Fernandinho exclusive: Ze Roberto inspiration and meetings with Pep Guardiola on new position

Alam Khan - Reporter 01:00 11/01/2020
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Manchester City midfielder Fernandinho

The inclusion of Ze Roberto alongside Zinedine Zidane, Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo in a best-ever XI from Fernandinho may leave many surprised.

But the Manchester City star has always seen his fellow Brazilian as an inspiration.

Ze Roberto’s versatility saw him play at left back, on the wing and in midfield for clubs such as Real Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich and Al Gharafa in Qatar.

Notably, at the age of 42, he became the oldest player in Brazilian history to win the Serie A title when he helped a Palmeiras side – also featuring City striker Gabriel Jesus – triumph in 2016.

Ze Roberto played on for one more year and his longevity at the highest level has been lauded by Fernandinho as he now looks to continue his own career at the top.

He will be 35 in May and is close to extending a seven-year stay at the Etihad for at least another season.

“Hopefully,” Fernandinho told Sport360 exclusively. “We will see how long I keep playing too. To be honest I don’t think about that now.

“Of course I want to keep playing, but I don’t put on myself that I will play until 40 or something. I will play as long as I feel good and I can give a good performance back to the team.

“You have to look after yourself too and it’s the best way to perform.

“We have a player who played for so many years in Germany and then after in Brazil, played until he was 43. Ze Roberto is his name. Gabi [Jesus] played with him as well at Palmeiras. He was a winger, left back, midfielder, played for Real Madrid, Bayern, so many different positions as well.

“He was an inspiration for me because he was a top player and played at a high level until he was 43.

“As I said, I don’t want to say I will go on until then because we don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but I am happy and this happiness is making me keep playing and perform better.”

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Having accepted he will not add to his tally of 53 Brazil caps and reduce the effect of tiring international trips, the move from midfield into central defence at City could prolong his career further.

While thrust into the backline to help compensate for the departure of former captain Vincent Kompany and then injuries to Aymeric Laporte and John Stones, the experienced Fernandinho has become a pivotal figure for Pep Guardiola this season in helping steady a City defence that has been exposed by the loss of key players.

Outstanding performances, such as the one in midweek that helped overcome Manchester United 3-1 in the EFL Cup semi-final first leg at Old Trafford, have belied his age and the fact he is new to the role.

Just as Javier Mascherano similarly changed positions successfully under Guardiola at Barcelona, Fernandinho has enjoyed the transition under his City boss.

Guardiola, who has described him as a leader and one of the club’s greats, has resisted pressure to move Fernandinho back into a midfield where Rodri was signed in the summer as a long-term replacement.

And Fernandinho, who cost City £30 million from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2013, said: “I am feeling good, feeling confident.

“I’m happy to be playing in this position, to be playing alongside these players and of course this is motivation for me to stay in that way.

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“I think this change has helped me grow up as a player. When you play in certain different positions you can understand the game better and try to help the other team-mates as well.

“I know what role the holding midfielder should do, the centre-back playing left or right and the full back, it’s all really clear in my head. I think this has helped me get better.

“I think I adapted myself, playing the way I played. Sometimes we have a specific way to play, that’s all.

“So playing in defence, it opens your mind, especially under Pep because you can understand the game easier.

“We have a lot of meetings about tactics, positioning, how you have to move the ball, how you have to pass the ball, which player is free and which player you have to man mark. It helped me. For me, it doesn’t matter playing midfield or centre-back.

“Of course when I’m in good form and fitness, then my performance helps the team as well.”

City visit Aston Villa on Sunday buoyed by the win at United in which their dominance should have resulted in a bigger margin of victory.

While they remain 14 points behind unbeaten leaders Liverpool in their quest for a third successive Premier League title, Fernandinho says they will be looking for a strong second-half finish to the season to add to past honours.

“Sure, definitely we still want to win things,” he added. “We try to convince the players you know, especially the younger ones.

“We are passing through difficult moments, but we have to keep going.

“We dropped so many points in the Premier League, but the desire to win the trophies should be there, in the heart, in the mind, and we go for the things we can reach.”

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