Though Brazil have been struggling to find a coherent identity in the early days of Luiz Felipe Scolari’s return to the helm, as shown by defeat to England and draws with Italy and Russia, these three friendly encounters did at least produce one constant: a goal from Fred. The experienced Fluminense striker netted once in each of those games, thus enhancing his claim to a place in the Seleção squad for the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013.
Fred had been hoping for another chance to pull on the coveted yellow jersey for some time now, and his cause was certainly boosted by the incoming Brazil coach’s admitted fondness for out-and-out centre-forwards. In an interview with FIFA.com, the goalgetter discussed how his situation has changed since Scolari’s appointment, his role in the Brazilian attack and his close bond with Flu.
FIFA.com: Since Felipão’s return, he has made no secret of his intention to have a genuine No9 leading the line. Following his appointment and that of Carlos Alberto Parreira (as the Seleção’s technical coordinator), who selected you for his Germany 2006 squad, did you suddenly feel more confident in your chances?
Fred: First of all, I always focus on doing a consistently good job at club level to make sure I deserve a place in the [Brazil] squad. I think the fact I’ve worked under Parreira with A Seleção and Fluminense is a plus, in the sense that he knows me well. And now, after these first few games with the new [Brazil] coaching staff, I’ve been able to spend more time with Felipão too and find out what he expects from the team. But all that will count for nothing if my performances dip. I’m just concentrating on keeping playing well for my club, to ensure I get selected and am able to do an effective job for A Seleção.
On an individual level you’ve been in productive form for Brazil recently, your goal against Russia making it three strikes from the last three friendlies. Does that give you a sense of ‘mission accomplished’?
I think that goal was another step forward for me. It wasn’t my best game for A Seleção, but I was able to chip in with something. I fell a bit short of what I wanted (in terms of performance). I grafted and battled away, but I still didn’t play as well as I’d hoped. That said, they didn’t give us much space to work in. There are still a few games to go (before Brazil 2013) and I’ve got to do my bit. I need to help the side as a whole, help the team to grow.
How well have you clicked with your fellow national-team attackers?
I’m an out-and-out centre-forward and so the characteristics of players like Neymar, Oscar and Hulk, who are all very quick, are a real bonus. As a central striker it makes me very happy, because I know at some point in the game I’ll get one or two goalscoring chances. It’s just a matter of being ready when they come. And they need someone who can hold the ball up, so they can get quality combinations going. That’s how you make space in attacking areas.
You’re currently thriving at a time when there aren’t many other pure centre-forwards doing well. Things have changed a lot in that sense since the 1990s, right? Is there any explanation for that do you think?
The scenario we’re in at the moment is a bit different. There isn’t such a bumper crop [of strikers] with as many big names as there was in the 90s, which was perhaps our country’s best ever period for that position, but there are still top-quality centre-forwards in Brazil. There aren’t as many No9s around maybe, because some teams don’t use a target man anymore. They prefer to play with two quick players, without having someone who plays through the middle.
Taking into account Spain’s recent major title wins, as well as the progress made by the likes of Germany and Argentina, what approach do you think A Seleção need to challenge for the FIFA Confederations Cup and FIFA World Cup™ on home soil?
I think that Brazil have a lot of players who are a cut above, as well as a younger generation with an absurd amount of potential. We need to take full advantage of that quality and assemble a team that can go toe-to-toe with those other national teams that have been catching the eye. Besides, we’ll have a fundamental factor in our favour, which is having the fans behind us. We know this could give A Seleção an edge. We need to excite the fans and get them on board, because that way we’ll be even stronger.
Turning to this year’s Copa Libertadores, which is already turning into a fiercely contested competition: how far can Flu go in the tournament?
The Libertadores is always really tough. We won’t have it easy in any game, just has been the case since the start of this edition. The Libertadores is gruelling from the first to last match. When teams come and play in Brazil they shut up shop and, when we play away, we come up against sides that are disciplined and mark you tightly. It’s tricky but we need to use all the experience we’ve gained when competing in the tournament in recent years, so that this year we can challenge for the title.
Come the end of the Brasileirao 2012, Flu were champions and you were the division’s top scorer. Was that your best ever season?
Without a shadow of a doubt, it was the best year of my career. It was a really special feat for me to have won the Brasileirao, been the top scorer and be chosen as the best player in a championship that featured Lucas, Neymar and so many other great players. I hope that more good things come my way in 2013, both for my club and with A Seleção.
Do you think you might play in Europe again one day, or do you expect to finish your career in Brazil?
At the moment, I’m not thinking about that possibility. Of course, everything can change very quickly in football, but I often joke that, for as long as Fluminense want me, I’ll stick around. (Laughs) When I came back to Brazil [from Lyon] I was determined to do a good job, win titles, become a fans’ favourite and all the rest. I think I found a club that now feels like home. [When in France] I’d missed a bit of that warmth Brazilian people have, and that’s what I got when I arrived at Fluminense. Right from the start, everything’s been very intense and I’ve been pulling on this jersey for four years now. If I was offered a contract to see out the rest of my career here, I’d sign straight away.