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Interview

Taking the lead

One of the last remaining members of Manchester City’s old guard, Fernandinho’s role off the pitch has become as significant as his contribution on it

WORDS Simon Hart | INTERVIEW Caroline de Moraes | PHOTOGRAPHY Tom Flathers/Manchester City FC

Over the past few years, Manchester City followers have been saying goodbye to some of the most significant figures in their club’s modern history: Yaya Touré in 2018, Vincent Kompany in 2019, David Silva in 2020. Soon it will be the turn of Sergio Agüero, the club’s record goalscorer and a legend in Sky Blue for the injury-time goal against Queens Park Rangers which, in 2012, won City their first league title for 44 years.

Time waits for no man and football – for all the cryotherapy chambers and personal chefs the modern player can afford – is no exception, as Agüero’s diminished role this season shows. Which makes all the more impressive the ongoing importance to the City cause of Fernandinho, a player who turns 36 in May and whose current contract is due to expire on 30 June.

With Rodri now established as City’s first-choice holding midfielder, the Brazilian begins games intermittently – in the Champions League there have been just two starts among his five appearance up to the semi-finals – but his value to the Premier League champions-elect, on and off the pitch, remains beyond question. No player has done more to fill the leadership void left by Kompany’s departure, a telling example being the squad meeting he called on the morning of New Year’s Day after Guardiola had voiced his displeasure to him about a perceived slackness in training the previous day. After a few home truths, City found top gear – and the three victories prior turned into a 21-game winning streak. Phil Foden, a team-mate 15 years his junior, has cited the many other smaller conversations instigated by the man who replaced Silva as club captain last summer. “Sometimes if the manager doesn’t see if a player is down, Fernandinho will go and see if they’re OK,” he noted.

Another colleague, Ilkay Gündoğan expanded on this when asked about Fernandinho after the veteran, not for the first time this term, had shone on his return to City’s starting XI for the league victory at Arsenal in February. He offered a reminder of that enduring ability to be in the right place at the right time on a football field, sniffing out and snuffing out danger. Gündoğan said, “He’s always there for us. He supports us with the way he talks to us and then with the way he plays. He’s a real leader. He gives us the right things at the right time. He knows when to speak up, he knows when to be quiet. He knows what to do.”

All of which explains why Fernandinho, speaking to Champions from City’s training ground, is reflecting on why a pastoral role comes naturally to him. For some footballers, experience brings the ability to lead. Not in the case of Fernando Luis Roza. “Many people have told me that at 17, I already thought like a 30-year-old.” He illustrates the point with a detail about his professional debut for Athletico Paranaense in a derby at Paraná, their Curitiba city rivals, in April 2003. He is not remembering a pass or a goal or the sound of the crowd, but rather winning the ball for his team. “It was an unbelievable feeling when I made my first tackle,” he says.

These glimpses of the 17-year-old Fernandinho make it a logical and easy leap to the man we see today, the club captain who reads people as well as he reads the game. “It’s not just about shouting and commanding,” he says, elaborating on how he deals with colleagues. “You have to be able to do the right thing at the right time. You’ve got to have that judgement. You have to know when you need to call someone out. Sometimes you need to be gentle. Sometimes you need to sit and talk or even not say anything, just listen. Sometimes you have to do the talking and not let the player speak. Sometimes you have to punch the table and shake the guys up, give them a wake-up call. You have to be perceptive enough to understand each situation that comes up in everyday life at the club. I’ve always been like this; I’ve always had a great relationship with younger players. When I played for Athletico Paranaense, I was only 19 but I had a good relationship with the boys in the feeder team. I was constantly talking to them.”

That same approach applies with a young player like Foden today – a player he considers “one of the great prodigies we have here, not just at City but in English football in general” and who, as a consequence, carries a heavy burden of expectation. “When you have a 20-year-old kid who’s considered to be, arguably, the best of his generation, it ends up being a huge source of pressure. Very high expectations.”

Manchester City have reached the Champions League semi-finals twice in Fernandinho’s eight seasons at the club, The boy from Londrina is at home in Manchester, His playing time may be diminished, but Fernandinho remains influential on the pitch

For City manager Pep Guardiola, he observes, “the demands [made on players] have to be the same, they can’t be different just because I’m 35 and he’s 20”. That’s where he, as captain, comes in. “Where you have to get the kid, you have to understand and know your team-mate well and try to make him feel less under pressure to perform as he’s expected to. There’s a time to take a player under your wing, there’s a moment to talk, there’s a moment to listen. That’s what’s happened with him – we talked briefly and it seems like it was useful.”

Today it seems hard to think of Fernandinho as a fresh-faced youngster. Yet before the six Ukrainian league titles and UEFA Cup won with Shakhtar Donetsk, and his more than 400 appearances and nine major trophies (and counting) with City, there was a time when he stood with all of that in front of him. So what would today’s armband-wearing Fernandinho advise his own teenaged self, not long arrived at Athletico from his home city of Londrina?

“It would be to enjoy yourself to the fullest,” he responds, “because sometimes I stop and think to myself, ‘Wow! First I’m playing two-on-two or three- on-three street football with goalposts made out of supermarket boxes, and now I’m playing in a sold- out stadium with football boots.’ That all happened in a very short space of time. I was playing football on the street at 13 or 14 with my friends, and at 17 I was playing professionally. So I always tried to enjoy myself as much as I could. My advice would be enjoy yourself, be happy that you get to do what you love doing most because you’re in a privileged position. So many people would want to be in your shoes.”

The lad from Londrina, almost 400km from Curitiba in the southern Brazilian state of Parana, certainly took his opportunity. By July 2005, a little over two years after his debut in Brazil’s top flight, he was in Ukraine, making his first appearance for Shakhtar. That same summer came his first taste of the Champions League, in a qualifying defeat by Inter Milan. “I was still unable to understand the magnitude of the Champions League because being in Brazil and watching it on TV is one thing, but when you get here to play then you really realise that it’s a really big deal and it’s very different to what I’d experienced in Brazil.”

At Shakhtar he learned about defensive positioning from the club’s long-serving Romanian coach, Mircea Lucescu (see page 62). As a boy he would play in goal in neighbourhood matches before moving into other positions: defence, midfield, attack. In Ukraine this versatility served him well – be it in holding midfield, on the right, the left, even No10 – but equally, he absorbed Lucescu’s lessons about positional discipline. At City, where he has played everywhere across the defence and midfield, Guardiola has continued his education.

“My interpretation of the game, especially after Pep got here, helped a lot. [It’s] the ease with which he conveys his message, his idea, his concept of the game… he’s very good at what he does. We have a coach who’s a perfectionist and who can easily get his message across to his players. I learned [to play in different positions] when I was young, at 15 or 16 years of age, when I was playing in Londrina. It was already easy for me to play in several positions.”

The question of adaptability leads him back to the young players he observes today at the City Football Academy. “Your professional career might not go as you expect it to. That’s when the athlete’s ability to adapt to a new role is important, so that they can help the team as much as possible. That’s something which should be taught to young players and not just the dream that players are stars and that their careers will be successful. Young players need to see the reality of it – we need to explain that they have potential, but if it doesn’t work out there are other possibilities.”

“IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT SHOUTING AND COMMANDING; YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND EACH MOMENT”

The reality of football also means dealing with defeats. Inevitably, in a career as long as his, Fernandinho has known deep disappointments. Brazil’s 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat by Germany in 2014 was one. At the World Cup four years later he scored an own goal as Brazil exited at the quarter- final stage against Belgium. With City, meanwhile, there have been numerous frustrations in the Champions League: three defeats at the round of 16 stage, three more in quarter-finals, and another in their semi-final against Real Madrid in 2016.

“I’ve always been a sore loser, literally, in the sense that I really felt it deeply,” he says. “Because you gave your all on the pitch, after so much preparation, and when you don’t achieve the result you feel all the frustration. The sadness really gets you. Yet football gives you the chance to get on your feet again and carry on.

“I have always tried to have people next to me who have a positive outlook and give good advice. I’ve always been fortunate to have people there to help me in that regard, be they family members, friends, team-mates or even club employees. These people made me understand that football’s a game and that you must always carry on by playing and training and working, so you can bounce back.”

Of course, experience helps too. “Your head changes, your mind changes, the way you see the game changes. All that helps you to deal with your frustrations better. And besides, on top of that, it enables you to support the younger players when they go through the same process. And that’s a wonderful thing, you know. A very nice thing.”

Which is where he stands today: the wise old head helping his City team-mates in their pursuit of silverware, whenever required, on and off the pitch, both in their domestic competitions and in the Champions League where – at the time of writing – the dream of lifting the trophy for the first time remains alive.

That would be a glorious way for Agüero to bow out – and potentially Fernandinho too, even if a decision is not expected before the season’s end. Yet whatever comes next for Fernandinho, expect him to take it in his measured stride. After all, of the many lessons learned during his career, the one he would pass on to his 11-year-old football-mad son, Davi, involves keeping his focus – and his smile.

“I’d tell him that, no matter the result, he shouldn’t let it affect either him personally or his performance on the pitch; that he should do whatever has been previously agreed with the manager and his team- mates, but that he should be able to enjoy it as much as possible. Because these moments are so brief that they fly by. And if you don’t give it your best, you end up regretting it. Thankfully I’ve never regretted anything because I’ve always given my very best in every moment of my career.”

Over the past few years, Manchester City followers have been saying goodbye to some of the most significant figures in their club’s modern history: Yaya Touré in 2018, Vincent Kompany in 2019, David Silva in 2020. Soon it will be the turn of Sergio Agüero, the club’s record goalscorer and a legend in Sky Blue for the injury-time goal against Queens Park Rangers which, in 2012, won City their first league title for 44 years.

Time waits for no man and football – for all the cryotherapy chambers and personal chefs the modern player can afford – is no exception, as Agüero’s diminished role this season shows. Which makes all the more impressive the ongoing importance to the City cause of Fernandinho, a player who turns 36 in May and whose current contract is due to expire on 30 June.

With Rodri now established as City’s first-choice holding midfielder, the Brazilian begins games intermittently – in the Champions League there have been just two starts among his five appearance up to the semi-finals – but his value to the Premier League champions-elect, on and off the pitch, remains beyond question. No player has done more to fill the leadership void left by Kompany’s departure, a telling example being the squad meeting he called on the morning of New Year’s Day after Guardiola had voiced his displeasure to him about a perceived slackness in training the previous day. After a few home truths, City found top gear – and the three victories prior turned into a 21-game winning streak. Phil Foden, a team-mate 15 years his junior, has cited the many other smaller conversations instigated by the man who replaced Silva as club captain last summer. “Sometimes if the manager doesn’t see if a player is down, Fernandinho will go and see if they’re OK,” he noted.

Another colleague, Ilkay Gündoğan expanded on this when asked about Fernandinho after the veteran, not for the first time this term, had shone on his return to City’s starting XI for the league victory at Arsenal in February. He offered a reminder of that enduring ability to be in the right place at the right time on a football field, sniffing out and snuffing out danger. Gündoğan said, “He’s always there for us. He supports us with the way he talks to us and then with the way he plays. He’s a real leader. He gives us the right things at the right time. He knows when to speak up, he knows when to be quiet. He knows what to do.”

All of which explains why Fernandinho, speaking to Champions from City’s training ground, is reflecting on why a pastoral role comes naturally to him. For some footballers, experience brings the ability to lead. Not in the case of Fernando Luis Roza. “Many people have told me that at 17, I already thought like a 30-year-old.” He illustrates the point with a detail about his professional debut for Athletico Paranaense in a derby at Paraná, their Curitiba city rivals, in April 2003. He is not remembering a pass or a goal or the sound of the crowd, but rather winning the ball for his team. “It was an unbelievable feeling when I made my first tackle,” he says.

These glimpses of the 17-year-old Fernandinho make it a logical and easy leap to the man we see today, the club captain who reads people as well as he reads the game. “It’s not just about shouting and commanding,” he says, elaborating on how he deals with colleagues. “You have to be able to do the right thing at the right time. You’ve got to have that judgement. You have to know when you need to call someone out. Sometimes you need to be gentle. Sometimes you need to sit and talk or even not say anything, just listen. Sometimes you have to do the talking and not let the player speak. Sometimes you have to punch the table and shake the guys up, give them a wake-up call. You have to be perceptive enough to understand each situation that comes up in everyday life at the club. I’ve always been like this; I’ve always had a great relationship with younger players. When I played for Athletico Paranaense, I was only 19 but I had a good relationship with the boys in the feeder team. I was constantly talking to them.”

That same approach applies with a young player like Foden today – a player he considers “one of the great prodigies we have here, not just at City but in English football in general” and who, as a consequence, carries a heavy burden of expectation. “When you have a 20-year-old kid who’s considered to be, arguably, the best of his generation, it ends up being a huge source of pressure. Very high expectations.”

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Manchester City have reached the Champions League semi-finals twice in Fernandinho’s eight seasons at the club, The boy from Londrina is at home in Manchester, His playing time may be diminished, but Fernandinho remains influential on the pitch

For City manager Pep Guardiola, he observes, “the demands [made on players] have to be the same, they can’t be different just because I’m 35 and he’s 20”. That’s where he, as captain, comes in. “Where you have to get the kid, you have to understand and know your team-mate well and try to make him feel less under pressure to perform as he’s expected to. There’s a time to take a player under your wing, there’s a moment to talk, there’s a moment to listen. That’s what’s happened with him – we talked briefly and it seems like it was useful.”

Today it seems hard to think of Fernandinho as a fresh-faced youngster. Yet before the six Ukrainian league titles and UEFA Cup won with Shakhtar Donetsk, and his more than 400 appearances and nine major trophies (and counting) with City, there was a time when he stood with all of that in front of him. So what would today’s armband-wearing Fernandinho advise his own teenaged self, not long arrived at Athletico from his home city of Londrina?

“It would be to enjoy yourself to the fullest,” he responds, “because sometimes I stop and think to myself, ‘Wow! First I’m playing two-on-two or three- on-three street football with goalposts made out of supermarket boxes, and now I’m playing in a sold- out stadium with football boots.’ That all happened in a very short space of time. I was playing football on the street at 13 or 14 with my friends, and at 17 I was playing professionally. So I always tried to enjoy myself as much as I could. My advice would be enjoy yourself, be happy that you get to do what you love doing most because you’re in a privileged position. So many people would want to be in your shoes.”

The lad from Londrina, almost 400km from Curitiba in the southern Brazilian state of Parana, certainly took his opportunity. By July 2005, a little over two years after his debut in Brazil’s top flight, he was in Ukraine, making his first appearance for Shakhtar. That same summer came his first taste of the Champions League, in a qualifying defeat by Inter Milan. “I was still unable to understand the magnitude of the Champions League because being in Brazil and watching it on TV is one thing, but when you get here to play then you really realise that it’s a really big deal and it’s very different to what I’d experienced in Brazil.”

At Shakhtar he learned about defensive positioning from the club’s long-serving Romanian coach, Mircea Lucescu (see page 62). As a boy he would play in goal in neighbourhood matches before moving into other positions: defence, midfield, attack. In Ukraine this versatility served him well – be it in holding midfield, on the right, the left, even No10 – but equally, he absorbed Lucescu’s lessons about positional discipline. At City, where he has played everywhere across the defence and midfield, Guardiola has continued his education.

“My interpretation of the game, especially after Pep got here, helped a lot. [It’s] the ease with which he conveys his message, his idea, his concept of the game… he’s very good at what he does. We have a coach who’s a perfectionist and who can easily get his message across to his players. I learned [to play in different positions] when I was young, at 15 or 16 years of age, when I was playing in Londrina. It was already easy for me to play in several positions.”

The question of adaptability leads him back to the young players he observes today at the City Football Academy. “Your professional career might not go as you expect it to. That’s when the athlete’s ability to adapt to a new role is important, so that they can help the team as much as possible. That’s something which should be taught to young players and not just the dream that players are stars and that their careers will be successful. Young players need to see the reality of it – we need to explain that they have potential, but if it doesn’t work out there are other possibilities.”

“IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT SHOUTING AND COMMANDING; YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND EACH MOMENT”

The reality of football also means dealing with defeats. Inevitably, in a career as long as his, Fernandinho has known deep disappointments. Brazil’s 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat by Germany in 2014 was one. At the World Cup four years later he scored an own goal as Brazil exited at the quarter- final stage against Belgium. With City, meanwhile, there have been numerous frustrations in the Champions League: three defeats at the round of 16 stage, three more in quarter-finals, and another in their semi-final against Real Madrid in 2016.

“I’ve always been a sore loser, literally, in the sense that I really felt it deeply,” he says. “Because you gave your all on the pitch, after so much preparation, and when you don’t achieve the result you feel all the frustration. The sadness really gets you. Yet football gives you the chance to get on your feet again and carry on.

“I have always tried to have people next to me who have a positive outlook and give good advice. I’ve always been fortunate to have people there to help me in that regard, be they family members, friends, team-mates or even club employees. These people made me understand that football’s a game and that you must always carry on by playing and training and working, so you can bounce back.”

Of course, experience helps too. “Your head changes, your mind changes, the way you see the game changes. All that helps you to deal with your frustrations better. And besides, on top of that, it enables you to support the younger players when they go through the same process. And that’s a wonderful thing, you know. A very nice thing.”

Which is where he stands today: the wise old head helping his City team-mates in their pursuit of silverware, whenever required, on and off the pitch, both in their domestic competitions and in the Champions League where – at the time of writing – the dream of lifting the trophy for the first time remains alive.

That would be a glorious way for Agüero to bow out – and potentially Fernandinho too, even if a decision is not expected before the season’s end. Yet whatever comes next for Fernandinho, expect him to take it in his measured stride. After all, of the many lessons learned during his career, the one he would pass on to his 11-year-old football-mad son, Davi, involves keeping his focus – and his smile.

“I’d tell him that, no matter the result, he shouldn’t let it affect either him personally or his performance on the pitch; that he should do whatever has been previously agreed with the manager and his team- mates, but that he should be able to enjoy it as much as possible. Because these moments are so brief that they fly by. And if you don’t give it your best, you end up regretting it. Thankfully I’ve never regretted anything because I’ve always given my very best in every moment of my career.”

Over the past few years, Manchester City followers have been saying goodbye to some of the most significant figures in their club’s modern history: Yaya Touré in 2018, Vincent Kompany in 2019, David Silva in 2020. Soon it will be the turn of Sergio Agüero, the club’s record goalscorer and a legend in Sky Blue for the injury-time goal against Queens Park Rangers which, in 2012, won City their first league title for 44 years.

Time waits for no man and football – for all the cryotherapy chambers and personal chefs the modern player can afford – is no exception, as Agüero’s diminished role this season shows. Which makes all the more impressive the ongoing importance to the City cause of Fernandinho, a player who turns 36 in May and whose current contract is due to expire on 30 June.

With Rodri now established as City’s first-choice holding midfielder, the Brazilian begins games intermittently – in the Champions League there have been just two starts among his five appearance up to the semi-finals – but his value to the Premier League champions-elect, on and off the pitch, remains beyond question. No player has done more to fill the leadership void left by Kompany’s departure, a telling example being the squad meeting he called on the morning of New Year’s Day after Guardiola had voiced his displeasure to him about a perceived slackness in training the previous day. After a few home truths, City found top gear – and the three victories prior turned into a 21-game winning streak. Phil Foden, a team-mate 15 years his junior, has cited the many other smaller conversations instigated by the man who replaced Silva as club captain last summer. “Sometimes if the manager doesn’t see if a player is down, Fernandinho will go and see if they’re OK,” he noted.

Another colleague, Ilkay Gündoğan expanded on this when asked about Fernandinho after the veteran, not for the first time this term, had shone on his return to City’s starting XI for the league victory at Arsenal in February. He offered a reminder of that enduring ability to be in the right place at the right time on a football field, sniffing out and snuffing out danger. Gündoğan said, “He’s always there for us. He supports us with the way he talks to us and then with the way he plays. He’s a real leader. He gives us the right things at the right time. He knows when to speak up, he knows when to be quiet. He knows what to do.”

All of which explains why Fernandinho, speaking to Champions from City’s training ground, is reflecting on why a pastoral role comes naturally to him. For some footballers, experience brings the ability to lead. Not in the case of Fernando Luis Roza. “Many people have told me that at 17, I already thought like a 30-year-old.” He illustrates the point with a detail about his professional debut for Athletico Paranaense in a derby at Paraná, their Curitiba city rivals, in April 2003. He is not remembering a pass or a goal or the sound of the crowd, but rather winning the ball for his team. “It was an unbelievable feeling when I made my first tackle,” he says.

These glimpses of the 17-year-old Fernandinho make it a logical and easy leap to the man we see today, the club captain who reads people as well as he reads the game. “It’s not just about shouting and commanding,” he says, elaborating on how he deals with colleagues. “You have to be able to do the right thing at the right time. You’ve got to have that judgement. You have to know when you need to call someone out. Sometimes you need to be gentle. Sometimes you need to sit and talk or even not say anything, just listen. Sometimes you have to do the talking and not let the player speak. Sometimes you have to punch the table and shake the guys up, give them a wake-up call. You have to be perceptive enough to understand each situation that comes up in everyday life at the club. I’ve always been like this; I’ve always had a great relationship with younger players. When I played for Athletico Paranaense, I was only 19 but I had a good relationship with the boys in the feeder team. I was constantly talking to them.”

That same approach applies with a young player like Foden today – a player he considers “one of the great prodigies we have here, not just at City but in English football in general” and who, as a consequence, carries a heavy burden of expectation. “When you have a 20-year-old kid who’s considered to be, arguably, the best of his generation, it ends up being a huge source of pressure. Very high expectations.”

Manchester City have reached the Champions League semi-finals twice in Fernandinho’s eight seasons at the club, The boy from Londrina is at home in Manchester, His playing time may be diminished, but Fernandinho remains influential on the pitch

For City manager Pep Guardiola, he observes, “the demands [made on players] have to be the same, they can’t be different just because I’m 35 and he’s 20”. That’s where he, as captain, comes in. “Where you have to get the kid, you have to understand and know your team-mate well and try to make him feel less under pressure to perform as he’s expected to. There’s a time to take a player under your wing, there’s a moment to talk, there’s a moment to listen. That’s what’s happened with him – we talked briefly and it seems like it was useful.”

Today it seems hard to think of Fernandinho as a fresh-faced youngster. Yet before the six Ukrainian league titles and UEFA Cup won with Shakhtar Donetsk, and his more than 400 appearances and nine major trophies (and counting) with City, there was a time when he stood with all of that in front of him. So what would today’s armband-wearing Fernandinho advise his own teenaged self, not long arrived at Athletico from his home city of Londrina?

“It would be to enjoy yourself to the fullest,” he responds, “because sometimes I stop and think to myself, ‘Wow! First I’m playing two-on-two or three- on-three street football with goalposts made out of supermarket boxes, and now I’m playing in a sold- out stadium with football boots.’ That all happened in a very short space of time. I was playing football on the street at 13 or 14 with my friends, and at 17 I was playing professionally. So I always tried to enjoy myself as much as I could. My advice would be enjoy yourself, be happy that you get to do what you love doing most because you’re in a privileged position. So many people would want to be in your shoes.”

The lad from Londrina, almost 400km from Curitiba in the southern Brazilian state of Parana, certainly took his opportunity. By July 2005, a little over two years after his debut in Brazil’s top flight, he was in Ukraine, making his first appearance for Shakhtar. That same summer came his first taste of the Champions League, in a qualifying defeat by Inter Milan. “I was still unable to understand the magnitude of the Champions League because being in Brazil and watching it on TV is one thing, but when you get here to play then you really realise that it’s a really big deal and it’s very different to what I’d experienced in Brazil.”

At Shakhtar he learned about defensive positioning from the club’s long-serving Romanian coach, Mircea Lucescu (see page 62). As a boy he would play in goal in neighbourhood matches before moving into other positions: defence, midfield, attack. In Ukraine this versatility served him well – be it in holding midfield, on the right, the left, even No10 – but equally, he absorbed Lucescu’s lessons about positional discipline. At City, where he has played everywhere across the defence and midfield, Guardiola has continued his education.

“My interpretation of the game, especially after Pep got here, helped a lot. [It’s] the ease with which he conveys his message, his idea, his concept of the game… he’s very good at what he does. We have a coach who’s a perfectionist and who can easily get his message across to his players. I learned [to play in different positions] when I was young, at 15 or 16 years of age, when I was playing in Londrina. It was already easy for me to play in several positions.”

The question of adaptability leads him back to the young players he observes today at the City Football Academy. “Your professional career might not go as you expect it to. That’s when the athlete’s ability to adapt to a new role is important, so that they can help the team as much as possible. That’s something which should be taught to young players and not just the dream that players are stars and that their careers will be successful. Young players need to see the reality of it – we need to explain that they have potential, but if it doesn’t work out there are other possibilities.”

“IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT SHOUTING AND COMMANDING; YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND EACH MOMENT”

The reality of football also means dealing with defeats. Inevitably, in a career as long as his, Fernandinho has known deep disappointments. Brazil’s 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat by Germany in 2014 was one. At the World Cup four years later he scored an own goal as Brazil exited at the quarter- final stage against Belgium. With City, meanwhile, there have been numerous frustrations in the Champions League: three defeats at the round of 16 stage, three more in quarter-finals, and another in their semi-final against Real Madrid in 2016.

“I’ve always been a sore loser, literally, in the sense that I really felt it deeply,” he says. “Because you gave your all on the pitch, after so much preparation, and when you don’t achieve the result you feel all the frustration. The sadness really gets you. Yet football gives you the chance to get on your feet again and carry on.

“I have always tried to have people next to me who have a positive outlook and give good advice. I’ve always been fortunate to have people there to help me in that regard, be they family members, friends, team-mates or even club employees. These people made me understand that football’s a game and that you must always carry on by playing and training and working, so you can bounce back.”

Of course, experience helps too. “Your head changes, your mind changes, the way you see the game changes. All that helps you to deal with your frustrations better. And besides, on top of that, it enables you to support the younger players when they go through the same process. And that’s a wonderful thing, you know. A very nice thing.”

Which is where he stands today: the wise old head helping his City team-mates in their pursuit of silverware, whenever required, on and off the pitch, both in their domestic competitions and in the Champions League where – at the time of writing – the dream of lifting the trophy for the first time remains alive.

That would be a glorious way for Agüero to bow out – and potentially Fernandinho too, even if a decision is not expected before the season’s end. Yet whatever comes next for Fernandinho, expect him to take it in his measured stride. After all, of the many lessons learned during his career, the one he would pass on to his 11-year-old football-mad son, Davi, involves keeping his focus – and his smile.

“I’d tell him that, no matter the result, he shouldn’t let it affect either him personally or his performance on the pitch; that he should do whatever has been previously agreed with the manager and his team- mates, but that he should be able to enjoy it as much as possible. Because these moments are so brief that they fly by. And if you don’t give it your best, you end up regretting it. Thankfully I’ve never regretted anything because I’ve always given my very best in every moment of my career.”

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