With a personal career haul of 20 trophies and history in the making with Manchester City this season, Fernandinho recalls how the seeds for his footballing success were sown in the UAE.
He was 18 and one of the youngest members of the Brazil squad competing at the Under-20 World Cup in 2003.
Held in the Emirates, the tournament saw Ismail Matar named Best Player as the brave hosts lost in the quarter finals to Colombia.
It was an eventful final, and first major prize, for Fernandinho, though, as he came off the bench to head home an 87th-minute winner against a Spain side led by Andres Iniesta – and was then sent off three minutes later.
“There’s not just one big memory of that tournament, but it was a great experience,” the midfielder told Sport360 in an exclusive chat.
“I was so young, 18 years old, a lot of memories in my head and heart. To make Brazil champions by scoring that goal, it was a special moment for me.
“This also helped me a lot, you know, to be a professional footballer and play at the top level as well.
“Of course, at that time you dream of doing that. That’s what we live for, to play football at the top level, for your country, to win trophies, play good football.
“And when you win something at 18 years old, you just want more and more. That’s why I never give up – and keep going and going every day.”
Driven by such desire, Fernandinho, now 33, has worked hard to fulfil his ambitions.
He left first club Atletico Paranaense for Shakhtar Donetsk in 2005, proving his worth in Ukraine by winning six league titles and earning his first Brazil senior cap in 2011.
City came calling in 2013 with a new challenge and he has responded with two Premier League titles and three League Cup triumphs.
A fourth could follow in Sunday’s final against Chelsea at Wembley – and perhaps pave the way to an unprecedented quadruple of trophies as Pep Guardiola’s men are also still in contention for the league, FA Cup and Champions League.
“We just want to take City to the next level, to make another step,” said Fernandinho.
“To consolidate as a winning team, winning trophies together, and to be there at the final stages of the Champions League. I think that’s the best way to achieve something big.
“We won the Premier League last season and we are fighting for the title again. Since 2009 no one has made back-to-back titles, so we are fighting for that. This is the ambition of this team, to do more.
“But you just live day by day, let the people think about making history. If you keep making the same pace, going in the same way, then in 10 years, 20 years’ time people are going to remember. What you did last season, what you did this season. This is the best way to make our fans happy.”
City thrashed Chelsea 6-0 just two weeks ago in the league and their thrilling, attack-minded approach is reminiscent of the great, gifted Selecao sides of the past – be it the 1970 World Cup winners or the Zico-led 1982 side that was arguably the finest never to be crowned kings.
“I didn’t watch the ’82 team play because I wasn’t born yet, but people talk about this team and said it was almost the best in Brazilian history,” added Fernandinho, who featured in the last two World Cups with Brazil.
“Maybe it’s like Brazil [with City], maybe. The players we have here, all of them, think in the same way and they have the quality to play good football, to play attacking football. That’s the best way to play and make fans happy.
“To try to play good football with a good performance like against Chelsea [in the league] – and of course we enjoy it a lot.
“Every game has its own history. But what I can say is that our team went from the first minute in the game against Chelsea to win, and essentially we try to start our games so well and try to score goals early and control the games.
“This is what happened against Chelsea and we are happy because we did that, controlled the game and kept the same level for 90 minutes. I think this is the best way to play football and to make our fans happy.
“If we compare with last season we are covering the same form right now. We have been missing players like Kevin [De Bruyne] before, who has been aside for a long time and we missed him a lot. But now he is back and all the players are doing the job they have to do.
“They understand what we have to do and what Pep asks of us. That’s the best way to achieve what we want to achieve.”
Skillful City have shown spirit too, notably winning 3-2 in their midweek last-16 first leg Champions League tie at Schalke despite being 2-1 down and having defender Nicolas Otamendi red-carded.
Fernandinho added: “I am glad to play with these guys here, to play with this team. We know everything we have to do, have a game plan that makes me happy and when we get on the pitch we just try to do it in the best way possible.
“When someone makes a mistake on the pitch, the other one covers it and we are always behind everyone. I think this is the best way, the right spirit to be a winning team.”
Fernandinho has played his part in ensuring City adopt that mentality and mindset.
Danilo, a team-mate for both club and country, affectionately afforded him the nickname “Severino”, a Brazilian name for someone who carries out a lot of work.
Guardiola has also recently used Fernandinho in a deeper role, switching to centre-back when tactics suit.
And the City chief believes he could move into the backline in future – as Javier Mascherano did under Guardiola at Barcelona.
But Fernandinho said: “We will see about moving back into defence, talk about that in the future. For now, we have very good defenders and we have to enjoy what they do.”
City have certainly enjoyed his efforts since the £30 million arrival from Shakhtar.
Combative and classy performances have put him in the frame for this season’s Player of the Year awards and fans lament the fact he was not signed earlier in his career.
“I just believe things happen at the right time, that’s what I believe. You can’t change it,” said Fernandinho.
“I think the fans appreciate the team in general, the quality. You cannot praise any individual always.
“We are a team, together every day and we understand each other and it’s what I like the most you know. To be together with them, to play together.
“Since I joined City, I have enjoyed every minute, every game, every training session. To be with the guys at the CFA (City Football Academy), with the staff, the people around the club and fans, with the respect they show to me and my family. I just try to enjoy every minute.
“It’s a little bit hard to talk about the future. We will see what happens, if I finish my career here. I have one-and-a-half years more and I just want to enjoy it as much as possible.”
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