Even in a weekend where the great clubs of Santos and Corinthians pitch battle in the Classico Alvinegro whilst fighting for a place in the top four and title contention, it’s the walking soap opera named ‘Fred’ that will take centre stage.
“O Fred via te pagar!” - “Fred will get you!”, Fluminense’s menacing chant from the terraces for the seven successful years the Brazilian international striker spent at the Fluzao. On Monday he’s set for an emotional return to his old hunting ground, but now in the black and white of Atletico Mineiro and pushing for his second championship title.
Fred started the season a fading legend at Fluminense. Their historically leading goalscorer - with 91 goals in 161 games - and their most influential figure both on and off the field, he had fallen out with coach Levir Culpi after allegedly pushing his weight around one time too many. He cut a forlorn figure on the pitch. Low in confidence and seemingly lower in drive, he was sauntering through games. He has, however, still managed to keep hold of his title of fan favourite among many, blindly remembering the good times. “I have no fear. We’re in football a long time… For my part there’s only gratitude,” said the 32-year-old striker, adding, “It’s definitely a special game for me, the amount of friends I have there, the amount of years that I spent at the club. It will be a game that will mess with my emotions.”
Fred isn’t planning on celebrating if he scores, but he’ll just absorb the moment: “Let’s see what will happen there… I always have the habit of respecting the clubs [I] have spent time with, it’s a nice way to treat the fans who gave me so much love, the club that supported me in difficult times who live great moments as well. Certainly the affection is there, but when the ball [is] rolling, I will do everything to score, as always.” He’s certainly still got a lot of love for Fluminense, even after how the relationship turned out, but he won’t be letting that stand in his way; if the ball is there to be struck, he’ll strike it.
Former manager Levir Culpi is concerned about the return of Fred: “He’s a good guy… Now, in the field, we hope [he] slips, misses everything that is shot” adding that he “uses very well the body, and is a great finisher. It will be a task for our double defence. We have to be smart to neutralise it.”
Fred’s big strike partner Lucas Pratto will be back in the team after returning from international duty with Argentina, scoring with just his second cap.
Playing both target men upfront has been a revelation, and manager Marcelo Oliveira will feel more confident after Atletico squandered so many chances against Victoria.
Oliveira has a welcome headache in trying to choose a partner for returning centre-back and captain Leonardo Silva. Both Edcarlos and Gabriel staked their claim in the last game and it could be a toss of a coin decision between the two.
With Fluminense’s Diego Cavelieri out injured, Julio Cesar has been brought in to goal to stop Atletico’s dangerous front four. The 30-year-old keeper will be making just his fourth appearance for the club, yet he’s confident of performing while also wary of his lack of game time. “Of course I’ll be a little without rhythm, but I will have a great desire,” he told Globo Esporte. Defensive midfielder Pierre misses out on facing his old club Atletico, where he spent four years, with suspension after picking up a booking in the Fluzao’s loss to Botafogo. Meanwhile, striker Richarlison is available for selection again after dropping down briefly to the U-20 team.
To complete the connections, the manager merry-go-round that is Brazilian football has left Levir Culpi lining his team up against his old club Altetico that he managed to second place just last year. He will, however, hold no animosity towards the club; after all, in a league where clubs are as ruthless as Robespierre, its almost expected that your head is on the chopping block after a season or two. “Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death; the last much the easiest to bestow, O Guillotine!”