The return of Fernandao

Fernandao was, for years, a big fish in a small pond. A towering playmaker of colossal talent, he swam in the colours of Goias, a heavyweight of central Brazil but one largely irrelevant to the giants of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais and Rio Grande do Sul.

Calculably, prestigious anglers tried repeatedly to pluck him from the waters of Goiania. It took until 2001, six years after Fernandao made his Verdão bow as a 16-year-old, for French heavyweights Marseille to make the elusive catch.

The Estadio da Serrinha, that small pond, was overflowing with the tears of its frequenters. They had, after all, lost a player who had propelled Goias to five Campeonato Goiano golds, Copa Centro-Oeste glory twice and the national Serie B crown in 1999. They had lost arguably the greatest player in the club's history.

However, that agony Fernandao caused the Esmeraldinos paled in comparison to the ecstasy he evoked among them earlier this month. For while the Goiania native's departure was somewhat inevitable - overdue, even - his return to the club from Qatar's Al Gharafa was positively unforeseen.

Why? Because the 31-year-old had been actively pursued by celebrated colossuses Palmeiras, Santos and Sao Paulo in a race was expected to be won by Internacional, the club that had ended his abortive stay in France in 2004; the club at which he had spent four glorious years thereafter; the club he had captained and inspired to the Copa Libertadores and FIFA Club World Cup titles in 2006; the club at which he had scored 69 goals in 166 games; the club at which he was venerated.

"When I saw signing Fernandao was possible, I almost fell off my chair," exclaimed Goias vice-president Edminho, summing up the scope of the club's capture.

Goias is a club I've always loved, whose jersey I've always worn with pride. I've always dreamed of returning to Goias and achieving something big.
Fernandao

"I was going to listen to offers from other clubs, but then Edminho called me," explained Fernandao. "I think it only took us about 20 minutes to reach a deal, because it wasn't about money. It was flattering to be wanted by such big clubs and I'm very grateful for their interest, but I made a personal choice.

"Goias is a club I've always loved, whose jersey I've always worn with pride. It's the club at which I was born and grew up. Goias taught me everything and I'm very happy to have come back home."

There was another persuading factor: the presence at Goias of Iarley, with whom Fernandao shared an irresistible little-and-large tandem during their annus mirabilis three years ago. "To be able to form a partnership with O Baixinho (Shortie) once again will be wonderful," revealed F9. "We have a great understanding. He's a brilliant player and is among my three best friends. I hope we can deliver trophies here like we did together at Internacional."

This target may, improbably, be within Goias's reach. Fernandao debuted as a substitute in a 2-1 win over Santos last weekend that elevated the uncrowned minnows to second in the Brasileirao, just two points adrift of Palmeiras. The midfielder-cum-forward is in line for his first start for Helio dos Anjos's team on Sunday, ironically against Internacional in the Estadio Beira-Rio he consistently illuminated.

Internacional have a big place in my heart. I don't know what I'll do if I score a goal... I guess I'll only know if it happens.
Goias's Fernandao on taking on his former club, Internacional

"Internacional have a big place in my heart," he said. "My time there was memorable and I had a wonderful relationship with the fans. I don't know how they will receive me, but I hope the supporters understand my choice. I don't know what I'll do if I score a goal... I guess I'll only know if it happens."

Goias penciled their title intentions by luring the coveted Fernando back to his spiritual home. If they get one over on Internacional again - this time on the pitch rather than the negotiating table - it will underline these credentials in the boldest of fonts.

"Our target is to win the title. We have the conditions to become champions and we have to keep believing in this until December. I've always dreamed of returning to Goias and achieving something big."