“One touch, two. If there are three, something strange has happened.” It’s early evening in Seville, the sun is coming through a crack in the curtain, and as Fernando is discussing his craft, there is a calm, almost peaceful simplicity to the way he talks, which Sevilla supporters have come to see reflected in his play. On Tuesday the former Manchester City midfielder returns to England, but don’t expect to see him on the ball much at Stamford Bridge. That’s not what he’ll be there for.
“It’s a very hard place to play and we’ll struggle: Chelsea have quality, talented players, but we travel in hope, knowing we can leave happy,” the 33-year-old Brazilian says. Recent history suggests he could be right. It took an extra-time winner for Bayern Munich to defeat Sevilla in the European Super Cup and they land in London as Europa League winners, having defeated Manchester United in the semi-finals and then Internazionale in the final. “I got messages from City fans congratulating me,” he grins. Unbeaten in the league, something is building and if there is a team that can resist, it is they. And if there is a player who can, it is he.
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“Oh, I suffer,” he says smiling, but it doesn’t often look like it. Instead there’s a tranquillity about him. “A brilliant player, so good tactically,” according to his teammate Joan Jordan, “wonderful” in the words of Monchi, the sporting director, he stands at the base of the Sevilla midfield. From there, the man Porto teammates called the Octopus, legs everywhere, reaching everything, applies the lessons learned since arriving in Europe at 19. No one recovers more possession nor completes more passes, the ball won and moved on.
“I was better physically, I ran much more but didn’t run well, didn’t do the right thing. I think much better than I did,” he says. “With experience you play better because your head is better.”
There have been 237 games at Porto, 57 at Galatasaray and 102 at City, plus 44 at Sevilla, each an education. There may have been no teacher such as Pep Guardiola, a coach who makes you fall in love with football, Fernando says. Which may seem a strange thing to say about a manager who gave you five league starts in that final season, and left you heading for the exit. But listening to him, thinking about what he says – and listening and thinking are themes he returns to often – it makes sense. All of it does.
“He’s different,” Fernando says. “Guardiola works with such enthusiasm, studies everything. He’s always searching, trying to understand the game better. Every session is an opportunity. If you play a bad pass, he stops: ‘Why did you play that pass?’”