World Cup 2014: Brazilian-born Fernando has endeared himself to Portugal fans, but will Paulo Bento select him?
There’s a feeling that Manuel Pellegrini may regret his failure to land Porto midfielder Fernando on deadline day.
A muscle injury suffered by Fernandinho has left surprisingly fragile through the middle and susceptible to counter-attacks.
Three days after the window closed, Chelsea took full advantage as the first Premier League team to claim three points at the Etihad this season, overpowering City’s depleted midfield.
Pellegrini lost further ground against Norwich and faces the daunting prospect of beating a Barcelona team boasting the world’s finest midfield pairing.
City’s prospects would have been slightly rosier coming into this crucial period if they’d managed to land Porto’s Brazilian-born general. The 26 year-old is capable of performing a similar role to Chelsea’s Nemanja Matic, a key January acquisition rightly praised for making the Blues more resilient.
In Portugal, it was no surprise when City failed with a late £35 million double-bid for Fernando and French defender, Eliaquim Mangala.
Porto’s 76 year-old president, Pinto Da Costa, has been running the club with an iron fist ever since he became president in 1982. At times, he makes Daniel Levy seem more like Father Christmas.
Costa rejected City’s advances in January and threatened to banish Fernando from Porto’s first team until he extended his contract. The following week, an agreement was reached by all parties for a new three year deal containing a £25 million buy-out clause.
Fernando’s agent, Antonio Araujo, recently offered hope of a summer revival:
“God willing, Fernando will play in the Premier League,” he claimed. The dream of a Fernandinho-Fernando partnership lives on for Manchester City fans, but maybe not so for followers of Brazil.
Widely regarded as one of Primeira Liga’s finest ball-winning midfielders, he received Portuguese citizenship in December 2013, and is now eligible to play for Portugal or Brazil at the World Cup.
When Luis Felipe Scolari attended Porto’s 4-0 win over Olhanense a week later, there were suggestions Fernando would be included in Brazil’s squad for the first time ahead of the upcoming friendly against South Africa.
Instead, it was Manchester City’s Fernandinho who received a surprise call-up, paving the way for Paulo Bento to make his move.
“My position has always been clear,” Portugal‘s manager explained.
“The moment a player is naturalised, he becomes another option. What I’d like to make clear is that I have never asked any player to become naturalised, nor have I asked the FPF to accelerate proceedings because we are short in a certain area.”
There is a reluctance in Portugal to accept any dependence on Brazilian-born players. A Portuguese citizen’s pride about representing his country should always outweigh the manager’s desire to select him, wherever he was born and however talented he may be.
If a Brazilian-born footballer has lived in Portugal for long enough – seven years in Fernando’s case – to share a sense of national pride, to feel Portuguese, then we should welcome this player with open arms.
It’s not a view shared by everyone in Portugal. Former Benfica midfielder Petit, who won 57 caps, argues: “now that we have William [Carvalho], it is not necessary.”
The Brazilians don’t see it quite the same way, either.
At the 2010 World Cup, Portugal’s Brazilian-born trio of Deco, Pepe and Liedson were drawn against their country of birth in Group G.
“It is Brazil A against Brazil B,” Dunga, their manager at the time, joked.
Wisely, Fernando has already endeared himself to Portugal fans by tweeting his support before the World Cup play-off against Sweden. Weeks later, when his Portuguese citizenship was confirmed, he posted an image of the letter on Facebook with the message: “Finally arrived! With much pride, officially Portuguese!”
When asked whether Fernando could replace Miguel Veloso or Raul Meireles in the national team, Portugal’s manager responded: “Fernando is a different sort of player. He has been extraordinary for Porto, showing speed, aggressiveness and very strong defensive capabilities. He gives us more options. Miguel Veloso has been extraordinary for us, Raul Meireles as well.”
The squad to face Cameroon in a friendly on March 5 will be announced later this month.
Over to you, Paulo Bento.