“There aren’t that many centre-forwards who stand out these days,” said Luis Fabiano, reflecting on developments in the game in his native Brazil and Europe and the new role of the modern-day striker, who operates further from the penalty box than his predecessors. The former Sevilla man, now with Sao Paulo, is a reflection of those trends, having adopted a more versatile approach to his trade as his career has progressed.
That said, Luis Fabiano still knows exactly where the goal is. In overcoming two operations since his return to the Morumbi and now looking to lead a young side on the trophy trail, he has shown that he remains more than a handful for any defence. Talking exclusively to FIFA.com, he ranges over a number of subjects, including the fate of the modern No9.
FIFA.com: Luis, the fans were very excited about your return to Sao Paulo, and after recovering from you injury problems you’re in among the goals again. How do you feel?
Luis Fabiano: I had a pretty tough start to the year with injuries, but I feel totally recovered now and I’m getting back to my best form, scoring goals and helping Sao Paulo to win games. That’s important, because it’s giving me more confidence to go on and have a good year and forget the tough few months I went through. I honestly never thought I’d have to go through all that. To start with it was just a two-month thing, with no surgery involved, and then I ended up having two operations. It was very difficult. I’ve never had an injury that’s kept me out for that long before. There was a lot of expectation, celebrations, a big transfer fee and a lot of money paid out, and because of all that I got pretty upset. All I wanted to do was get fit again as a soon as I could.
You’re making a mark again at a time when there aren’t many outstanding centre-forwards around, which is also the case in the national team, with Mano Menezes trying out several players. Yet when you started out, the likes of Ronaldo, Romario, Evair and Viola were all on the scene. Why have things changed so much?
I think it’s just a coincidence. Brazil lives on the crops it produces, and there were a lot of centre-forwards in that crop. Then they started doing things differently at youth level because football has changed a little, with more open players. Players have more time to think now when they join the youth ranks at a team, and instead of saying they’re a centre-forward, they say they’re a forward. They talk in general terms. There aren’t that many centre-forwards who stand out these days.
We’re seeing that in Europe today, with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of the scoring charts despite not being centre-forwards...
They don’t do much work with penalty-box players there, and they don’t like having centre-forwards stuck in attack. You have to be more mobile there, move around a lot and come out of the area. If you don’t, then you’re not going to see much of the ball. To start with I stayed in the penalty box, standing around, and they said the ball would come to me. That’s what the coaches at Ponte Preta (his first club) said. They could see I was a good finisher and they tried to exploit that. I started developing my game after that because you can’t just stand still. You have to be very motivated to do that, though. The first place a player does his training is in his head. If the desire’s there to move, learn and improve, then you’ll get there.
Rennes were the first side you joined in Europe. What was it like there and how did you adapt to the new tactics?
I was 18 and it was very demanding in that sense. Paul Le Guen was the coach and he was a hard taskmaster, which I’ll never forget. It was a huge change when I went there from Ponte. When I was going at 90 kmh, the guys were going at 200 kmh. That helped me, but it didn’t go well for me there. I went to France with my girlfriend – I had to get one so I wasn’t alone. It was all new to me, but I wasn’t happy in my work. I wasn’t playing and all I thought about was going back to Brazil. I really missed things here, and coming back home was fundamental to me becoming what I am today. I finished that learning process off at Porto and Sevilla.
There is a lot of responsibility on the new generation of Brazilian players, especially with the FIFA World Cup™ coming up here in two years. Do you think they have the time to develop and be ready for the tournament?
There’s lots of time for them to mature. They’re playing in major championships and that’s how they’ll pick up experience. It’s not easy to play in the Libertadores, but they also have to perform in the Brazil shirt. They have to be aware of the responsibility that comes with wearing that jersey and gain confidence in it. Winning the Confederations Cup would be a good way of shaping up for the World Cup and having a good tournament.
Brazilian players seem to be split into two camps when the subject of playing in the FIFA World Cup comes up: those who see it as an obsession and those who prefer to wait and see what happens. Which camp are you in?
'Wait and see what happens'. Obviously you want to play in the World Cup – it’s the biggest event in the world – but it’s not an obsession. I’m very keen to play for A Seleção, of course I am, and if that happens, I might win a place at the World Cup. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out because I haven’t been back since 2010. I don’t know if I’m in the coach’s plans or not, but what happens this year and even in the next few months of next year will decide whether I’m in a position to get back in the side. If an opportunity doesn’t come my way before then, it’ll be difficult to make the squad for the World Cup.
On top of playing on home soil, would Brazil’s elimination from South Africa 2010 be an extra source of motivation for you? Have you got over that disappointment?
The big factor there was the physical condition of some of the players, me included. I was injured going into the tournament and I was out for two weeks before I could start training again. I would have preferred it to come at a different time, like in 2009, when I was in great form through to the qualifiers. That’s not an excuse because I got fit again and played. If I had another chance, I’d definitely look at it another way. It was sad to see us go out and to be asked about it. Losing a World Cup is not easy, but the wound has healed. There’s a scar, but it’s healed.