The case of Brazilian midfielder Hernanes is something of a strange one. Indeed, in a country where young talents are customarily swept off to Europe at the first sign of promise, the gifted creator required several seasons at the heart of the Sao Paulo engine room, as well as Brazilian national titles in 2007 and 2008, before a transfer to the Old Continent could be considered inevitable.
Yet that slow-burning approach changed on arriving at Lazio in August 2010, with the 25-year-old rapidly embracing the challenge of driving his new club’s Serie A challenge. Thriving on the responsibility thrust upon him at the Roman outfit, Hernanes’ mature displays subsequently earned him a recall to the Brazilian national side coached by Mano Menezes.
Though his latest starting opportunity with A Amarelinha, in February’s friendly against France, ended abruptly when dismissed for a high tackle on Karim Benzema, the midfield maestro remains positive, as he outlined in an interview with FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: When at Sao Paulo it took you time to cement a first-team place and later to become a fans’ favourite, yet at Lazio that’s happened very quickly. Why do you think that is?
Hernanes: You knew that people call me O Profeta (The Prophet), right? Well, in the Bible, there’s a passage that says: ‘No man is a prophet in his own land.’ That came to mind recently and I think that it fits, because it took me a long time to earn recognition in my homeland. In Italy, in contrast, everything happened really fast and I’ve become much-loved. Lazio have been stuck in mid-table for a few seasons now, but they strengthened by bringing in players such as Andre [Dias], [Sergio] Floccari, [Giuseppe] Biava, me and a couple of others. That’s an important factor in the quick progress I’ve made.
Lazio topped the table for a short while, but have since dropped off somewhat. Which is the club’s main priority: challenging for the title or clinching a UEFA Champions League berth?
Our objective is to battle it out with Napoli, Roma, Juventus, Palermo and an on-form Udinese side in order to finish in the Champions League qualifying places. Winning the title is a long shot, because Milan are some way ahead and playing really well.
You’ve been playing in a more advanced position than at Sao Paulo, is that something you’ve enjoyed? Would you say you’re now definitively an attacking midfielder rather than a deep-lying playmaker?
I’m really enjoying it and I want to keep on playing in this position. I’m making a lot of progress and I know I’ve still got room for improvement. And I want to take advantage of the fact that playing in this role got me called up to A Seleção. But I’m versatile and I can play a bit deeper if required. Football is changing. In the past, for example, you’d have wingers whose game was just about dribbling, getting to the byline and crossing the ball. Nowadays everybody has to be more versatile and be able to carry out more than one role.
Is your best position as subject to as much debate in Italy as it was in Brazil?
There was some discussion about it at the start, because they didn’t really understand what the role of a Brazilian deep-lying playmaker was. But in any case, here my job is to be a midfielder who plays off a front-man, and that’s set in stone.
In Jota Alves, you have a man who is virtually your personal trainer. What work do you do with him and how much impact has it had on your career?
He’s helped me a lot. Before I met him, I followed some specific exercises that he’d set out for another player and they really worked. I got stronger, I was able to jump higher and I even scored a headed goal. After that we started to work together. He’s a student of the game, he analyses attacking and defensive behaviour and is able to identify and pinpoint techniques that most players do instinctively.
You’ve been in-demand for several years now but only made the move to Europe in 2010. Why the wait?
The fact is that I didn’t want to just use Sao Paulo as a stepping stone. I wanted to win titles, leave my mark, and have my photo framed on the wall at the club, as I’d seen other players do. And I didn’t want to drop everything and leave as soon as I started to catch the eye. There was also my family situation to consider. In the end it turned out great for me, because I think that I did what I’d set out to do at Sao Paulo and grew matured as a player and a person.
Now, at the age of 25, do you feel you’re at the high point of your career so far?
No doubt about it, but I don’t think I’ve hit my peak yet. Over the last few days I’ve been thinking about how much I can still improve, because my goalscoring rate is getting better every year. I’m not sure how long that can last, but I always aim to improve on what I did the previous year. I’m going to have a real struggle on my hands to do that from now on! (Laughs).
In purely technical terms, what do you need to work on before you feel you’re the finished product?
When I came over to Italy I took on the challenge of playing in a more advanced position, often with my back to goal, and I can now say I’ve overcome that. Next up is continuing to improve my attacking ability, and to do that I need to be better in the air. Once I start getting more headed goals, I’ll have completed the cycle.
What are your main ambitions for your playing career?
My first thought is of 2014 and I’m going to pursue that dream with everything I’ve got: I want to play in that World Cup on Brazilian soil. And, in order to achieve that major objective, I’ve got other smaller ones too. I’d like to get Lazio into the Champions League and I’d also like to play at the Olympics again: that’d really be something.
Finally, turning to A Seleção, your red card in the friendly defeat against France was something of a setback. Do you think that incident will damage your national-team aspirations?
The world is cruel and unforgiving, but even so I don’t believe that one mistake can destroy everything you’ve built up over many years. Several mistakes could do that, but I think I’ve built up a solid reputation and one error isn’t going to change everything. What happened is quite funny in a way, ironic even. The Olympics (at Beijing 2008) aside, I’d never been given a sequence of games or had a reasonable amount of time to prove myself with A Seleção. And then, when I get my biggest chance after waiting for so long, something like that happened. But I’m convinced there’s room for me in the team and I’m going to fight for my place.