The Brazilian on his dream move to Liverpool and penalty nous
All great managers worth their salt have a trademark. Brian Clough had a green sweater, Malcolm Allison had a fedora, Alex Ferguson had a wristwatch. But Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has half a dozen – the hair, the beard, the maniacal grin, the thick-rimmed glasses, shouting the word ‘boom’ seemingly at random, and, of course, heavy-metal football. The Reds’ relentless approach during their barnstorming run to the 2018 Champions League Final earned plenty of praise – including from a man who is joining the band this summer. “I love it,” Brazilian utility man and aspiring rock god Fabinho tells Fourfourtwo in his first major interview since completing a reported £43 million move to Anfield in May. “The football Liverpool have played over the last couple of seasons not only made the team competitive, but also very entertaining. In fact, we tried to replicate that style at Monaco last season. We had fast players who could run and run, but Liverpool do it in a different way. It’s very impressive. I do like this type of football – hopefully, this new season is all about heavy metal!” The 24-year-old, who had brief spells in Portugal with Rio Ave and Spain on loan at Real Madrid, arrived on Merseyside having impressed at both right-back and in central midfield during his three-year spell with Les Monegasques that including a Ligue 1 title in 2016-17. Despite rumours that he would follow Kylian Mbappe and Bernardo Silva out of the Stade Louis II last summer, the Brazilian remained in the Principality for one more year. Was he disappointed to be left behind? Nope – he’s just happy to be dining at the top table at all.
“I feel very proud and lucky to be among the minority of players to actually make it,” he says. “I’ve met some good players and dedicated guys who unfortunately didn’t. I’m grateful to be a professional and to have the chance to be involved in the biggest tournaments. That’s my proudest achievement so far.”
If he can help Klopp’s boys go one better in the coming campaign, he may just revise that statement...
For any fans in England who don’t know, can you tell us what kind of player you are and what you’ll be hoping to bring to Liverpool’s team in 2018-19? Sure. I’m a versatile player; I’ve played in several positions during my career and I believe that’s a very important characteristic, because every squad needs versatile players. However, over the past couple of seasons I’ve been playing mainly as a midfielder. I’d say that I’m good at recovering possession, but I also like to help my team-mates offensively. Oh, and I also have a really good record when it comes to taking penalties. Almost every single time I’ve taken a penalty, I’ve found the back of the net.
Did you know much about Liverpool before signing, as a football club and also as a city? I’ve been following the club closely in the last few years, and they’ve improved greatly under Jurgen Klopp. They’ve reached two European
finals in the past three seasons, and it’s important to keep fighting for big trophies. Liverpool are a huge club with wonderful supporters, and I’m counting the days until I meet them at Anfield. As for the city, I’ve been there twice so far – only during the negotiations, rather than as a tourist – but I really liked what I saw. One of the times, it was a nice sunny day. It’s always like that, right? [Laughs]
You’ve said that you chatted to compatriot Roberto Firmino about the club – what did he tell you? Firstly, he sent me some messages saying that Jurgen Klopp had been following me for some time and liked my style of play. Then, when we were close to finalising the deal, he started giving me some tips about life in the city. He told me Liverpool was a fantastic place, just a little cold every now and again! He also said the club has perfect facilities, so the only thing the players need to worry about is playing. He said if I had more questions, to let him know, but when a club like Liverpool are interested, there are no questions to ask!
Was joining Liverpool an easy decision? Yes, very easy. I was sad to leave Monaco, a club that gave me a lot of great moments, but in football sometimes you need new challenges and I thought it was time to move on. As soon as Liverpool declared their interest in signing me, it was a simple decision to make. A club with Liverpool’s history wants you? Come on, you just pack your bags and go. It will be an honour to wear the famous red shirt.
Did you watch English football when you were younger? I always liked to watch international tournaments, but to be honest it was hard to follow the English league when I was young. I didn’t have access to it at home in Brazil, but since I moved to Europe I’ve started watching Premier League matches quite a lot. Every game here seems almost like a final. The fans are incredible, the stadiums are always full and every game is so unpredictable. If I had to name one player as my reference for English football, I would have to go for Steven Gerrard. He is one of the best midfielders to have ever played the game and is a real legend for Liverpool.
A few of your former Monaco pals – Tiemoue Bakayoko, Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy – signed for English clubs last summer. Have you spoken to any of them since your move and will there be some friendly competition between you this season? All of those guys sent me messages to say they were happy with my arrival in England. We have a great relationship – a lot of affection for each other. I just hope to adapt to the Premier League as quickly as they did. Bernardo and Mendy won the league title in their first season, which is a brilliant achievement. Baka has played very well at Chelsea too, even in a slightly more offensive role than the one he was used to at Monaco. It’s going to be great to have these guys around. We’re friends, but it’s a completely different story on the pitch. We now play on different sides, and if I have to tackle them, they’d better be ready for it. I’ve already told Bernardo that if he ever tries to do some tricks against me, he’ll definitely regret it!
Has Jurgen Klopp talked to you about what your role in the team will be in 2018-19? Will you play at right-back, in central midfield, or switch between the two? We had several conversations before and after the negotiations. He’s said I might play in a few different positions, but the plan is to use me in midfield and I’m available to play wherever he needs me. He left the best possible impression. Everyone knows how passionate he is about football, but he’s also a lovely person as well as a fantastic manager. He told me the calendar is demanding in England and that he needs players like me. It was a huge honour to hear such a compliment and that’s what I wanted for my career – a move to a big club that knew they could count on me.
What did you make of Mohamed Salah’s performances last term? How close is he to being the best player in the world? What a season he had! He just looked unstoppable. It was a pleasure watching him and he’s improving year on year. I believe he’s entitled to dream of winning the next Ballon d’or based on his numbers and achievements last season. If it doesn’t come this time, I’m sure he will get there sooner rather than later. Mo is one of those rare players who is both a clinical finisher and also really intelligent in terms of reading the game. It’s great to see how quickly he adapted to Liverpool, which is obviously encouraging for me.
“A CLUB WITH THE HISTORY OF LIVERPOOL WANTS TO SIGN YOU? COME On, YOU JUST PACK YOUR BAGS AND GO. IT WILL BE An HONOUR TO WEAR THE FAMOUS RED SHIRT”
What did you learn during a brief stay at Real Madrid in 2012-13? Did you enjoy a close relationship with Jose Mourinho? I was actually signed for Real Madrid Castilla, the club’s B team who were playing in the second division. The level was quite high so it was a good experience for me, particularly as it was my first year as a pro. There wasn’t much contact with the first team, though. I trained with them several times and played in a couple of friendlies, but only one competitive match. I didn’t have a close relationship with Mourinho, but when we did meet he was always very kind and asked how I was doing, how I was settling in and so on. I learned a lot of things in that season – it’s no bad thing for a youngster to get a taste of life at such a massive football club.
You were previously linked with a transfer to Manchester United. Was that ever a possibility? I was never close to signing for Manchester United, no. I heard things said about it, but the truth is it was never a strong possibility. I won’t deny there were a few conversations about my situation with Monaco, but there was never an official offer from United.
Is Monaco a nice place to live in? Any famous neighbours? I didn’t have any famous neighbours, although it was quite common to meet celebrities around the Principality. I remember seeing Floyd Mayweather a few times, as well as some film stars and Formula 1 drivers. But, you know, it’s pretty normal there so you just pretend that nothing is happening...
The photos of your Liverpool unveiling showed Deco as one of your ‘entourage’ – what’s it like to be able to call on his advice? I’ve known him since my time in Fluminense’s youth teams. He was always very supportive and helpful when I needed advice. We’ve become great friends – we’ve got houses near one another in Brazil, so we often meet on holiday. It’s fantastic to have someone like him close by – he was a brilliant player with a spectacular career. Deco and his brother Lucio were crucial to my quick adaptation to life in Europe, when I first moved to Portugal. I’m very grateful for their support over the years. You sadly missed out on a place in Brazil’s 2018 World Cup squad. Do you think playing in the Premier League will help you to secure a regular spot in the national team? I have no doubt about it. The Premier League is more competitive and it also has a much bigger audience than Ligue 1. I’m not sure if I was watched as closely at Monaco as I will be in England, and all of that does play a part when it comes to being remembered by the national team. I want to be part of the Selecao, so hopefully I can put in some good performances this season and achieve my goal. After all, Roberto Firmino is a regular player for the Selecao now, so Brazil coach Tite is definitely watching Liverpool!
What are your targets for the campaign ahead? What represents a good season for you and Liverpool? For me, I want to settle down as quickly as possible, and then help my team-mates to become an even more competitive side. If I can say at the end of the season that I played a part in making Liverpool better, I’ll be happy. For a club like Liverpool, a good season means trophies. Perhaps we can win the Champions League title; we were so close to winning it last season. I’m optimistic about the future and I’m looking forward to winning a lot of titles with Liverpool.
You and your wife, Rebeca Tavares, posted pictures on Instagram looking pretty happy on the jet to Liverpool. What was it like knowing you were about to sign for one of the world’s biggest clubs? That day was party day! We were both smiling at everything. I was really anxious during all of the negotiations, so when it was time for me to sign the contract I couldn’t have been happier – a dream come true. When I was doing the medical exams, I couldn’t stop asking people, ‘When does it finally become official?’ You don’t sign for one of the biggest clubs in the world every day, you know? I was also slightly anxious to see what the fans’ reaction would be. But it was amazing, and the numbers on my social media went through the roof that day! It just shows how big Liverpool are, and my happiness isn’t any smaller now.
“FOR A CLUB LIKE LIVERPOOL, A GOOD SEASON MEANS TROPHIES. I WANT TO SAY AT THE END OF THE SEASON THAT I HELPED TO MAKE LIVERPOOL BETTER”
Clockwise from left The penalty specialist scored 17 out of 17 for Monaco in Ligue 1; Fabinho fends off Leroy Sané en route to the 2016-17 Champions League semis; savouring title glory with Bernardo Silva, who’ll face his old team-mate with Man City
Below The Brazilian is versatile and excels at recovering possession