Rather than relying on the skills of one or two players to turn games, Corinthians coach Tite has his charges playing collectively and uniformly in a side whose sum is greater than its individual parts. Having had the best defence and best overall record in the current Copa Libertadores campaign, it is a policy that is clearly working.
In this context, it is noteworthy that Emerson is one of the few players with license to make solo forays when O Timão’s pacy and sometimes direct passing game is not working. Indeed it was the 33-year-old striker who grabbed Corinthians' winner in the first leg of the semi-final away to Santos that paved the way for this week’s showdown with Boca Juniors.
What should have been a heroic night for Emerson was nonetheless tarnished when, very late in the game, he was sent off for a second bookable offence. Used to rising to the occasion and a lover of big games, the veteran suffered more than ever on the sidelines. Now, though, he is available again and ready to face the Argentinian outfit.
Yet is it not just Emerson, who left Brazil for Asia in 2000 and returned in 2009 to win successive national championships with Flamengo, Fluminese and Corinthians, that Los Xeneizes need to worry about. Many in the Paulista heavyweights' squad were part of the 2011 team that disappointed in last year’s Libertadores, making them doubly determined to succeed this time – as the player himself explained in this exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: Emerson, was it harder to have to watch the second leg from the sidelines than compete in the first one at the Vila Belmiro?
Emerson: Without a doubt; that was the toughest moment so far. There was so much tension at the Pacaembu and I couldn’t help out on the pitch. I love decisive games and feel very comfortable in them. I was really annoyed not to be playing, but we made it to the final. Two very special games in Corinthians’ history now await us, and I’ll be giving absolutely everything so that we come out of them with the title.
While at Flamengo and Fluminense, you played alongside such big names as Adriano, Ibson, Fred and Deco, but with Corinthians what stands out is the importance of the unit. In that sense would you say this is the best side you’ve ever played for?
I think that the commitment of all the players, even those squad members who give options from the bench, is what gives us our edge. Our focus while working is immense, and that’s all down to our coach Tite. The majority of this team also played in the Libertadores last year, and suffered with our early exit. Part of the determination we have now stems from our desire to prove that we have what it takes to go far in this tournament. Happily, it’s all gone right so far.
That said, you’re one of the few Corinthians players with the requisite ability and freedom to take on people and go on solo runs, just like you did away to Santos. Are you encouraged to try moves like that, to use as a Plan B when when the passing game is not working?
Taking a few more risks has always been a characteristic of mine. Attackers have a certain freedom in this sense because, if a pass goes astray for example, the ball is still a long way from his own area. Tite has us work on a variety of different moves and, in a good many of them, my job is to be the most incisive, honing in directly on the opposition’s goal.
After a brief spell with Sao Paulo, you spent much of the last decade in Asia. Though not a household name when you returned to Brazil, you had sufficient experience to deal with fans as demanding as those of Flamengo. Do you think your rather unusual career trajectory contributed to your being successful on your return?
My career path really has been a bit unusual, but that’s football for you. It’s strange to think that if I hadn’t gone to Flamengo at that time, then maybe I wouldn’t be getting all the recognition I am at the moment. I thank God for everything that has happened in my career and I’m happy here at Corinthians. The fans here are spurring us on and are playing a decisive part in this great Libertadores campaign.
The decider against Boca will be a clash of two very popular teams from two football-mad countries. Will that add more pressure and does facing such a prestigious rival that has already claimed many Brazilian scalps make the final an intimidating or attractive prospect?
The pressure on Corinthians to win the Libertadores has been there for many years, so it’s nothing new. We’re ready for this and have already had to deal with extremely tough adversaries in this campaign. Facing Boca has made us even more motivated, as victory would be even more special against a side that has won the tournament six times. We respect Boca, but I can assure you we’re ready for whatever comes our way.