Brazil produces so many quality footballers each year that it is not easy to stand out from the crowd. One man who has achieved just that, however, is Alexsandro de Souza, one of a rare breed of playmakers who use intelligence, guile and technique rather than power to bring their team-mates into play.
An undisputed idol with three Brazilian outfits, namely Coritiba, Palmeiras and Cruzeiro, Alex is now in his fifth season with Turkey's Fenerbahce, having earned the adulation of the club's passionate fans. FIFA.com caught up with the gifted 31-year-old and chatted to him about his club and international career, and his own special way of seeing and analysing the game.
FIFA.com: Alex, it is often said that aside from you and Juan Roman Riquelme, there are not many classic No10s left in the game. Do you agree with that view?
Alex: While it's true those qualities are becoming harder and harder to find in players these days, there are one or two other footballers you can name apart from Riquelme and I. Even so, the number of players who perform that role has dropped because of the route modern football has taken, and there's a little less space for those skills in the game today. Putting style, tactics and the development of the game to one side, though, quality players can still be successful if they can adapt to the modern game, and that applies to me, Riquelme or any other player for that matter.
Which tactical changes have led to the near-disappearance of playmakers like you?
There are a lot of factors in my view, like better fitness and less space. Also, not so long ago you used to see full-backs getting forward even in teams that played with wingers. Nowadays you see a lot of sides with a first line of four players whose job is purely defensive, and that gives the second line of four players a different function too. It depends a lot on the coach too, on what he wants and how he sees the game. The thing that's changed the most is the way the people in charge, the coaches, think.
It is clear that the tactical side of the game interests you a lot. Is it possible we might see you coaching one day?
I've never thought about coaching, up to now at least. Maybe when I stop playing I'll go into it but at the moment it's not something I'm planning on doing. I've always liked the tactical side because people have always questioned what I do. I've always heard things like, ‘the way Alex plays doesn't help the team. It gives the other side an advantage'. Because of that I started taking a wider view of the game, I started thinking beyond my specific role and about the things I could do to help the team. So what I did was look for answers and try to understand the general concepts involved in a football match.
Vanderlei Luxemburgo has called you a demanding player because you ask for explanations about the team and your opponents. Is it true that you used to sit down and talk to him about things and then pass that information on to the rest of the team?
Yes, I like to have information and the more I have, the better. I know the coach should pass as many things on as possible but I like to contribute new things that might be helpful. The important thing is that the team can use them. Of course those things can change because of the quality and talents of individual players but generally speaking there's no doubt that it can help you when you've got information on your opponents.
You have worked with two of the leading Brazilian coaches in recent decades in Luxemburgo and Luiz Felipe Scolari. Do they have different ways of looking at the game?
Completely different. I worked for four years with each of them and they are both out-and-out winners. I identify myself more with Luxemburgo's approach. I think Vanderlei has a vision of the game that's closer to what we normally see in Brazil, whereas Scolari has a more European way of seeing things.
You were named player of the year in Brazil in 2003 after winning the Mineiro State Championship, Copa do Brasil and Brasileirao with Cruzeiro. That was just a year after missing out on the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™. Were you disappointed you failed to make the squad?
Not now. At the time I was very down about it, of course. I'd played in all the qualifiers and Scolari knew me well because I'd played for him for a long time. That's all in the past now, though. He had other options, he did what he thought was right and that's that.
Do you feel you still have something to prove with the Brazil team?
No, not at all. I think I'm still playing well enough to get back in the side and if that happens one day then I'll be delighted to go back. There are so many options that have to be considered when you're picking the Brazil team and sometimes the decision goes in your favour and sometimes it doesn't. You have to respect that because those decisions invariably involve players with a tremendous amount of quality. I don't see it as something I've still got to prove. As far as the issue of the national team is concerned, it's something I've completely come to terms with.
Some people believe that if you were playing in another European league with a higher profile things might have been different. What is your view on that?
There's no doubt that the major European leagues are much more popular and have a bigger profile than the Turkish league. I've managed maintained the same standard since I was at Cruzeiro in 2003 but not many people know that. As for the Brazil team I really can't tell you if it would have made much difference because I was playing really well for Cruzeiro for a long time and I still didn't get that many opportunities. (Carlos Alberto) Parreira had other options at the time.
You come from a country that loves football. All the same, the passion of the Turkish fans must have taken you by surprise a little?
A lot. It exceeded all my expectations. Brazilian people really like their football, but for the Turks it's something that's more important than anything else and a lot more important than in Brazil or anywhere else I've played. You just can't describe the way Turkish people feel about the game. You have to be Turkish to understand it.
The only contact most people have with Turkish football is through the European competitions but how does the technical level compare with the football you see in Brazil?
It's completely different. The main difference is that in Brazil there's a bigger appreciation of technique and individual quality. It's very tough to play here and it's a huge transition to begin with. The Brazilian league is more beautiful to watch, more artistic, but it's much harder to play in the Turkish league.
And what have you learnt in your four seasons here?
The league is very well organised and it works really well but you have to understand how they see football here. If you look at it through Brazilian eyes, then it might not seem a very high standard to you. Likewise, if a Turkish person watches a Brazilian league game, then they'd probably say that something wasn't right, that they don't like it. That's what I've learnt during my four seasons here, that we Brazilians see football in a different way to the rest of Europe.
Lastly, are you still planning to end your career with Coritiba?
Everything depends on my situation at the end of my contract. Depending on what happens then, that's when I'll start thinking about how and when I'll go back to Brazil. There's no question, though, that I'm still thinking about finishing my career with Coritiba.