Exclusive Fabinho interview: 'Forget the past. We must show Liverpool deserve to win this league'
Fabinho is a studier; a watcher; a learner. His first match at Anfield saw him chosen as an unused substitute during Liverpool’s 4-0 demolition of West Ham on the opening day of the season, but it was far from a wasted afternoon.“I was on the bench and I just remember looking round at every part of the stadium in amazement,”
the Brazilian tells Telegraph Sport. “I was so focussed on the fans in this game, it’s the main thing I remember - and then hearing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’; the emotion. It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
“Every time it’s like that but for the first time it was really special. When we are on the pitch we obviously focus less on the fans but there have been games this season where we needed them to help us get a goal, to get over the line and that’s been the case. They are just fantastic.”
Thirty-two Premier League games later and Liverpool are top of the table, two points clear of Manchester City, having played a game more but in touching distance of their first league title for 29 years.
With the finishing line so close, Fabinho is again watching the supporters. “I think the fact that it has been 29 years can be seen in what the fans are like because when they are asking for photos you can see the desire from them to win, for Liverpool to win the league after so long.
“And 29 years is a long time for a club like Liverpool. Obviously I am in my first season here but it would be great to win the league, to achieve something historic. Playing for Liverpool I know what the relationship between the fans and the club is like. With every player you can see the desire to win, the desire to show that Liverpool are the best and deserve to win the league. ”
It is not 29 years, though, since Fabinho was a league winner. Monaco, with him at the heart of midfield, thrillingly beat the might of Paris Saint-Germain to claim the French title in 2016-17. It was a brilliant, exciting team, featuring the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy, the latter two now at City of course, and one that also knocked Pep Guardiola’s side out of the Champions League.
Fabinho says there are parallels – but also key differences. “I think both teams are kind of similar in the pace with which they attack, and the counter-attack. But Monaco had a lot of young players. In Liverpool our players are more experienced, we have a lot of national team players, some players who captain their national teams. I think Liverpool are stronger and more consistent.”
Still, he is one of the few players to have a league winners’ medal and agrees that his experience should help in the run-in. “What I am seeing now I have seen before and obviously I am approaching it with optimism and belief that it can happen,”
Fabinho says. “Right now we are winning games which are similar to the kind of games we were winning at Monaco and in this final part of the season, which is difficult. But here we already have players who have won trophies, who are experienced and last season the team got to the Champions League Final. It’s a great team and every player is strong and believes.”
A lot has changed for Fabinho since that sunny August afternoon when West Ham were dismantled. Fabio Henrique Tavares – to give him his full name - has moved from the bench to arguably become Liverpool’s key midfielder; an imposing force in their title push but also in their run to the last eight and, given their 2-0 advantage over Porto from the first leg, probably at least the semi-finals of the Champions League once again.
The 25-year-old was recruited for an initial £39million from Monaco, within 48 hours of Liverpool losing last May’s Champions League Final, and is another example of the patience shown by Jürgen Klopp in tutoring his signings so that they are up to speed – quite literally – with his style of play.
So much so that Klopp’s Dutch assistant Pep Lijnders, who is fluent in Portuguese and helped Fabinho settle, has recently referred the player as ‘the Lighthouse’ in the “organised chaos” of Liverpool’s approach which has been adapted from last season. It is a good image: Fabinho is 6ft 2in, is a tall, calming presence and sees danger while the storm can rage around him.“Liverpool are known for this ‘rock and roll’ football,”
Fabinho says, speaking through an interpreter, although he is now much more comfortable in understanding English. “I think I’ve adapted well to this even if, as a player, I like to hold onto the ball longer.”
Which is where Lijnders “organised chaos” comes in with Fabinho explaining that he does bring a bit more of a “controlled style of play” to the “intensity” ahead of him. “Obviously you’d like to be intense for the full 90 minutes but it’s not really possible. I think that is what he (Lijnders) was getting at.”
However, Fabinho did not make his first league start until October 27, and was occasionally left out of matchday squads altogether. While accepting that a bedding-in period was needed, he is also candid enough to admit it was frustrating.“Pre-season went great for me,”
he says. “I was playing every game but when it came to the start of the season the coach had everyone available and he wanted to go with players who he had already worked with before.
“It was a case of learning, watching and getting up to speed. Watching from the side-lines as to how the team works. I was hoping for opportunities early on but I knew this could happen, I knew that I needed to be patient, work hard and that when the chance came to play I had already adapted and I could see what the team was trying to do so I was up to the pace of it.”
Fabinho also had to work on his strength in the gym, to increase his power and fitness – “I needed time physically to improve,”
he admits – and adapt not just to Liverpool but the added pace and physicality of the Premier League.“The intensity of it,”
he says, adding: “Being in midfield, in general, you don’t have a lot of time to think and in the Premier League that’s even less of the case. You just don’t have time to think. And in the first few games I think I played well but I needed to be faster. Jürgen Klopp wanted me to learn how to play in the team and what my role was and I think time was the most important thing in doing this.”
With a further insight into Klopp’s forward-thinking, and patience, the manager not only expected there to be that period of acclimatisation but wanted Fabinho to be ready to take the role of a single midfield pivot, a No 6, in a 4-3-3 formation rather than part of a two-man midfield in a 4-2-3-1. It has liberated those around him, not least Jordan Henderson.
Fabinho plays down his own importance, referring to himself as a “defender”, but he is much more than that with his game intelligence, closing down space, his positive use of the ball and involvement in Liverpool’s build-up. “It’s about finding the balance,”
Fabinho is also versatile – having played as an emergency centre-back – while it helps that Liverpool tracked him for several years, going back to his spell with Real Madrid Castilla, the Spanish club’s reserve team where he played as right-back and where a deal was discussed. It was at Monaco, however, that he converted to a defensive midfielder in 2015 and his career took off.
But did he ever have any doubts once he moved to Liverpool? “It’s always a matter of belief and I always believed I could have an important role,”
Fabinho says. “I always thought it was a matter of time. Obviously I wanted to start right away but it didn’t happen as I had hoped. But I knew that with work, with learning it would happen and now the coach sees me as someone he can rely on.”
He has now become Liverpool’s Mr Reliable, one who knows his role and where he fits and the impact he can make even off the bench, still, as he did in the recent league win over Tottenham. “We’re in a good place right now with how we are playing,”
Fabinho says. “We have a lot of belief. We are pretty much playing two games in a week and despite the potential fatigue, and what that might mean, I would say it’s a good thing because we are constantly focussing on the next game and we are in like a cycle.
“Right now this is the time of the season when everything is being decided. It’s been a great season and it would be a shame if we didn’t end it with a title after all the effort we have put in. We have five games left in the league and hopefully four in the Champions League. The team is in a good spot.”
Liverpool face Chelsea at Anfield on Sunday in what is arguably their most taxing remaining league fixture, needing no reminder that the closest they have been to winning the title until this season was 2013-14, before Steven Gerrard’s slip and a 2-0 defeat to the same opponent left their dreams in tatters.“Other people from other clubs might speak about it in a way to rile us but I am not focussed on it,”
Fabinho says of that encounter. “We are in a similar situation now in that we have a chance to win the league. Obviously it’s unfortunate that Liverpool lost that game but it’s not something that’s worrying us; it happened in the past. Today is today and we have different players who want to write another story. this is another chapter. We are Liverpool and we are going to give it our all.”https://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2019/04/13/fabinho-forget-past-must-show-liverpool-deserve-win-league/