“I explained to all the players that technique is only important if you use it to help the team,” recounted Paris Saint-Germain coach Carlo Ancelotti after a 3-1 win against Toulouse back in January. “Nene has wonderful technique. He played for the whole team today and put in a fantastic performance.”
For the Italian tactician, freshly installed in the French capital, those words were fully intended as a lesson. His Brazilian winger had just combined skill and toil in a match-winning display that Ancelotti wished to hold up as a template for his title-chasing side. There was just one slight problem with that formula, however – Nene himself.
Capable of bending over backwards to help his team-mates and boasting five assists this term, PSG’s leading scorer with 13 goals has also been known to split the dressing room. That was certainly the case on Saturday as the No10 cut a miserable figure for 90 minutes on the bench after being left out of the starting line-up for the 2-1 loss to Nancy, and he was quickly pressed into issuing a public apology. “I wanted to help my colleagues win the match,” he explained. “I reacted badly towards them; I didn’t speak and I just sat there, and it wasn’t good.”
Used more than any other player this season except goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu, Nene could hardly claim to be a first-time offender either. Disappointed to be left out against Rennes last August, he made his thoughts very clear to Antoine Kombouare after the game, his relationship with the club’s former coach having already hit choppy waters.
Even so, despite those incidents, Nene remains adamant that he is a fully committed team player. “I don’t think I’m an individualist at all,” he told FIFA.com. “If you look at the statistics, they show that I’ve sent in more crosses than anyone else in Ligue 1.” Indeed, the reality is far more complex, and Anderson Luis de Carvalho – to give him his full name – might perhaps be more usefully described as one of the game’s contemporary artists.
PSG’s Brazilian accent
Seen from that angle, the Jundiai native is the latest in a long line of gifted Brazilians who have known good times and bad with the capital outfit, including Rai, Valdo, Leonardo and Ronaldinho. “I don’t know if I should be considered an artist,” commented Nene. “It’s very hard to say. What I’m certain of, though, is that I’m someone who gives the best of himself to do his job. There has always been a big-name Brazilian player at PSG. Over time, a very strong bond has grown between the club and Brazilian players, and I hope to continue that great tradition.”
He is not alone either. With Leonardo back at PSG as sporting director, the squad now boasts five Brazilian talents in all, with Ceara, Alex, Maxwell and Thiago Motta joining Nene in trying to bring back the fluid, entertaining football that underpinned the club’s successes in the 1990s. “We still need to improve,” added Nene. “It’s true that the coach wants a team that plays with the ball on the ground and controls games. We’re trying to do everything we can and to exploit everyone’s qualities to play this jogo bonito.”
The 30-year-old feels that Ancelotti has been playing his part too, bringing “his experience, intelligence, vision of the game and a certain method of working” since his appointment in December, but the Italian has nonetheless struggled to find the system most suited to his players as they target the Ligue 1 title.
“We need more confidence, more discipline and we need to play a simpler kind of football,” said Carletto recently. “Discipline is the most important thing and we lack it.” He may well have meant those comments for the ears of Nene, Javier Pastore and Jeremy Menez in particular, his midfield trio all quick to leap on any chance to parade their individual skills.
Whatever criticisms can be levelled at Nene, though, the former Monaco player cannot be accused of lacking hunger. “Football is pretty much my whole life,” he said. “Because of that, I try at every moment to give the best of myself, as I feel very low when I don’t do things correctly.”
He will be especially keen to avoid that sinking feeling against Marseille tomorrow, when Ancelotti is expected to hand him a starting berth in the most high-profile fixture of the French football calendar.
“Le Classique is a very special game,” explained Nene. “It really is the match of the year for all the fans. That said, it’s still just another game with three points at stake, just like all the others. The difference is that there will be a lot more atmosphere. Given the fact that we’re playing at home, we’ll do everything we can to win and give the best of ourselves, especially after the result of our match at their place.”
PSG lost that encounter 3-0 and the desire for revenge will be understandably strong at the Parc des Princes – not least because the hosts lie second behind Montpellier on goal difference after a run of four games without a win in all competitions. They can ill afford another stumble, of course, but victory against their arch-rivals would undoubtedly reinvigorate their title charge once again. For Nene, there could hardly be a better time to play a starring role and remind Ancelotti of his worth.