A glance at Manchester City midfielder Fernandinhos résumé makes for pretty impressive reading. He is an automatic first choice one of the most high-profile clubs in the world, won the FIFA U-20 World Cup with Brazil, and has been called up to the senior squad on a number of occasions. He has made a few appearances for the first team too.
Yet the 28 year-old midfielder is being treated as a fresh face in Luiz Felipe Scolari’s squad for the friendly against South Africa on 5 March, the last such game before the coach announces his list of names for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. FIFA.com had the chance to ask the midfielder why he thinks this might be.
The last time you were selected for the Brazil squad was in February 2012. Does being called up again feel like a comeback, or like being chosen for the first time?
I’m treating it like it’s the first time, because right now my ambitions are different, and I’m determined to give a good account of myself. I want to give the coach a real headache when he sits down to choose his World Cup squad.
How have you changed as a player since the last time you were picked for Brazil?
I’ve changed a great deal, mainly because of the move from Ukraine to England. I’ve grown a lot, and I think this has played an important part in my being picked for the squad. My performances during my first seven months here in England have been really good and this, together with the fact that the team has been doing well, has helped to catch the coach’s eye. I’ve learnt a lot in terms of tactics and technique in a very short time here. All this has helped with my adaptation to the English game and, as a result, my return to the national squad.
A lot of people are saying that it’s like Fernandinho is making his debut for Brazil, and you yourself have said it’s like being called up for the first time. Yet you were first selected back in 2011. Why do you think you’re being treated as a new arrival?
Well, I think… no, I’m sure that the Brazilian media, when I played in Ukraine, didn’t follow, or didn’t have access to, games in the Ukrainian championship. So it was a surprise for everybody – journalists and Brazilian fans alike – when a player from Shakhtar was selected, especially when I went straight into the first team. Even though I’m playing in England now, I think that deep down a lot of people associate me with the time I spent in Ukraine. Maybe that’s why it’s so surprising for everyone.
For Brazil you played as a third central midfielder, or as the more advanced of the two defensive midfielders. But at City you’ve been playing further back. Do you see your rivals for a World Cup spot as being the deeper lying defensive midfielders such as Luiz Gustavo and Lucas Leiva, or players such as Paulinho, Ramires and Hernanes?
I’ve been playing in the more defensive position for City, it’s true. For this squad the coach has called up Ramires and Paulinho, who like to get forward more, and Luiz Gustavo, who prefers to stay back and protect the defence. I think that’s the position I’m going for if I want to be one of the 23 who makes the final cut.
I’ve always been told that the midfield is the heart of the team, the position that dictates the rhythm of the game.
We probably don’t need to ask how you’ve adapted at City, given the way you’ve been playing and the plaudits that you’ve been receiving. But in practical terms, what have been the differences from your time at Shakhtar, in terms of your responsibilities on the pitch?
The big difference has been the ambitions of the two clubs. City want to win every competition they enter. It’s the same with my team-mates. They’re all internationals, with a wealth of experience in English or European football.
My responsibility, at the end of the day, is much the same as it was, control the midfield and organise the team. I’ve always been told that the midfield is the heart of the team, the position that dictates the rhythm of the game. And as we’re a skillful team, built around keeping possession, a midfielder who knows what to do with the ball is very important. In Ukraine I played a little further forward, and so I contributed to the team in a different way, by attacking more. At City I’m positioned further back and so I concentrate on my defensive responsibilities. Those are probably the main differences.
But you’ve also been getting on the scoresheet, like in the game against Arsenal. Does Pellegrini give you specific instructions about when to get forward? Is he familiar with your style of play from your time at Shakhtar?
Definitely. He was one of the people responsible for bringing me to City. In terms of getting forward, as we have a lot of skillful players and a style of play based around one touch passing, keeping the ball on the ground and maintaining possession, the role of the midfielders is more about organising things. But even if we can’t always get forward, there’s no doubt that a lot of the team’s attacks start with us.
How do you get along with Yaya Toure? What’s it like to play alongside such a player?
He’s a fantastic player, a proven winner with bags of experience. He had a very successful spell at Barcelona, where he won the Champions League and a number of other titles. Obviously it took some time for us to get used to playing together, and we didn’t really click in the first few games. But afterwards we started to understand each other’s game and to form a more cohesive partnership. I hope that we can maintain this and that the team keeps on being successful. The most important thing is to win some trophies together.
City have a lot of money now and have signed some big name players, establishing the club as a team to be reckoned with both in England and in Europe. At the same time, the club does not have a history of competing for titles. Do the players see City as a major European force, or is that still some way off?
The team aims to become one of the major powers in Europe. At the moment, it’s probably too early to say if we’ve made it to that level. Look at the history of Real Madrid and Barcelona, for example. They’ve been winning major honours for decades, and have earned a reputation for being successful. City’s new era began just five years ago, when the money was invested in the club and they started to sign big name players. At the same time, I believe that we’re on the right track, even if it takes a little time to get to where we want to be.
We’ve got some great players, of course, but it’s more important to form a real unit and to change the mentality of the club, so that everyone can be part of this growth. You don’t become champions, the kind of team that wins trophies every season, overnight. City suffered a little at the beginning, but we’re making progress now. Personally, I hope we become regular trophy winners very quickly, but let’s see what happens. Maybe we’ll get there before my contract comes to an end in five years’ time.