Corinthians have the best defensive record of the Copa Libertadores 2012, an achievement for which their attackers must take part of the credit. For while it is true to say that O Timão’s midfielders often push high up the pitch to prevent opposition defenders from bringing the ball out, if it were not for the forwards doing their bit as well, the team’s capacity to not concede would prove far less effective.
Central to Corinthians’ pressing game is the 5ft 7ins-tall Jorge Henrique, the man who sets the tone by closing down opposing centre-halves and full-backs and putting in perfectly timed tackles, often celebrated by his supporters as if he had just hit the back of the net.
Spectators who do not follow the side closely or are not regulars at the Pacaembu might find it hard to appreciate what the player brings to the team. After all, he is not the side’s top scorer, nor does he top their assists chart. Yet when Henrique limped off after 38 minutes of the first leg of the Libertadores final against Boca Juniors at La Bombonera, he left coach Tite with a major tactical headache, forcing him to reshuffle his original formation.
Having regained full fitness, the diminutive forward is a confirmed starter for Wednesday’s decisive return game, ahead of which he spoke to FIFA.com about his role in the side and his willingness to carry out whatever duties are entrusted to him.
FIFA.com: Jorge, do you think the defensive work you put in up front sets an example for the team and gets the fans excited?
Jorge Henrique: I think so. I’m not sure if it gets the fans going that much, but the work I do closing players down has a big tactical impact and makes things easier for the players in the second line of defence. It’s very important to try and close the opposition down and stop them bringing the ball out.
When did you first start performing that kind of role? Was there a coach who pushed you in that direction, or a moment in particular maybe?
It all started at Botafogo, with Cuca. Then it just went on my CV (laughs). In his team talks when he was here at Corinthians, Mano Menezes used board magnets to show the formation he wanted us to play in, and he always left mine till last. When he got round to giving me my instructions, he’d say, ‘Jorge, you’re going to close off the area from one corner flag to the other’. And people think footballers have it easy! (laughs).
Can you name any other forwards who have the same defensive duties as you? Do you think you’re one of the best at the job?
Emerson is very good at it. I’ve played with others, but to honest there aren’t that many that do it. I don’t feel I’m the best at it either. Sometimes I don’t have the energy to go closing people down, but we’ve got a whole tactical set-up to prevent that from affecting the way we play.
How important a part of your game has defending become, aside from your attacking duties?
It’s like the mark of a warrior or something. I’ve won state titles, the Copa do Brasil and the national league playing like this, and hopefully the Libertadores will come too. What really pleases me about this job is that even though Corinthians have always brought in big-name forwards, I’ve never lost my place in the team.
Do you think that fans who don’t watch that many Corinthians games understand your importance to the team? They generally demand goals from strikers but your role goes beyond that.
I think so, because when people come up to me in the street they make a point of how important I am tactically. I don’t say that much, I don’t give many interviews, but that’s something I’m never afraid to point out (laughs).
One last question: you’re one of the few survivors from the team that won the Copa do Brasil 2009 and you’ve lived through the transitional phase that followed. Can you see any major difference between that side and the current one?
Tactically it’s different but I don’t want to talk too much about that, mainly because we’re fighting for a title that would be historic for Corinthians and I don’t want to give any clues about our game away to the opposition. What I can say is that, regardless of the result against Boca, this is a very competitive and determined team, just like the 2009 one. Even though I’m not one of the big names here, if we do end up winning this Libertadores, I don’t think Corinthians fans will forget how important I was for the club over a considerable period of time, thanks to my assists, goals and my ability to win the ball back.