Nene proves his worth
© AFP

In 2002, during his first season with Palmeiras, Anderson Luiz de Carvalho or ‘Nene’ was being hailed as one of the revelations of Brazilian football. A move to Santos soon followed, but barely a season later, the then-22-year-old was whisked off to Spain’s La Liga after signing for Mallorca.

For the skilful left-footer, it was to be the start of a roller-coaster six seasons in Iberia that would also take in spells with Alaves and Celta Vigo. Despite enduring relegation with both of the latter while having to battle hard for a first-team place, Nene never stopped believing, and he was rewarded with a 2007 move to AS Monaco. After a loan spell last year at Espanyol, the player got a second chance with the principality side this season, and it is one he has seized with both hands.

I heard Spain’s coach has his eye on me, which is a nice thought. It’s always been my dream to play for Brazil, but the World Cup is a big deal and I couldn’t let such an opportunity pass me by at 28, if it were to come knocking.
Nene on the possibility of playing for Spain

Now 28, Nene currently leads the Ligue 1 scoring charts with 13 goals in 22 outings, and he is playing a key role in the club’s fruitful season. Almost forgotten in Brazil, the playmaker has found favour with both the French media and supporters thanks to his powerful shooting, inventive assists and decisive goals. Moreover, he has proved that the reported seven million Euros Monaco paid for him was not the gamble many people claimed.

Nene’s first stint at the club did not get off to the most auspicious of starts, however. At the time, fellow Brazilian Ricardo Gomes was at the helm, but the attacker failed to ignite under the tutelage of his compatriot. Struggling to adapt, Nene opted to return to Spain when Espanyol showed an interest.

“When I first came to France I noticed quite a different style of football, a long-ball game that was more physical than in Spain. Consequently, I saw little of the ball, something that was not helped by the difficulties I had with the language. I was able to speak to the coach about this issue but not with my team-mates, and that had an adverse effect,” the Brazilian told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview.

“That said, I don’t think I had a bad year. After all, I scored five goals, but I didn’t see eye-to-eye with Ricardo Gomes. He’d been in France for some time, had adopted a French mind-set, and there were things we disagreed about. Although I respect him, I decided it was best to leave,” explains the player who only returned when he got a call from Guy Lacombe, the new man in charge at Monaco.

A new beginning
On his return to the principality, things soon looked up for Nene. “Yes, everything began to better. When I arrived I had a good pre-season, trained really hard and then started taking corners, free-kicks and penalties. So that gave my confidence a boost. I’m more experienced now and my positioning is better, both in terms of marking and instigating attacks. As a result I often have stamina left when my opponents are spent.”

This was evident in two notable performances, against Boulogne-Sur-Mer and Sochaux, when Nene scored crucial goals in the dying minutes. Moreover, he has established a reputation as a dead-ball specialist with four goals from free-kicks (two in the same game against Boulogne) and three from the penalty spot. "I’ve always scored these kinds of goals but my stats have been better this year. That’s why I’ve really impressed,” he says with a smile.

Unsurprisingly, the player is now enjoying everyday life in the peaceful principality. “It’s a lovely place with a pleasant climate, and it’s safe to go out in the streets. I get recognised but not everybody stops me. People here are used to stars,” he continues light-heartedly.

Red or Yellow?
In fact, such has been Nene’s form of late that just last week the Spanish press raised the possibility of his donning the red of Spain for the final few friendlies before this summer’s 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. The midfielder has a Spanish passport, and, having only pulled on the yellow strip for Brazil in a non-official tournament in Qatar in 2003, hewould be eligible. It is a prospect that he admits is flattering but not something he is obsessing about.

“I heard Spain’s coach has his eye on me, which is a nice thought. It’s always been my dream to play for Brazil, but the World Cup is a big deal and I couldn’t let such an opportunity pass me by at 28, if it were to come knocking. But in saying that, I don’t want to think too much about it. I’ll keep trying to play my best and take it from there,” he adds.

Whether or not international football is on the horizon, Nene can console himself with the knowledge that he is still fondly remembered by the fans in Sao Paolo. “I still get a lot of e-mails pleading with me to return, and that makes me very happy.” However, the Brazilian dismisses the idea of following in the footsteps of compatriots like Adriano, Ronaldo and Robinho and returning to his homeland anytime soon.

“I don’t miss many things. I’m happy here. I’d like to stay for another three or four years, and then I’ll think about going back,” concludes the player whose contract with Monaco expires in 2011.