-13, before winning the match. The last match, against Italy, when we qualified for Paris 2024, was also incredible. I just remember I was running around the court and hugging my brother. It was incredible.

VW: A performance like the one you had in Rio is capable of changing a player’s career. How do you plan on capitalizing on it and using it to fuel the development of your career?

Darlan: There’s definitely a lot of things I still want to improve on and I want to see myself more as someone who has a larger role with the teams I play. I know, for example, that I’m still young, but I want to be able to help and inspire people with words and actions, on and off the court. I’ve been trying to communicate better and I know I still have a lot to improve with that. Although I’m only 21, I’m one of the most experienced players in my team SESI SP and I’ve been trying to be more of a leader to my teammates and to help them raise their levels.

VW: It feels like the massive success you had at the Volleyball Olympic Qualifying Tournament significantly increased your popularity in Brazil. Did you notice that? Are there more people recognizing you on the streets? How do you deal with it?

Darlan: My life changed after the Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Before that, some people would wave at me at the shopping mall or the grocery store, but now a lot of people stop me to talk and take photos with me. I’m still adapting to all of it, it’s all very new, but it’s a really nice feeling knowing that so many people appreciate what I do and support me.

VW: You were huge for Brazil at the Volleyball Olympic Qualifying Tournament, but just a few months before that you were left out of the squad that competed in the VNL. How tough was that and what did you do to be ready for an opportunity?

Darlan: It was a little frustrating not being able to play in the VNL, but I talked with my brother Alan and realized that I wasn’t ready to help in that moment. The other players in my position were a tier above me. I used that as motivation, I wanted an opportunity. I feel that the day after I was told I didn’t make the roster, my mindset had already changed. It was a tough battle between the opposites, but the three of us (him, Alan and Felipe Roque) are all good friends. We were pushing each other to get better every day.

VW: After all you experienced in 2023, what do you expect from 2024, especially the Paris Olympics?

Darlan: I like to take one step at a time in my career, so right now I’m actually thinking about the Brazilian Superliga. I want to play well, help my team and be called up for the VNL. Then I’ll start thinking about Paris.

VW: You recently shared a social media post that says “The more you dream, the further you can get”. What’s your big dream?

Darlan: It’s definitely to be an Olympic champion. I represented Brazil at the Pan-American Games last year and the atmosphere was amazing, it’s different than a regular volleyball event. To be around athletes from other sports from your country and having that big team spirit, it’s a lot of fun. It’s certainly my biggest dream as a player. And I want to play overseas at some point in my career too.

VW: Standing at 1.93m, you’re not among the tallest opposites in international volleyball. Your current club coach, Olympic champion Anderson Rodrigues, was a player of the same profile. Does he inspire you somehow? Do you have any idols besides your brother?

Darlan: My brother has been my main inspiration since I was very young, but having Anderson as my coach has been invaluable because he often comes up with some great advice. He was a phenomenal athlete and faced the same situation I do, of not being a very tall opposite. The way he sees the game and a lot of the stuff he’s been sharing with me have been helping me grow a lot.

VW: Now everyone knows Darlan, but what was your life like before? How was your journey and what were some of the main challenges you faced before getting here?

Darlan: One of the biggest challenges was facing a big distance to get to practice. Now I live pretty much next door to the club, but a few years ago, it would take me almost two hours to get to the gym. And also, sometimes matches or practices would end so late that it was complicated for me to catch a bus back home. My family also had a tough financial condition and sometimes I didn’t have enough money to get a snack after practice. But my parents always supported me with everything they could and I’m grateful for everything they did for me.