Nene forged quite a reputation for himself in France last season, scoring freely for Monaco in the first half of the league campaign before earning a move to Paris Saint-Germain. No sooner had the Brazilian forward settled in the French capital than he began to hit even more prolific form, spurring a renaissance at a club that had fallen on hard times and giving their long-suffering fans renewed hope.
His hunger for goals still unsated, Nene is now looking to win some major silverware and make PSG a force on the continent once more. Currently giving pursuit to Lille in the French title race, the Parisians are also into the last eight of the French Cup and face BATE Borisov this week in the Round of 32 of the UEFA Europa League.
Sitting down with FIFA.com to discuss those objectives and more, the in-form Brazilian spoke about his productive liaison with PSG so far and the targets he is setting himself and his club.
FIFA.com: Best foreign player in France last year, player of the month last December, and the second-highest scorer in the league this season. Nene, is this the high point of your career to date?
Nene: Yes it is, and that’s not just because of the awards. With everything I’ve done on the pitch this is the best all-round season I’ve ever had. Tactically and physically I’ve never been better, and I’ve scored goals, created goals and played at a very high level.
A lot of PSG fans think you’re the man responsible for reviving the team’s fortunes. How do you feel about that?
I feel important here and that makes me happy. The fans are really pleased with my work and they and the club have been right behind me since I came here. I’m proud that people think I’m a mainstay at a club like PSG. It gives me even more confidence.
What kind of reception do you get from the fans when you’re out and about?
It’s impossible to go out here in Paris and not get recognised. It’s just like Brazil, where everyone’s crazy about football. I tell you, there’s virtually no way I can walk down somewhere like the Champs-Elysees without getting asked for autographs or having my photo taken. Generally speaking people are pretty warm here and respectful too. People see it and they don’t believe it and kids always have a big smile on their face. It’s fantastic.
Since moving from Monaco how have you adapted to life in Paris and the change of climate, for example?
You can’t have everything. The club’s great, the city’s got the lot but the cold weather makes life difficult. I’d no idea it would be like this, and training’s really tough. My skin freezes in the morning but I suppose you get used to it, and at least it’s stopped snowing (laughs). Obviously I’d like to see more of the sun but it’s not that much of a problem on the pitch, or off it for that matter.
Things are going well for PSG right now. You’re fourth in the league, you went unbeaten in a tough group phase in the UEFA Europa League and you’ve reached the quarter-finals of the French Cup. Is this the year when it all comes good for PSG?
I hope so. I hope the team can keep it up in every competition and go as far as they can, all the way to finals in Europe and France if possible. And we’ve got the league too. We’re in terrific form and we can’t afford to ease off, which can happen sometimes. Luckily for us the coach works hard on the psychological side of things and he’s let us know that we’ve won nothing yet.
Talking of Europe, PSG have lost a little of the prestige they had in the 1990s. What does the club need to get back into the big time?
We just need to build on what we’ve done so far by reaching the Champions League, signing some big-name players and going all out to win competitions. It’s not enough just to take part. The team’s on the right track, we’ve got good players and the standard here is very high. We need to build on what we’ve done and focus on reaching the Champions League. That’s the competition we all dream about playing in.
You’re in three competitions right now. Do you think you ought to concentrate on one to avoid missing out altogether?
What we need to do is keep our mind on the job and focus even harder than we’re doing at the moment. The challenges ahead of us are only going to get tougher and tougher because everyone’s watching out for us now.
There’s a rich Brazilian tradition at PSG and you’re now being compared to the likes of Ronaldinho, Rai and Valdo. What kind of player would you like to be remembered as? Someone as stylish as Ronaldinho or as successful as Rai?
I’m proud of comparisons like that and deep down I hope I can be a little bit like both of them. I want to win the titles Rai won and play with the same joy and flair as Ronaldinho, though I don’t have his ability. A little bit of both would be just great.
You’ve scored 13 league goals this season. Which is your favourite and what’s been the highlight of your stay with PSG so far?
There have been a few, but my first goal for the club at the Parc des Princes, against Saint-Etienne, was special. Then there’s the two I got against Valenciennes, especially the second, which was also the winner. That was one of the best goals I’ve scored in the last few years. The victory over Marseille was also a memorable moment. I didn’t score but I set up Guillaume [Hoarau]. It was lovely assist, a bit like one of Ronaldinho’s (laughs). The team hadn’t won in Marseille for ages, and the fans had been making it very clear to me since my arrival that it was a game we couldn’t afford to lose.
Finally, some people were expecting to see you in the France-Brazil game last week. Were you disappointed not to get the call?
Yes, I was sad. There was huge expectation here in France. The press were talking a lot about it and I got caught up in it all. The problem is, none of that excitement found its way back to Brazil. Mano (national coach Mano Menezes) has a lot of players to choose from and he has his reasons. It’s just a question of not getting carried away with the expectations people have of me. If I do get the call, then it will be a nice surprise, but if I don’t I’ll just stay patient and keep on working.