Few things get past Pep Guardiola, one of football’s most meticulous coaches.
So imagine the Manchester City manager’s surprise when he walked into a news conference on Tuesday and was told one of his senior players had just revealed he wanted to leave the club.
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“Sorry?” Guardiola said when asked for his reaction to Fernandinho announcing he’d be returning to his native Brazil at the end of the season. “Oh. I didn’t know. You just gave me the news.”
Indeed, a few minutes earlier — and clearly unbeknownst to Guardiola — the 36-year-old Fernandinho, a mainstay of the City squad for the past nine trophy-filled years, had told reporters he would not be extending his stay at the club to a 10th season.
“I want to play,” the former Brazil midfielder said, rather bluntly, midway through the news conference ahead of City’s second-leg match against Atlético Madrid in the Champions League quarterfinals.
“I will go back to Brazil, for sure,” he added.
Fernandinho has been one of the key players at City since joining from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2013, especially since he dropped into a defensive midfield role and mastered the art of breaking up opposition attacks.
This season, though, the four-time Premier League winner has been the backup to Rodri as City’s anchorman in midfield and been more important to the team off the field, as a senior voice in the locker room and training ground, than on it. Fernandinho hasn’t started a match for City in more than a month — indeed, he has only one league start all season — and is a noticeable downgrade from Rodri.
“With age,” Fernandinho said, “it’s hard for me but I put myself in a position to try to help the team as I have always done.”
Finishing off his career in Brazil — he didn’t mention a potential club — will take his career virtually full circle, given he started out in his homeland at Atlético Paranaense in 2002.
“Maybe it’s a family decision, maybe he wants more minutes than he has had,” Guardiola said, seemingly guessing Fernandinho’s motives for leaving.
“For his happiness and that he wants to play, it’s completely normal and understandable.”
Guardiola said City would try to advance past Atlético Madrid as a tribute to Fernandinho.
“We are going to play tomorrow for him,” he said, “and give him the best final moment.”
Fernandinho didn’t feature at all in last week’s first leg, which City won 1-0 thanks to another big goal from Kevin De Bruyne.
Yet the Brazilian still had a role in the match, coming onto the field at the end of the game and helping teammate Jack Grealish get away from Atlético’s Angel Correa as they confronted each other.
Fernandinho and Guardiola said they are expecting a hostile atmosphere inside the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium and urged City’s players to keep cool in the face of likely provocation from Atlético. Grealish, for example, had his hair pulled by right-back Šime Vrsaljko.
“We have to be ready for everything, for any circumstances,” Fernandinho said. “The main thing is just to focus on ourselves, the way we have to play, the tactics we adopt in this game and how we can hurt them.”
Portugal centre back Ruben Dias returned to the squad after six weeks out with a hamstring injury, but Guardiola said the defender was not ready to start against Atlético.
Right-back Kyle Walker is available again after serving a three-match European ban.
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