Friends reunited at flying Fluzão
Since signing Fred last year, Fluminense have continued to pursue glory by assembling one of the most star-studded squads in Brazil. As well as recruiting the former Lyon striker, the current Brasilerao leaders have brought in a string of other new faces, not to mention three-time championship winner Muricy Ramalho as coach.
Deco and Belletti, the two most recent arrivals, are perhaps the most significant of them all. Vastly experienced campaigners who know exactly what it takes to win major trophies, their careers have already coincided to great effect at Barcelona and then Chelsea. Now reunited at O Fluzão, the duo are hoping to bring their match-winning expertise to what is a decisive phase in the race for the Brasileiro title.
Between them, Deco and Belletti won six league titles in Europe, five national cups, five Super Cups and two UEFA Champions League crowns. When you consider that Fluminense are already four points clear at the summit after losing just two games all season, their ability to reinforce their squad with two such players would seem to give them an unfair advantage over the rest of the field.
“Fluminense are bringing a lot of players in and are not selling anyone,” lamented Andres Sanchez, the president of second-placed Corinthians. "They’re making signings that are out of our reach."
Deco and Belletti are the latest big-name players to return to Brazil. In recent years the likes of Robinho and Adriano have gone back to their homeland after difficult spells in Europe, while lauded veterans such as Roberto Carlos and Emerson have flown home to bring the curtain down on their eminent careers.
However, at the respective ages of 32 and 34, Deco and Belletti still have plenty to offer at the highest level, having helped Chelsea to their latest Premier League title only a few months ago. And despite having won virtually everything there is to win in the game, they are still hungry for success.
“I’m very impressed by the state of the game here,” the Brazil-born Portugal midfielder told FIFA.com. “The clubs are in a better financial position than they were a few seasons ago, and they’ve been buying very good players and attracting some big names home.
“Fluminense’s objective is to qualify for the Copa Libertadores. That’s the club’s big dream and I’m delighted to be part of it. This was a personal decision of mine, as I wanted to come and experience playing in Brazil.”
An unknown quantity when he left his homeland back in 1997 to seek fame and fortune in Europe, Deco will be teaming up in the Fluminense midfield with Dario Conca. Like the former Porto, Barcelona and Chelsea man, the Argentinian is a hugely talented playmaker, giving the Rio de Janeiro side the kind of creative options beyond the reach of their domestic rivals.
“It’s going to be great to play alongside him,” said Deco. “It’s always fun when you get quality players together. Even since he was at Vasco, Conca has been showing what a fantastic footballer he is. He’s one of those players that can give you the edge and I even think he deserves to be in the Argentina team.”
As for Belletti, who spent eight seasons in Europe, his last taste of Brazilian club football was with Sao Paulo. And as fate would have it, the man who signed him for O Tricolor Paulista from Cruzeiro in 1996 was none other Ramalho, a coach for whom the former Brazil right-wingback has the utmost admiration.
“Not many people know this but the first time I played right-back was in a tournament called the Copa dos Campeoes Mundiais in 1996, between Sao Paulo, Santos, Flamengo and Gremio. And it was Muricy who put me there,” the player told FIFA.com.
“The whole team had respect for him and when he was sacked in 1997, the players did everything they could for him to stay. He’s more than just a great professional. He’s a wonderful person too. I can see he knows a lot more about football now.
"He’s been through a lot since then and because of that he knows exactly what to say in every situation. For example, he keeps telling us that because we’re on top of the table we’re going to get a lot of hype and a lot of coverage in the papers, but that at the end of the day it means nothing. We’re not even at the halfway point of the season and being first in August counts for nothing. It’s finishing first in December that matters.”
Their previous experiences as team-mates at Stamford Bridge and Camp Nou will no doubt help Deco and Belletti readjust to life back in Brazil after several seasons on the old continent, with all the cultural and lifestyle changes that involves.
“That’s the sad side to being a footballer: you make friends, you get settled in a city, and all of a sudden you have to pack your bags and start all over again in a totally different place,” said Belletti. “At times things like this happen that you just can’t explain. Deco and I don’t plan these things and we don’t have the same agent, but here we are together again.
"We were neighbours when we played at Chelsea and we’re next door to each other again here. He’s a great friend and his coming to the club is really going to help me adapt. And obviously, the fact that the team’s on top of the table right now is no bad thing either.”
Now that the duo have renewed their acquaintance once more, and have settled into their new surroundings, they will doubtless be hoping to replicate the kind of success they enjoyed when they ran out together at Barcelona and Chelsea. Fluminense fans will be expecting nothing less.