SPORTS DESK : 17 DECEMBER, 2023, 9:34 PM
Veteran defender explains why Fluminense can win Saudi Arabia 2023, discusses making history and hails Andre, German Cano and his club’s fans.
Felipe Melo is set to become the oldest outfield player in the competition’s history
The 40-year-old hails Andre, German Cano and the Fluminense supporters
He explains why he feels they can win the FIFA Club World Cup
‘How does he do it?’ thought Felipe Melo. Paolo Maldini, at 39 years old, performed ornately as AC Milan broke Brazilian monopoly of the FIFA Club World Cup™ in 2007. The iconic Italian recently touched down in Jeddah, for the 20th edition of the tournament, in the knowledge that no outfield 40-something had ever played in it. It’s a record that Felipe Melo is about to rewrite. ‘Pitbull’ is determined to demolish something else. If sides from the land of samba had won the first three editions of the tournament, European ones have won the last 10. Felipe Melo wants to help Fluminense conquer the sport. FIFA caught up with the centre-back to discuss his Saudi Arabia 2023 dream, Manchester City, the record he’s about to set, team-mates Andre and German Cano, and the Fluminense fans.
Felipe Melo: The first time I went to a football stadium to watch a professional game was Fluminense against Goytacaz – today I think they’re in the third division in Rio de Janeiro state – in the Laranjeiras, Fluminense’s home. I was six or seven. My dad took me. A really nice memory I have was that the first club shirt I put on was Fluminense’s. I was seven. My dad was a big supporter. When he couldn’t go to the Laranjeiras or the Maracana, he would listen to the radio, the commentary. My dad was always fanatical Tricolor. Not just my dad but my grandparents, my family in general were always Tricolores.
It was a dream fulfilled for my dad. My granddad – my dad’s dad – was Tricolor. He was also a fanatic. He turned me Tricolor when I was really young – five, six years old. I only have a few memories of him, but he brought this tradition to our family. I remember when we won the Libertadores, at the Maracana, we were still on the pitch and my dad said, ‘My dad would have been really happy. He will be really happy wherever he is now.’ For my dad, it was a dream fulfilled. Even more than pride, it was a dream fulfilled seeing his boyhood team becoming champions and seeing his son as one of the team’s captains.
Very, very difficult. When I came here with Palmeiras, Al Ahly beat us in the third-place play-off. It was during the pandemic. We didn’t have much time to rest, get used to the time difference, but they’re a really strong team, really well coached. We’re preparing as much as possible for them and we’ll all have to be on our game to get through.
I have three words that I carry with me. The first is ‘dream’, the second is ‘prophesise’, and the third is ‘fulfil’. I believe it’s all part of a dream. The dream ends up being my way of thinking and also my act of faith. Many times, at the start the dream seems so far away. When I joined Fluminense, I spoke about the dream of winning the Libertadores and many laughed. Now we’re Libertadores champions and here at the Club World Cup. Why not dream? We’ve seen great teams like the Barcelona of Ronaldinho Gaucho lose to Internacional from Porto Alegre, Chelsea lose to Corinthians, Liverpool lose to Sao Paulo. Palmeiras almost pulled it off against Chelsea too. We know it will be really difficult. Manchester City, we don’t know if they’ll reach the final or if we will. I came here with Palmeiras and lost in the semi-finals. So, we have to prepare as best we can and if we reach the final, and if Manchester City reach the final, we have to dream because it’s 11 players against 11 players, we train really hard. The first act is to dream. Dreaming is free, is doesn’t cost anything. I dream. I have a lot of faith in God that we can pull off this conquest we desire so much.
The best team in Europe for the last five years, despite not winning the Champions League [for the first four of them]. They’re experiencing something they’re not used to – they’re had a few bad results in the English league and are seeing Liverpool top of the table. But we know City’s potential. They have a great coach and a mix of strength, speed and technical ability. They have a really strong player up front [Erling Haaland] who’s always on the move. They’re really good at bringing the ball out of defence. We’re studying them a lot, training really hard. We know it would be really, really difficult but it’s a fact that there’s nothing impossible in this life. I’m a Christian, I read the bible a lot. The bible says, ‘If you believe, anything is possible’. So anything is possible.
He’s at the start of his career. He’s started out really well. He’s 22 years old and he’s already an idol at a club as gigantic as Fluminense, already has won some important titles. I see him as the future of our national team, our country. I’m a guy who likes to talk, help, find solutions. He needs to improve a couple of things – that’s normal given his age – but Andre has, without any doubt, everything to become one of the best defensive midfielders in the world.
At 40 years old, to become a Libertadores champion and, furthermore, be one of the important players in this conquest, to arrive at the Club World Cup and to play in the Club World Cup, it’s emotional. I’m very grateful to God for this. But it’s also worth emphasising the price I pay every day for me to be able to go out on to the pitch and give my best. I have a whole team off the pitch that helps me, whether it be with physical or psychological work. I pay an important price but, like I said, I thank God for this. The Bible also says about the Law of Sowing and Reaping. That never lets us down. If you keep on sowing, you will keep on reaping good things. I didn’t know about this [record]. It’s a source of really, really great pride for me, at 40 years old, to play in this Club World Cup and break this record. It’s remarkable for me and gives me huge pride.
I’ve played with players who finish like him. Del Piero’s finishing was second to none. In terms of first-time finishing, I’ve never seen anyone on Trezeguet’s level. He was fantastic. Drogba was a monster. They’re football legends. German Cano, what he’s done over the last two years, he’s in the bracket with those legends. It’s a shame he hasn’t had the opportunity to show what he can do for the Argentinian national team because he’s done way more than he deserves for a chance.
Our fuel, our petrol. The fuel for our ascent has been, without any doubt, the relationship between the club and the supporters. It makes a huge difference. We won almost all our home games last year. The statistics show what a positive record we have at home. It’s down to our support. Our supporters always fill the stadium. I like to give examples. In the first leg of the Campeonato Carioca final, we lost 2-0. In the second leg, our fans filled the Maracana. When we walked out on to the pitch, and saw that Tricolor support, we said, ‘They believe in us.’ Despite being 2-0 down, they believed in us. We won that game 4-1, went home as champions and, from then on, we became really strong at home. They’ve played a really big part in Fluminense’s success this year. Congratulations to them. It’s a source of great pride for me seeing the Fluminense supporters pack out the Maracana, shout, cheer and support us every single minute.
Firstly, I want to thank the Fluminense supporters. We’re living this dream together, and we’ll continue living this dream together. We’ll continue dreaming, prophesising what will happen and [at the stadium] we’ll fulfil it – us on the pitch and you in the stands. Everything you believe in is possible.
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