Tuesday 26 June 2018, 12:02

Fagner and the saga of Brazilian right-backs

  • Fagner promoted to starting XI after injury to Danilo

  • "You have to be prepared."

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By Giancarlo Giampietro with Brazil

Fagner was relaxing in his hotel room in Saint Petersburg, when there came a knock on the door. He was greeted by the familiar face of Tite, the Brazil coach who he had previously worked with at Corinthians. Tite had come with exciting news: the full-back would be in the starting eleven for the next day’s 2018 FIFA World Cup™ match against Costa Rica.

Danilo, who had started A Seleção’s first match at right full-back, had picked up an injury during the team’s final training session. Dani Alves, Brazil’s first choice in the position, had already been out of action since May. To top it all, Fagner himself had been made to sweat on his call-up to the squad for Russia, having suffered a muscle injury of his own on 29 April.

“It took me by surprise,” the veteran told FIFA.com. “I wouldn’t wish for something like that to happen, but that’s football. You have to be prepared. On the one hand, you’re sad for how it happened, but you’re also glad to get the chance to make your World Cup debut.”

And so, somewhat by chance, Fagner was set to take to the stage in the long-running and curious saga of Brazil’s World Cup right-backs.

Unexpected opportunities

In 1958, for example, Djalma Santos only claimed a starting place from the injured De Sordi in the Final. He nonetheless played so well that he was chosen for the team of the tournament.

In 1986, starting right-back Leandro abandoned the squad at the airport before boarding the flight to Mexico, in an act of solidarity with his friend Renato Gaucho who had been dropped from Tele Santana’s squad for disciplinary reasons. His stand-in, Edison, soon picked up an injury, setting the scene for what were to become the most euphoric few weeks in the career of Josimar, who had only been called up at the very last moment.

Another injury in 1994, this time to Jorginha, would pave the way for the opening chapter in Cafu’s long and successful association with A Seleção.

“So many great full-backs have worn this shirt. All being well, I hope to write my own name into this history,” stated the player, who is currently enjoying his second spell at Corinthians.

It seems inconceivable now, but ten years ago Fagner was unemployed. Having come through the youth ranks at Corinthians, he left Brazil at an early age to play for PSV Eindhoven. However, “the dream of European football” was soon to turn sour. Having failed to settle in the Netherlands, he engineered his own exit from the club and returned to Brazil without a contract. “Between September and January I wasn’t training, wasn’t doing anything. I even thought about giving it all up,” he said.

Vasco da Gama threw him a lifeline, and he stayed at the Rio de Janeiro club for the next five seasons. Having moved to Europe again to play for Wolfsburg in the 2012-13 season, he returned to join Tite’s Corinthians in 2014, where he would win two Brasileirao titles during a golden period for the club.

Brazil v Costa Rica: Roberto Firmino and Fagner of Brazil 

The best response

For that reason, Fagner is often said to be one of the manager’s favourites – a stick that his critics are only too ready to beat him with. The right-back is one of only three players in the Brazil squad who currently play their club football in the country, and his call-up was greeted by a certain level of scepticism over his capacity to meet the high demands of a World Cup.

However, he silenced his critics with a fine performance against Costa Rica. Solid in defence and efficient going forward, he even registered more crosses in the game than Marcelo. He also showed no signs of rust following his lay-off, staying on the pitch for the whole match and ensuring that Tite was not forced into his back-up plan of employing Fernandinho as a makeshift full-back.

“I went nearly two months without playing a full game, but the recovery went very well,” he enthused. “It’s a source of enormous pride for me and my family, to have gone from where I started out to where I am today.”