Roots have always been important to Fernandinho. It was this way at Athletico Paranaense where he started and for eight years at Shakhtar Donetsk before his move to Manchester City.
He became the Premier League’s most decorated Brazilian and an idol at City and is now back in Brazil to fulfil his desire to give something back to the club where it all began.
With Luiz Felipe Scolari at the helm, it is going nicely. Athletico are into the Copa Libertadores final, where they will face Brazilian rivals Flamengo next month. But Manchester is never far from his mind, especially when the derby comes into view.
Fernandinho is relishing life back in Brazil and has a Copa Libertadores final to look forward to
‘City is one of the few clubs I would sit down on the couch and watch play,” Fernandinho tells Sportsmail. The Brazilian won five Premier League titles in nine years at the Etihad Stadium and 53 caps for his country.
‘They play football beautifully and I feel privileged to have made history there.
‘The thing that makes them different is the work behind the cameras, with all the responsibility and commitment. I think they will continue to dominate English football. I hope so.
The Brazilian said that he is enjoying guiding younger players in the squad with his experience
‘The Premier League has a great deal of excellence. It is different there. Every stadium is full, which creates a different atmosphere. It has the audience, the interest and the social media.’
Fernandinho helped to establish a trend of Brazilian footballers in the Premier League. This season started with 29 across 14 of the 20 clubs.
‘Football is shifting towards the Premier League, as it once did in Italy and then Spain,’ he adds. ‘I feel that I was able to pave the way for players and able to help other guys.
‘Gabriel Jesus is one example of it. The more experienced players have to help the younger players when they get to a new country and a new language. He was always humble, always wanted to learn and gave his best on and off the field. The good results we see from him now are the consequence of his work.’
Fernandinho departed Manchester City in the summer after nine glorious years with the club
Fernandinho joined Athletico in June, a return that has inspired the club to new highs with his wealth of experience helping younger players improve.
‘I always said I would like to come back home,’ says the 37-year-old, who caught City boss Pep Guardiola unaware when he confirmed his plan to leave at a Champions League press conference, in April.
‘I was contacted by a few clubs, but my heart was already set on returning to Brazil and Athletico. Once I renewed my contract for the last time at City, I was clear on my choice. Of course, there was the surprise when I answered the question during an interview, but everything was OK.
His last act as a City player was to lift his fifth and final Premier League title with the club
‘Talks with Athletico were good. They wanted me and I wanted to come back. Athletico has a great structure, probably the best in all South America, and I felt they just needed a little bit of experience. So, after Felipão (Scolari) and I joined, I guess we were able to provide this.’
Scolari is still going strong at 73 years old, 40 years into a coaching career that has included Brazil, Portugal, Chelsea and several giants of Brazilian football.
‘I can see Felipão loves what he is doing, and the club benefits most by having a great coach on the side,’ says Fernandinho. ‘It’s been great to be back here.
‘Some of the younger players were shy to talk to me at first, but I opened myself up to ask about their families, and their lives, I give advice on and off the field.
Although he played more of a bit-part role in his final season, his value to the team was reflected at the end
‘It’s about giving back to the club. I know how things work, how this football world works, so I have to share it. I like to help.’
Fernandinho has made in 11 appearances for Athletico, including the entire tie against Palmeiras, in the Copa Libertadores semi-final, and his eyes are fixed on more trophies.
‘My most cherished moments at Manchester City were the titles,’ he says. ‘I can’t tell you one single moment, because I there were a lot. Unfortunately, not the Champions League, but that’s how life goes.
‘My passion and objectives will be the same here in Athletico, winning titles.’
He revealed that the ‘surprising’ interview he gave in which he said he would be departing proved to be no issue
He has signed a two-year contract, and is studying for qualifications in football management at an executive level, perhaps to follow fellow Brazilian Edu into a role as a sporting director. But he does not rule out the idea of extending his playing career into his 40s.
‘I honestly don’t know what I’ll do after my career is over,’ says Fernandinho. ‘I can’t say I will definitely retire when my contract with Athletico is done or that I will play for another year.
‘To be honest, I don’t see myself as a coach. I am studying to learn more, to know more, especially football management. I hope to work away from the cameras but life is full of surprises. I am willing to live accordingly.’