Champions League final: Man City's Fernandinho aims to cap stunning season by becoming first Brazilian to lift trophy
With League Cup and Premier League title already in the bag, veteran midfielder looks to add biggest club prize of all to collection
It was understandable the first Brazilian to win the European Cup was overshadowed. Canario started for Real Madrid against Eintracht Frankfurt in 1960 but Alfredo di Stefano scored three goals and Ferenc Puskas four. Real won 7-3.
Six decades on, the Champions League is established as the global game’s premier club competition and Brazil have won the most World Cups. Some 49 Brazilians – even excluding those who played their international football for other countries – have won the European Cup. None, however, has been the man to lift the trophy.
Fernandinho could be the history maker, the first Brazilian to captain a Champions League-winning side. The Manchester City midfielder has already got his hands on two pieces of silverware this season, first the League Cup and then the Premier League.
The campaign when he has featured least could feature his greatest high. Fernandinho has only started 12 league games, with Rodri assuming his old role at the base of midfield.
Perhaps his greatest contribution to City’s season was the team talk he gave on New Year’s Day, after a lacklustre training session the previous day. “That’s what made us champions,” he later concluded.
Yet he has been more than a motivator. A bit-part player has also been a big-game player. Rodri has made the most appearances, 53, for City this season but Pep Guardiola faces a decision.
Fernandinho’s starts have been sporadic but often crucial: the League Cup semi-final against Manchester United, when he scored, and the final versus Spurs; the second leg of the Champions League semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain, when he again excelled.
It provided his highlight of City’s European run. “It was a huge game, and it was my birthday, I was celebrating another year on earth,” he said. His nous played a part on a night when PSG lost their cool. “It’s a matter of reading the game and understanding what’s going on in that moment,” he said. “Sometimes it’s easy for a person to lose their head when under a lot of stress or pressure, so I tried to stop players from falling into this trap so to not harm the team’s performance.”
Instead, he enhanced it. His eighth season at the Etihad could be his greatest. “Now we’ve reached a standard which is perhaps one of the highest this team has ever managed to reach, especially under Pep’s management, and there’s no doubt that it’s a special feeling,” he said.
“I’ve had a chance to play in many Champions League seasons and I’d only got as far as the semis with Manchester City,” he added. “I think it’s a fantastic achievement, because if you look at Manchester City’s history, which has been through periods of playing in the lower divisions in England, supporters who suffered for so long but stuck with the club, and kept supporting during tough times, and now to be able to see that the team is in a Champions League final now is a really special moment.
“We’ve got fans who two seasons ago I had the honour of leading onto the pitch two ladies who were over 100 years old, so you can imagine what they saw in their 100 years of age supporting Manchester City: so much joy, but also so much sadness as well.”
He has reached veteran status in a footballing sense. His energy belies his 36 years. His contract expires next month and there is little doubt Guardiola would like to keep him. But his 350th City game could be his last. If so, he may bow out with a unique feat, both in the history of a club that has never won the Champions League and his country, which has won much else.
Updated: May 26, 2021 07:02 AM