Felipe Melo’s decision to make the move from Juventus to Turkish titans Galatasaray appears to be paying off handsomely. Recovering from a troubled spell in Serie A and the disappointment of losing his place in the Brazil side, the defensive midfielder has regained his appetite for the game in Istanbul.
Now sporting the No10 shirt for the Turkish league leaders, the imposing midfield bulwark spoke to FIFA.com about his renaissance on the Bosporus, his approach to the game, and his dreams of running out for A Seleção once more, a dream he hopes will have a triumphant ending at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
FIFA.com: In what way has your move from Juventus to Galatasaray, who aren’t in Europe this season, impacted on your career?
Felipe Melo: Well, the fact is Juventus aren’t in Europe either, despite being one of the continent’s leading clubs. So as far as I’m concerned, moving to Galatasaray, who are a big club themselves, doesn’t change much. In any case, what really matters as a player is to feel important, wherever you are. A lot of people ask me: ‘Why did you go to Galatasaray? You seemed settled at Juventus.’ But that’s what I was looking for: a new challenge, to fight for titles and hit it off with the fans. And I’ve found all that here.
You had a turbulent year in 2010. Has this been a chance for you to get out of the media spotlight a little and start afresh, a renaissance if you will?
All I can say about my last two years at Juventus is that they were pretty horrible for the team as a whole, which had a knock-on effect on my form. Aside from failing to achieve our main objective of winning the league, we didn’t qualify for the major competitions either. Things have calmed down a lot, though. I’m playing well again and it hasn’t taken me long to become a fans’ favourite here. So I think renaissance is the right word, yes. I think I’ve made the right decision. I wouldn’t say I’m playing the best football of my career, but I’m definitely enjoying a good spell.
You’ve already scored four goals this season, three of them coming early on. What do you put that down to?
The only difference with Juventus is that I’ve got more freedom here. When I arrived the coach told me to get forward whenever I wanted and make late runs into the box, because there’d be people to cover me. My father says that if I defend well, get at least one shot in, make four forward runs and give the ball away no more than twice, then I’ve had a good game. That’s what I’ve been trying to do and so far so good.
Untypically for a holding midfielder you wear the No10 shirt. Does that bring more responsibilities with it?
Responsibility comes with pulling the jersey on at a big club, no matter what number’s on it. I think the No10 has made me a better player though, you know (laughs)? Sometimes I play a great ball or even a Ronaldinho-style no-look pass, just like your average No10 does (laughs).
You’re known as a combative player, so much so that the Galatasaray fans call you ‘Pitbull’. Do you like the name?
In Italy they called me ‘Gladiator’ and here it’s ‘Pitbull’. Not bad, eh? It’s all down to my playing style I think, which is about tackling and breaking up the play. It’s a job I enjoy and I give my team-mates a bit of a boost in doing it. The problem is that a lot of people see the ‘Pitbull’ nickname as a negative thing, as if I was all running and no touch. That’s not the way I see myself because I know I’ve got skill, I’m a good passer of the ball and I don’t make many mistakes. I had one of the highest passing percentages at the last World Cup and I provided the assist for Robinho’s goal against the Netherlands in the quarter-finals. I’m always working on my passing, and while I agree that I’m a pitbull, I think I’m a pretty stylish one (laughs).
Does it upset you that some people only focus on the negative?
I don’t get upset any more. I’ve got used to that and I’ve come to terms with it now. Some criticism can be constructive and learning is definitely worth the effort. They used to say I got too uptight and that I was a red card waiting to happen, something that was based on one incident. I’m improving in that respect now. I used to get a lot of yellow and red cards but the problem is that people only remember that and overlook everything I did for the Seleção. I won the Confederations Cup, played in just one defeat and one draw, and won the rest, and I started every game I played in. But when I stamped on [Arjen] Robben all that was forgotten, just like that. Things are different now. I pick up fewer cards these days.
What has South Africa 2010 meant for your career? Has it helped you grow in any way?
Yes, no question. Fortunately my family helped me get over it, and the desire to move to pastures new also played a hand. I’ve got a strong personality and I’m impulsive, but I had to learn how to control myself. I learned a lot from that defeat.
Do you think you have a chance of getting back into the Brazil side?
I never rushed things with the Seleção. I just let things take their natural course. I was in the side for quite a while and that was the fulfilment of a dream for me. That said, representing my country again is a key aim for me and I’m going to keep on working hard to achieve it. If I can maintain my form, keep standing out and keep my nose clean, then I don’t see any reason I can’t get back in the national team. No one can dispute my record in the team. The problem was the red cards, but if I can improve in that respect, I know I can make it back.
Mano Menezes has tried out a number of players in your position. Fernandinho said he won his current starting place thanks to his passing, an area of your game that you’re also pleased with.
I think the only player who’s certain of a place is Lucas, though he’s injured right now. Mano’s given the likes of Elias, Luiz Gustavo, Fernandinho and Ralf a chance, and while I respect everyone, I believe in my potential and I hope my time will come again. I don’t believe the doors to the national team have closed just because of one sending-off. I’m going to work every minute I can to get back in the team because I want to be a world champion on home soil.