Everyone knows Luis Fabiano as the free-scoring Sevilla striker who has now made the much-coveted No 9 jersey in the Brazil team his own. But what some people might find hard to believe is that footballing stardom has not come easy for the 28-year-old. From a luckless spell in his late teens at French outfit Rennes to a barren season in Portugal, the Brazilian has had to endure numerous disappointments before finally earning approval throughout the football world.
In an exclusive interview, Luis Fabiano talks frankly to FIFA.com about the ups and downs of his professional career, his objectives with the Seleção, and his love for two clubs he is anxious to play for again before retiring from the game.
FIFA.com: Luis Fabiano, most people, especially outside Brazil, associate you with Sao Paulo and don't know that you began your career with Ponte Preta, a team from Campinas in Sao Paulo state.
Luis Fabiano: That's right. I was born in Campinas, my whole family are Ponte Preta fans and the club's always been close to my heart since I was a child. I started my career there in 1997 in the Copa Sao Paulo (a state youth competition) and then I moved up to the professional team. We had a good side and we won promotion to the first division in the Brazilian championship in 1998 and then the Sao Paulo state championship a year later.
And you did so well that you got noticed in Europe.
I have to say I was very surprised by all that. Some scouts from Rennes in France came to Campinas to watch us because they were interested in signing one of our midfielders, Vander. I played really well that day and scored two goals, and Rennes decided to take us both in the end. I was only 18 and had never thought about playing football in another country. I had no idea what it was all about. That's why I had so many problems.
What type of problems?
Everything to do with moving to another country: the cold, the language, people, customs and all that. You have to be ready for that and I wasn't. But when you're young all you think about when they give you an opportunity like that is the transfer money. I've been living in Europe for seven years now and there's no doubt in my mind that I made a huge mistake in going to Rennes so young.
And then came Sao Paulo.
Fortunately, whenever life has got tough for me I've always managed to come back, grow as a person and experience some special things, like Sao Paulo. I arrived in 2001 and had the good fortune to play with the likes of Rogerio Ceni, Leonardo, Kaka and Franca. For the first time in ten years we qualified for the Copa Libertadores, which is a real obsession for the fans. I also scored lots of goals and was called up to the national team for the first time. It was the rebirth of my career.
Aside from all the goals you scored, you seemed to have a special relationship with the Sao Paulo fans.
Absolutely. The affection they had for me was simply out of this world. Even thinking about it gives me goose bumps. I think fans always know when a player is giving his all and sacrificing everything for the team. That's something I feel I've always done and I've always been fully committed.
That commitment has earned you a dismissal or two and caused you a few problems during your career, hasn't it?
Yes, it has. I've done a lot of stupid things on the pitch and picked up a lot of pointless cards. I'd lose my head at the slightest thing and I was so committed at times I'd make some very strong tackles or let my opponents provoke me. Yes, it's true - my character has got me into situations I could have avoided.
Your spell at Sao Paulo ended when Porto came in for you. After the disappointment of your first stay there, were you wary of returning to Europe again?
Yes, and not just about facing life in Europe again, but because I was leaving Sao Paulo, the club that had helped me get into the Seleção and where I had enjoyed the best times of my life up until then. We'd just lost the 2004 Libertadores, though, and the fans were angry. That's when the then European champions made their offer and I knew they were going to be playing in the UEFA Champions League. Even so, after everything that had happened at Rennes, I still didn't know if that was what I really wanted.
Did you feel better equipped to go abroad again?
A little bit more perhaps. I was more experienced, but it was still very tough. I'd just come back from an injury that I'd struggled to recover from, and the team had lost its best players as well as the coach, Jose Mourinho. The club was rebuilding and that's always a tough process. And on top of all that I had some personal problems too. In 2005 my mother was kidnapped for more than two months, which was probably the worst time of my whole career.
Everything looked very bleak for you but you came back in style. What were your feelings when you moved to Sevilla?
I had a few offers from teams at the end of the season and I was determined to try my luck in Spain. I was very excited when I agreed terms with Sevilla.
Sevilla were going through a transitional phase themselves in 2005. Did you ever imagine the team could become so successful?
Never in my wildest dreams. I didn't, the president didn't, nobody did. Sevilla had hardly won any major trophies before and so to go on and win the UEFA Cup in the club's centenary season was more than we could ever have hoped for, let alone to retain it the following season. It was the coming together of a group of players who were reaching the high point of their careers under the guidance of a superb coach in Juande Ramos.
There has been a real battle for the Brazil centre-forward slot since Germany 2006. Would you say you are leading the race at the moment?
I have one defect and that's the fact that I'm always very wary. I know I've managed to break into the national team but I'm not in a position where I can be sure of my place. I don't go around thinking: 'Well, even if I don't score for three or four games, I'll still be in the team.' What's more, with Brazil you simply can't afford to have a bad game. Everyone's watching you closely and the competition is intense.
What do you think about Ronaldo's move to Corinthians? Can you see him getting back into contention for a place in the national side?
I don't feel Ronaldo's thinking about that right now. His main goal right now has to be to play well for Corinthians, and I'm not sure if he's that bothered about getting back into the Seleção at the moment. He's won absolutely everything a footballer can hope to win and I imagine that more than anything else he just wants to enjoy playing football again.
You spoke of your admiration for Juande Ramos as a coach. Are you planning to go into coaching one day yourself?
No, no way! (laughs) Seriously though, I don't think I'm cut out for training. My agent's trying to convince me to become a businessman or football club director when I retire, but I don't know. Juvenal Juvencio (the current president of Sao Paulo FC) said to me one day that I could work for the club when I gave up playing. Let's just wait and see if he remembers his proposal in six or seven years time (laughs).
Would you like to play for Sao Paulo or Ponte Preta before you do call it a day?
My dream is to end my career at Ponte Preta, where everything started. Before I do that, though, I'd like to play again for Sao Paulo at a high level. That was a very special time for me and the relationship I had with the club and the fans was just fantastic. I returned with the national team to the Morumbi in 2005 and the Sao Paulo fans were cheering me even though Ronaldinho, Robinho and Kaka were on the pitch too. It was amazing and I'd love to experience that again.