As he begins the rebuilding job required following last month’s debacle, the Brazil manager, Dunga, must be relieved that Fernando is available for selection. For the newly signed Manchester City midfielder could have easily become another case of a Brazilian who turns his frustration at not being picked for the national team into a switch of allegiances.
In the World Cup there were five Brazilian-born players who played for other countries, including the striker Diego Costa, whose decision to choose Spain over Brazil led to incessant persecution from the home crowds in the three games Spain played at the tournament.
In 2013, not yet capped by Brazil, in 2013 Fernando decided he had waited long enough for a call-up and applied for Portuguese citizenship so that he could join Paulo Bento’s side in time for the World Cup. Fifa ruled against the switch because the player had featured for Brazil’s Under-20 squad in the 2007 South American championship.
Given Costa’s reception in Brazil and Portugal’s first-round exit, Fifa’s denial seems like a disguised blessing. Fernando’s chances of a call-up had also been hampered by his foolish aggression towards a linesman during the under-20 tournament that landed him a one-year international suspension, something that was surprisingly kept quiet in Portugal – although it could also be that since his arrival there, Fernando has received only five yellow cards and one red in more than 250 domestic and European games.
So Fernando will not follow in the footsteps of other Brazilians who sought refuge with their previous colonial masters – Deco being the most famous case. Dreams of wearing the Brazil shirt, however, could be rekindled now that Fernando has joined City – and, as his new team-mate Fernandinho showed quite recently, it is hardly a long shot.
“Every time there was going to be an announcement I followed the news. But there came a time where I just thought that maybe my international career was destined to happen in Portugal. I left Brazil at 19, a lot of people still don’t know who I am back home,” says the midfielder whose domestic professional career is limited to the 57 games he played for minnows Vila Nova.
That is certainly about to change now that the Premier League has become a permanent feature on Brazilian TV and the season beginning with City facing Arsenal in Sunday’s tomorrow’s Community Shield on Wembley. City have unofficial supporters’ groups dotted around the country. The question of how Fernando and Fernandinho will fit into Manuel Pellegrini’s masterplan remains. As things stand, the former is poised to compete for a place with the man signed last season from Shakhtar Donetsk.
What looks clear is that City have landed another combative player who might not be a Brazilian fantasista but whose stamina proved useful for Porto. Fernando’s displays earned him hero status among the fans, who nicknamed him “The Octopus” owing to the perception he seemed to be in possession of more than two legs, covering every blade of grass to disarm opponents.
In seven years at the Estádio do Dragão, Fernando collected a Europa League medal, three league titles and three Portuguese Cups. He also became one of the most influential players in the dressing room and his personality could prove important at City. “I am not a guy who goes for the limelight,” he says. “I prefer to work for the team on and off the pitch. It’s part of my job to be discreet and help the team where it’s needed. But it was a good thing that younger players arriving at Porto, like James Rodríguez, for example, sought my advice.”
At 27, Fernando has 53 European games under his belt so adapting to the Premier League may not be as challenging as one would think. If he emulates the work ethic shown by Fernandinho,he will be a useful asset for Pellegrini’s plans, which this season must include a less pedestrian participation in the Champions League. However, City should not expect Fernando to be like Fernandinho in attack: he has hit the net six times, while Fernandinho has 57 goals in 327 games.
Fernando started his career as an attacking midfielder but was moved closer to the back four by the Brazil Under-20 coach Nelson Rodrigues. “It was hard to swallow because I always like going forward and trying to score but my mind changed and I am happy to do what I do these days. The change of position made me as a player in Europe and led to this dream of playing in England.”
The octopus is happy. And will be happier to know Fernandinho is willing to do more than show him around Carrington. Like many Brazilians, they are fans of barbecues and Fernando will find in Fernandinho a savvy grill operator that was able to score good cuts even while playing in eastern Ukraine – South Americans usually are very picky with their meat and their favourite cuts are not easily found. “Fernando is a lovely guy and an experienced player that will strengthen our squad,” Fernandinho says.