MANCHESTER: In a scene from the “All or Nothing” Amazon documentary series that charted Brazil’s 2019 Copa America campaign, Fernandinho listens intently as “coragem,” the Portuguese word for courage, reverberates around the dressing room.
Seeking to lift spirits and unite his under-pressure team, coach Tite tells the players it is “courage” that will provide them with the mental strength they need in adversity.
“You can lose, but never be defeated,” he says during the impassioned speech, before leading Brazil to their first major trophy in 12 years.
Midfielder Fernandinho won the last of his 53 caps for his country during that Copa America triumph — and courage is a trait the 37-year-old also sees in the club he currently captains, Manchester City, as he seeks to secure the perfect farewell gift of one last success before he departs.
City’s dramatic Champions League exit in the semi-finals this month — having seen a two-goal advantage over Real Madrid wiped out in gut-wrenching fashion when the Spanish champions struck three times late on to win 6-5 on aggregate — would demoralize most teams. All the more so when the pain of last season’s defeat in the final by Chelsea is still raw.
City, though, responded with 5-0 and 5-1 victories over Newcastle and Wolves to keep them on course to retain the Premier League title. Fernandinho expected nothing less.
“Definitely, we are strong mentally or we wouldn’t be in the position we are now, fighting for a fourth Premier League in five years,” he said. “If we are not strong mentally, I don’t know who can be.
“The level we are at now, we know what we are playing for, the players know what they need to do and we have done it before. That’s important, because they understand their responsibility and know how important it is to overcome those difficult situations and give the response to our fans, to give them the title.”
He remains philosophical about the ups and downs of football in general and the Champions League exit in particular.
“In life you have good moments and bad moments constantly,” Fernandinho said. “It was really heartbreaking to lose in Madrid, especially the way the game went. We wanted so much to reach the final but it wasn’t enough. It is football. It is life.
“Losing that final last season and losing that semi-final could be bad moments in my life. But what’s important is the way we reacted. The group of people we have — the players, staff, everyone at the club — everyone gave their contribution. And, after that, we have shown good character and a response.”
Has this City squad displayed greatness, too?
“Yes, definitely,” he replied. “It’s a great team and I’m proud to be part of this and work with them. I was fighting for those two titles but now it’s one and we are 100 per cent going to try to win it. Definitely, I want to finish with that Premier League title … definitely.”
With a three-point lead and seven-goal advantage over their only remaining challengers, Liverpool, City will be crowned champions if they take four points from their final two games, against West Ham on Sunday and Aston Villa a week later.
It would be a fifth Premier League success for Fernandinho, matching the club record set by Sergio Aguero. Yet when he arrived from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2013, it was almost a case of Fernandin-who? Some people questioned the £30 million ($36.7 million) purchase of a player who had waived about £4 million owed to him by Shakhtar to complete the move. He went on to prove his worth and is now widely lauded as one of the finest midfielders in the Premier League.
Having decided to return to Brazil this summer when his contract ends, Fernandinho wants to secure a 12th major honor with City to add to the 11 he won with Shakhtar.
“I’m really proud to have been part of this huge club, full of nice people, hard workers, and that’s why City are considered one of the best teams in Europe now,” Fernandinho told Arab News.
“I’m really proud to have been part of this team, to have been part of how they have grown and the history we have made. It’s a mix of emotions now. When I look back, the first time I arrived here so full of expectation; I just came to play well, to win titles. When the years went by, you become a bit more experienced and you win one title and you become hungrier and hungrier to win more.”
Londrina-born Fernandinho left Brazil, bound for Ukraine, in 2005 after three years at Atletico Paranaense, who are one of the clubs currently interested in signing him. He is now ready to continue his career at home, inspired by compatriot Ze Roberto, a former Real Madrid and Bayern Munich winger who continued to play until he was 43.
“It’s hard to leave City but it’s life,” said Fernandinho. “I have a wish to keep playing a little bit more, to get more minutes in games and the chance to play for another club. It’s not decided yet where, and I’m still looking for the offers, but I will definitely go home.
“City tried to get me to stay and I’m really grateful because the way they treat me is full of respect, and me the same, but in the end I just follow my heart. I found the best solution for me was to leave and keep playing for a few more years. I hope I can play on until I am 40; I feel good and if I am capable enough, I want to do that, just to enjoy it.
“But it’s not just about football, you know, it’s about family, to be a bit closer to my family and friends. I have been away from Brazil for 17 years now and it’s not been easy. My dad is getting old, my mum is getting old and they can’t travel a lot to come and visit me, so the best choice is to go back home and stay close to them, and keep working there.”
Often regarded as an unsung hero of Abu Dhabi-owned City’s recent domination of English football, Fernandinho will leave behind him the image of a gentle giant, a tenacious, intelligent, industrious leader on the pitch, yet humble off it as he encourages his teammates to further excel.
Manager Pep Guardiola has hailed the importance of his captain, once describing him as a player “who can do everything.” Deployed at center-back during City’s current defensive crisis, although a muscular problem means he is doubtful for the trip to West Ham, Fernandinho has dutifully stepped up to the challenge whenever and wherever needed.
He has no doubt his teammates will step up, too, and continue to challenge for the biggest prizes, including the one he and they craved so badly.
“I do believe in the future they will win the Champions League and I hope they can win it really, really soon,” said Fernandinho.
“I will be far away but supporting them — and always looking on at them to do well.”