The match for third place at the FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2013 will be the first step in Dario Conca’s reintegration into Brazilian football. The Argentinian will play his last game for Guangzhou Evergrande against familiar foe Atletico Mineiro this Saturday, before returning to Fluminense and a country that has become his second home.
Conca will return from China as a hero, just as he was when he completed his three-year spell at Fluminense in 2011, which included a Brazilian title win in 2010. And after a number of historic triumphs, he will say his farewells to Guangzhou equally adored by the fans.
“I hope it will be a successful return and that I can play as well as I know I am capable. I want to be as happy at Fluminense as I was during the three years I played there before,” Conca told FIFA.com shortly after Guangzhou had lost 3-0 to FC Bayern Munchen in the semi-final of the Club World Cup. “Even though I’ve had a great time in China, I’m really excited to be going back to somewhere where I was so happy in the past.”
Conca will find a very different Fluminense side awaiting him when he gets back to Brazil. The team won the Brazilian title again in 2012, but this season was considerably more difficult for the club. As a result the diminutive midfielder has only one objective in mind: reliving his glory days of 2010 with Flu, when he was voted Brazilian Footballer of the Year.
“I worked hard to be successful back then. I won individual awards and the team won the title, and I hope that I can recreate that success because the fans deserve it,” he said. “I’m going to give it everything I’ve got, because Fluminense showed faith in me and I really respect that.
"I love the club and I want to do my best for them. I don’t want to start talking about specific titles, but I hope I can bring a little happiness to the fans. Helping Fluminense is the most important thing for me.”
If making one club and its fans happy inevitably means upsetting another team, then at least Conca can look back on a job well done in China. And he knows Guangzhou can be satisfied with their investment too.
After all, the three official bids the club made, together with the hefty transfer fee they eventually paid to secure his signing in 2011, were more than worth it as the team won three national titles, the AFC Champions League and, most importantly of all, became a major power in China.
That is why Conca became such an idol at the club, winning individual awards (such as China's Footballer of the Year prize in 2013) and receiving a touching tribute from the experienced Marcello Lippi, his coach at Guangzhou.
“Conca is a great player and it has been an honour to work with him over the last two and a half years,” said the Italian shortly before the Argentinian’s final game in China. “I have coached players like Del Piero, Zidane and Totti and, for me, Conca is as good as any of them.”
Conca’s team-mates such as Muriqui, who whom he shared in many of Guangzhou’s goals and biggest moments, have also talked about the gap he will leave behind. “We’re really going to miss him,” the Brazilian striker told FIFA.com. “I hope the team can remain strong and that we can find someone as good as Conca was to replace him. We have reached the top now and we want to stay there.”
Conca is grateful and hopes to repay all the support and affection with a match-winning performance in his last game for Guangzhou. Afterwards he will do what he has been doing for the last few years: remembering with a mixture of sadness and satisfaction a club on the other side of the world where he became a hero.
“It was a wonderful period in my life and I’m so happy that I came here. We had some great times together and qualified for the Club World Cup, which nobody expected,” concluded Conca.
“Guangzhou Evergrande have a great coach, good foreign players and will continue to be as strong as ever. I’ll be cheering them on from afar, and hope that they continue to do well and qualify for the Club World Cup again.”