Life is certainly sweet for Internacional's 28-year-old front man Fernandao, the Colorado skipper's goalscoring prowess and inspirational leadership playing a vital role in the Porto Alegre outfit's recent Copa Libertadores success. In just a few short weeks' time, Inter's undisputed figurehead and the darling of their fanatical supporters has a fresh challenge on his hands: to lead his side to glory at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2006.
Having first made his name at Brazilian club Goias in 1999, the powerfully built striker (1.90m and 85kg) took his explosive talents over to Europe for a three-year spell in French football with Marseille and Toulouse. Come 2004, Fernandao felt the time was right for a move back home, signing for Inter as part of the club's ambitious new blueprint for success. The results have been nothing short of spectacular. Two years on, and he has won the hearts and minds of Inter's fans with 57 strikes in 133 games, including a goal in the Copa Libertadores final against Sao Paulo.
Looking ahead to December's eagerly awaited event on Asian soil, Fernandao spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about his hopes for the competition, the chances of Abel Braga's side taking the prestigious trophy and the impact his own arrival has had on the inhabitants of the city in Southern Brazil: "I couldn't have imagined that I'd win so much so soon."
FIFA.com: Fernandao, you were captain, scored a goal and were voted the best player in the final of the Copa Libertadores de America. Could things have gone any better?
Fernandao: No way. As far as I'm concerned it was the perfect tournament. We won a hotly anticipated final and took the trophy in the best way possible: against Sao Paulo, the world champions and the best team in the continent. All I was worried about was winning the title, but to be crowned the competition's top scorer and be voted the best player in the final was fantastic too.
Did you imagine achieving anything of this magnitude when you decided to come back from France?
No, at least not quite so soon. When you come back you're always optimistic about what lies ahead, such as playing for a big team like Inter and being crowned champions. But I knew that could only happen if the club could assemble a strong group of players, something that our president managed in just two years. We had a top-class squad with a great deal of ability, and we were totally focused on achieving what we set out to do. We knew exactly what we were aiming for and everybody pulled together out on the pitch - that's what gave us the edge.
Can you pinpoint anything from your spell in Europe that has contributed to your excellent current form?
There's no doubt that my tactical awareness has improved. I learned to assess in-game situations very quickly, as well as understanding the positions my opponents are likely to take up. In Europe in general, not just in France, teams spend a lot of time working on tactics which has ensured that my three years there were very well-spent. This has meant that I'm now in a position to show my team-mates how we ought to be moving, sometimes during a game itself. This can be crucial.
Internacional's Libertadores win led to a host of wacky celebrations from supporters, such as doing laps of the stadium on their knees. As the team captain, how do scenes like this make you feel?
To tell you the truth, we knew that this would happen if we won the title. This club was formed 97 years ago and had never previously won the Libertadores, a trophy which means so much to Brazilian fans. It meant even more to us, given that our cross-town rivals (Gremio) had already won it. Colorado fans were obsessed with winning this title, and I knew exactly where they were coming from. We all needed it, and the importance of this win is reflected in these types of antics.
Talking about Gremio, how do their supporters treat you when they see you on the streets of Porto Alegre?
To be honest, they're very congratulatory - they understand that I'm a professional. I'm very proud to say that there's a great deal of respect there, fortunately for me! (laughs)
The Libertadores win may still be fresh in the memory, but Inter must now turn their attention to Japan and the hunt for another trophy. How do you rate your chances of success?
For us Brazilians, a World Cup is the pinnacle of all our careers. The opportunity to travel to Japan and compete against other (continental) champions is not something that happens every day. We come from a poor country, where there isn't much money in either football or in society in general. That's why testing ourselves against a wealthy European outfit, who have some of the finest players in the world, is a fantastic challenge. We'll be relying on a dose of unique Brazilian pride to help us succeed.
Were you to reach the final you could find yourselves up against FC Barcelona star Ronaldinho, a player who came up through the youth ranks at Gremio…
There's no doubt that it would add even more spice to the occasion for the fans, because you're also talking about a man who is currently the best player in the world. But, and I repeat, defeating such a rich and powerful team would not only be massive for the club, but would be a huge and unforgettable moment in all our careers.
Does the fact that Gremio have already won the Intercontinental crown put even more pressure on you?
No, I don't think so. We already had that hanging over us during the Libertadores and we didn't let it get to us. We prefer to stand up and be counted out on the pitch and give everything we've got to ensure that things go our way. Our success was the fruit of our togetherness and dedication, something we've got to reproduce during the Club World Cup.
Is there anything you would like to say to the club's fans before jetting off to Japan?
Playing in front of a full Beira-Rio Stadium, packed with fifty or sixty thousand spectators, is a wonderful experience. We're aware that many of the fans who'd love to come with us to Japan are not going to be able to go, but we know that the hearts of each and every one of them will be with us over on the other side of the planet. They can be certain that out on the pitch we'll feel all those hearts beating away and urging us on all the way from Brazil.
Is there anything that you would like to say to your future opponents?
They should know that Inter are going to Japan to become (world) champions. We're not going just to take part. Of course, we respect all the other sides involved, but we intend to bring back the title and we're capable of doing just that.
Have you imagined what it would be like to lift the trophy?
I was asked that all the time with regard to the Copa Libertadores, and I'm going to have to give the same answer this time: I prefer not to try and picture situations like this. On the contrary, I think that things happen for a reason. I worked really hard to be in a position to win the Libertadores, and I can tell you that I'm going to prepare extremely thoroughly to try and win the Club World Cup. Should we manage it, it would be the happiest moment of my football career.
Former Inter legend Dunga is now the Brazilian national team coach. Do you dream of being called up to play for the Auriverde?
Of course! That's something I've always dreamed of and I'll continue to do so all my life. In any case, I think that I need to keep playing well and winning silverware with Inter to achieve that aim. If I do my job well enough, then a call-up should be forthcoming.
One last question: you were seen celebrating the Libertadores win while wearing a hair-band in Japanese colours. Were you really that confident of winning or was it a kind of lucky charm?
(Laughs) It's a tradition over here. In Brazil, when you win the Libertadores you put on one of these hair-bands with the Japanese flag, just like a real samurai. I won't be taking any lucky charms to Japan though, just my faith.