After a hugely successful 2009, Luis Fabiano had every reason to expect this year to go the same way. Frustratingly, a string of injuries hampered his preparations for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ and though the Brazil striker chipped in with three goals en route to the quarter-finals, he was powerless to prevent the Netherlands eliminating A Seleção.
The subject of intense transfer speculation on his return to club duty with Sevilla, Fabiano has since spent more time on the bench than he would have liked. In the meantime, his beloved Brazil have embarked on an exciting new era under Dunga’s successor Mano Menezes, chalking up a series of wins and playing some stylish football in the process.
The 29-year-old freely acknowledges that if he is to figure in Brazil's plans for the next FIFA World Cup, which they will host, he needs to start scoring again at club level. Discussing that objective in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, O Fabuloso also took stock of his country's exit at South Africa 2010 and his current situation at Sevilla.
FIFA.com: Luis, you’ve had your ups and downs this year. Do you still have the same hunger for goals as before?
Luis Fabiano: I’m just as hungry, if not more so. I didn’t have a pre-season after the World Cup and I didn’t really prepare, but I’m working hard to get my form back and return to normal, which means playing games and scoring goals. Although things aren’t ideal at the moment and I’m not getting the playing time I’d like, if I can get in among the goals again, I’ll be the player I was before the World Cup.
A few days ago you announced that you didn’t want to stay on the bench any more. Do you still feel that way?
My opinion hasn’t changed. I’m an ambitious player. I never settle for what I’ve got and I don’t like being on the bench, especially after everything I’ve done in the last few seasons. I’ve been through rough patches with other clubs though, and I’ve always come back. I know I’m strong enough and I’m going to prove I’m still the same player.
Sevilla missed out on a place in the group phase of the UEFA Champions League, but do you think they can push Barcelona and Real Madrid in La Liga?
Getting knocked out of the Champions League was a huge blow for the club and the players. But Sevilla are pretty stable and even though we’re out, it won’t affect us that much. As for the league, it’s really tough to compete with Barcelona and Real Madrid, even if Barcelona aren’t the side they were and Madrid are still rebuilding. Sevilla’s objective is the same as it’s always been: if we’re in the fight for the title, then we’ll give it all we’ve got. But our main aim has to be to finish third and qualify for the Champions League again.
You’ve scored 95 goals in over five years at Sevilla. Do you feel you’ve made history there?
If I can start scoring again, I’ll get my 100th goal for the club this year. That - and becoming one of Sevilla’s top five all-time scorers - is what I’m working towards. I wrote my name in the history books at Sao Paulo and I want to do it at another club.
Let’s look back to South Africa 2010 now. Things were going so well for Brazil up until the quarter-finals. How big a disappointment was it to get knocked out?
It was massive. Losing a World Cup in the Brazil shirt is the most frustrating thing that can happen to you in your career. We were all on a high when we were winning, but as soon as we lost there was a feeling of total sadness. We put our hearts and souls into it, but then we lost and the mood in the camp really changed. We stayed together as a group though, and the camaraderie was still there, even though a lot of the players knew they’d never have another chance to play in a World Cup.
What went right and what went wrong in South Africa?
I think 90 per cent went right. The ten per cent that didn’t was the second half against the Netherlands, which proved fatal. Up until then everything had been perfect. We were giving our very best, applying ourselves and training hard. But we made two mistakes and found it very hard to get back in the game. People always paint a black picture whenever Brazil stop winning but we had a great run in the Copa America, the Confederations Cup and the qualifiers and didn’t put a foot wrong. We knew we were on the right track but, sadly for us, in football the best team doesn’t always win.
How did the tournament go on a personal level? Was playing in a FIFA World Cup everything you expected it to be?
It probably came at the wrong time for me because I wasn’t in the best physical shape. I’d had a run of injuries and I’d already been out for a few months when I started training again and suffered another one. That was really frustrating. I had to nurse the injury during the build-up for the finals and I missed out on a few training sessions. I made a lot of sacrifices to try and catch up, and I paid for those lost months. Even so, I should be happy really because I scored three goals to help us get that little bit further.
Do you think the defeat to the Netherlands has had any impact on your current situation? Has it taken you longer than usual to get back into the swing of things?
Yes, it takes you a while to get your self-esteem back after a defeat like that, and only when you’ve played and lost in a World Cup can you understand how much it hurts. I only had three weeks off after that, which is nowhere near enough to put that pressure behind you and to forget about things like arriving at the airport and seeing how sad people were. It all has an effect but as soon as I got back to Spain I tried to put it behind me.
New coach Mano Menezes has changed the team and the style of play. What’s your view of the new-look Seleção?
It’s absolutely normal there should be changes and that new players are coming in with an eye on 2014. Whenever you lose at international level you have to move on and change things around, and what’s going on now is entirely natural to my mind. When the next international competitions come around, Brazil will do just fine and people will say we’re the finished article again. That’s going to happen for sure, but if we don’t win the World Cup it’ll all be for nothing. To earn everyone’s respect again we have to be champions. It’s as simple as that. You have play well and win when the chips are down. That’s the only way we can be number one again. Look at Spain: they had this reputation for never winning anything and now they’re the greatest, the best team in the world, the best team of all time (laughs).
You’re nearly 30 now and you’ll be 33 by the time Brazil 2014 comes around. Do you think you’re still in contention for a place in the squad?
I know I’m absolutely capable of playing in a World Cup at the age of 33. A lot of players in the last one were even older and still played well. I like to look after myself and I’m sure I’ll be in good shape, and I still have a lot to offer the national team. I’ve got no intention of quitting just yet. I want to continue my career with A Seleção, and I’m going to keep on working at Sevilla with that aim in mind.
Menezes has been using Alexandre Pato as his main striker, but he hasn’t tried out any penalty-box specialists like you so far. Is that how you see yourself and do you feel that could be your way back into the team?
What I need to do is score goals. That’s the business I’m in. Every player has their own style and right now he’s gone for Pato alongside Robinho. They’re great players and they complement each other. He also tried out Andre, who’s more of a centre-forward. But like I said, if I’m scoring goals and playing well, then I’ll have every chance of getting back in the side, regardless of what type of player I am.
One last question. A lot of big-name players have gone back to Brazil recently. Do you think that’s a good move and will you be joining them?
It would be virtually impossible for me to go back right now, but it’s something to think about over the next three years until my contract runs out. I love the Brazilian league and I’m sure I’ll end playing there again some day.