The 2009 campaign will be remembered in Brazil as the year in which several of their most renowned strikers made successful comebacks on home soil. Not only did Ronaldo get off to a flyer in the first half of the season with Corinthians but he shared the headlines with former strike partner Adriano, who led from the front in Flamengo’s run to national championship success.
However, it was also the year in which Fred redeemed himself after his star had appeared to be on the wane since travelling with the Seleção to the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™.
Though his team failed to reach the final of the Campeonato Carioca (Rio’s State Championship), fell at the quarter-final stage of the Brazilian Cup, were runners-up in the Copa Sudamericana and came within a point of being relegated from the Brazilian Serie A, it was the 26-year-old’s vital goals that saved Flu from total disaster.
“It was the most important year of my life. I’ve won six major trophies in my career, but helping Fluminense stay in the top flight has been the most important success so far,” said the forward, who played a part in three of French giants Lyon’s seven consecutive Ligue 1 titles.
Current South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, who coached Brazil to glory at USA 1994 and is a dyed-in-the-wool Fluminense fan, had this to say: “It was an absolute miracle. With ten games to go there was a 98.9 per cent chance of the club going down. Losing one of those matches would have meant relegation. They overcame all the stats and predictions.”
Leading that miracle charge was Fred, whose contribution to the rescue mission was a tally of no less than eight goals in those final ten games, taking his total to 12 goals in 20 for the campaign. Though some way behind the 19 goals fired by divisional top scorers Adriano and Atletico-MG’s emerging talent Diego Tardelli, Fred’s goal-per-game ratio of 0.60 was better than Tardelli’s average of 0.57 and only just short of ‘The Emperor’s’ 0.63.
And Fred’s tally might have been even higher were it not for the severe thigh strain he suffered against Atletico-MG on 23 July. Michael Simoni, Fluminense’s club doctor, considered it the worst muscle fracture he had ever seen and the goal-getter was sidelined for over two months. It was yet another physical problem for a player plagued by injuries during his time in French football and a factor which contributed to his slide from grace with Les Gones.
Having touched down at Fluminense in March 2009, Fred soon resumed a starring role, with his importance to Flu underlined by a run of seven defeats, six draws and only two wins in the 15 games he missed through injury. Having returned to form and fitness in time to steer the club clear of the drop, he was rewarded by being given the captain’s armband. “They were the backbone (of our revival),” said Fred of the club’s loyal fans.
“As in every relationship, there were difficult times after I came back from injury. The fans didn’t know me at that point but afterwards they saw the effort I was putting in and they began to like me again. It wasn’t only me, though. The fans backed the whole team to the hilt.”
Two specific moments during the season defined the striker’s burgeoning relationship with the Flu faithful. The first occurred in the 32nd matchday when title-chasing Atletico-MG were the visitors, with the Maracana packed to the rafters in support of a Flu team still rock bottom in the standings. “They got behind us from start to finish. I remember hearing the fans singing their hearts out in the stands and I just had to pay them back,” said Fred of his part in a 2-1 victory that would be the first of a six-game winning streak.
The second notable episode was the reception the team received in Rio de Janeiro after being thrashed 5-1 by Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito in the first leg of the final of the Copa Sudamericana. “I had never ever seen fans show such a display of affection for their team after a defeat. Not in Brazil or indeed anywhere else in the world.”
Despite his love affair with the Fluminense fans, Fred’s future at the club remains uncertain, even in the face of his determination to play his way into Brazil coach Dunga’s plans for South Africa 2010. “I intend to stay at Fluminense and make history,” said the player, for whom a national call-up would be his first since 2007, as the interview concluded. “My goals for next year are to win trophies and find a berth at the World Cup. Hopefully 2010 will be the best year of my career.”