Didi is considered to be one of the greatest midfielders in the sport renowned for his range of passing, stamina and technique. He became famous for inventing the folha seca (dry leaf) free kicks, notably used by modern day players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Juninho, where the ball would swerve downward unexpectedly at a point resulting in a goal.
At club level, he moved to Botafogo, winning the Campeonato Carioca (Rio state championship) in 1957. Didi had previously promised to walk from the Maracanã to his house, at the neighbourhood of Laranjeiras (9,4 km), in his kit if Botafogo won the championship; 5,000 Botafogo fans joined him as he did so.
His greatest achievement came at the 1958 FIFA World Cup where he was player of the tournament. From midfield, he masterminded the first of his two FIFA World Cup successes for Brazil. In 68 international matches he scored 20 goals, including a dozen using his trademark free-kicks.
In 1959 he was signed by Real Madrid of Spain. Despite his great reputation after the 1958 FIFA World Cup, he played only 19 matches with 6 goals for the Spaniards and often clashed with the team leader Alfredo Di Stéfano, who felt offended by the divide in the fans' attention with this newcomer; this situation precipitated his exit from the club. After success at the 1962 FIFA World Cup, he decided to become a coach.