If there’s one position in football which is the most under-appreciated, it has to be the central defensive midfielder. Essentially, these players do the work of two players, but barely get credited for one. They are also expected to be fantastic ball-winners AND ping long passes forward. They are also expected to pop up with a goal or two at times.
Being multidimensional is almost a requirement for the modern-day CDM.
Every elite team requires a CDM of the aforementioned profile. Bayern Munich has Joshua Kimmich. Real Madrid has Casemiro. Chelsea has N’Golo Kanté. Manchester City has two, the newer player Rodri, and the timeless Fernandinho.
It is the latter who will be our subject today. Fernandinho is in the twilight years of his career, yet he plays like he is ten years younger. The energetic and imperious rock in the middle of the park hasn’t slowed down one bit.
Fernandinho started his career at Brazilian club Atlético Paranaense. The Brazilian then made a move to Shakhtar Donetsk. There, he won six Ukrainian Premier League titles, and the 2008-09 UEFA Cup. He joined the club a relative unknown, but left a legend.
Cityzen through and through
In 2013, Manchester City won the race to land his signature. He has been a vital cog in their machine since then, helping the club to four Premier League titles and a truckload of other trophies. Without him, City don’t play with the same fluidity and control.
Fluidity and control is what he provides anywhere he plays, including his country. He became a full international for Brazil in 2011, and has been a mainstay in the team since then. His experience and ability to read the game helped Brazil win the 2019 Copa America.
Fernandinho operates as an engine and the beating heart of the teams he plays for. When it comes to the elite CDM, he is absolutely in that conversation. His ability to intercept passes and spray them forward is superb, as is his technique, pace and striking of the ball. Teams have to plan on how to get past him, and doing that alone is a Herculean task.
The most impressive thing about the 36-year-old is that he is a complete player. He does the defensive work like no one else, but his offensive capabilities aren’t talked about enough. Although the anchor of the team, he surges upfield as well, mirroring the game of a box-to-box midfielder.
His creativity and passing range are also underrated. While he is no Andrea Pirlo or Toni Kroos, he can deliver killer balls that eliminate whole backlines.
He has a wicked shot in him as well, allowing for long-range belters. He is also an accurate header of the ball, thus increasing his goalscoring skill and his aerial duel prowess. His work-rate is second to none in the Manchester City team.
Pep Guardiola, his current manager and a former CDM himself, has repeatedly praised Fernandinho. He also trusts him an awful lot. During Man City’s injury-hit 2019-20 season, the lack of centre-backs prompted Guardiola to deploy him at the heart of the defence. He stepped up admirably, with the media hailing his performances.
Fernandinho’s importance can be best tracked in City’s title-winning 2018-19 season. City won the league by a solitary point. Fernandinho played for the majority of the season.
City lost three games in December of 2018 because he was ruled out due to injury. Around that time, statistics showed that City won 10% more games when the Brazilian played. Talk about talismanic influence.
Perhaps the most impressive trait of Fernandinho’s is his leadership. This season, he took the armband, and has been a proper leader for the Blues. The pinnacle of this came against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League semi-final.
His teammate Oleksandr Zinchenko was involved in a shouting match with the petulant PSG players. Concerned he might get sent off, Fernandinho intervened and told him to back off.
This was a phenomenal example the captain set for his team, proving he was a leader of men. He has led City to their first-ever Champions League final, and that too in his first full season as captain.
As Fernandinho approaches the tail-end of his career, it is high time you celebrate him if you already don’t. He is one of the best CDMs to ever play the game, and is a club and country legend. He makes the dirty and gritty work look easy. No wonder he is called the master of the tactical foul.
It is unbelievable how often he wins the ball back through aggression and does it cleanly enough to avoid bookings. When it comes to pure footballing intelligence, there are few on his level.
His work in 90 minutes of football may often fade into the background, but more often than not, he controls the tempo of the game. Safe to say more often than not, if he has a bad game, the rest of the team also crumbles.
Fernandinho always carries a great attitude and a smile on his face. Seeing him play puts smiles on people’s faces as well.