As you may know by now I’ve had the great joy of working with the Da Silva twins on their book The Sunshine Kids which is published next year.
Yesterday Rafael gave us all a timely reminder of how much we loved him at United and how much he is missed – and that is also true of Fabio.
Certainly when you look at the way David Moyes used Alex Buttner, and then Patrice Evra left, there was an opening for Fabio to finally get the game time his professionalism deserved. Unfortunately by then, Fabio had left after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer became manager of Cardiff and wanted to sign the player he had taken charge of in the reserve team when he was at Old Trafford.
Earlier this year Fabio and I took a little time out from writing the book to do an interview for Red News. You should subscribe to Red News anyway; this is an excerpt from that interview where Fabio talked about working under Sir Alex Ferguson and also the European Cup Final against Barcelona in 2011.
As for the rest? You’ll just have to wait for the book. What I will say is that I’ve had the honour of working with a number of former United players. Fabio is up there as one of the most intelligent and philosophical players I’ve had the opportunity to get to know.
I hope you enjoy this part of my conversation with him.
What was it like working for Sir Alex Ferguson?
People ask me this, but I have no words! To work for the best manager in the history of football, I don’t think anyone is going to replace him, maybe in 500 years! I’m not going to be here, somebody can beat him! I don’t think anyone is going to get near him, ever.
You two were some of his favourites, he clearly really liked you, how did that feel when he’s worked with hundreds of players?
It was fantastic! He worked with so many fantastic players, yeah, he liked us as players but not just this he liked us as a human, the way we are, the way we work, the way we treat others, he loved this part of us. We were so blessed to have a guy like him, like us so much. I’m going to tell this to my daughters, for my Niece, to every young people I meet; a guy like Sir Alex liked me. It’s something very special.
So did you ever get any hairdryers from him?
What is the hairdryer?
When he would shout at people in the dressing room, you’ve never the hairdryer expression?!
No! To be honest I tell you, with my brother more than me… Of course he shout with me but not all the time, many times with me he liked to speak more, because I’m the guy if you shout with me… I tell you. My reaction can be very bad, can be like ‘this guy’, and he knew that, some times I did not react very well. With my brother it’s different. You can shout with him, you can speak with him and he’ll be ‘it’s ok, come on, let’s go’, for me I would be very disappointed. I would be ‘fuck!’ (and get down about it) He did with me, but not many times. He did a lot of times to others! I watched so many times (laughs).
Who got it most?
Rio. Because him and Rio, he knows Rio shouts all the time as well. So him and Rio they shout at each other all the time.
You and Rafa really settled well in Manchester, but there aren’t that many people from South America who have settled here, why do you think that is?
I think South Americans can settle very well, in everywhere. It’s been hard normally for Brazilians in Manchester, I don’t know why, after many, many years. If you see in the history of many clubs, England is a little bit harder to be honest. Because you don’t have many Brazilians. With the passports we couldn’t play, but normally if you see the history of other teams in big countries, big teams in Europe, so many Brazilians make history. So many big clubs; Real Madrid, Barcelona, Milan. I think the weather didn’t help much.
At the end of the day it’s such a big club, when England opened the door for South Americas like they did in the last 20 years, they try to do everything to help the South Americans in Manchester so I think they feel welcome. I lived 10 years in England, I know the way sometimes they can be cold a little bit, closed, but with South America they open up and say ‘come on, I know you are more open so I want to help you, I try to help you’ and I think we feel nice, ‘ok, they try everything to help us so we can do our best for them’, and I think this is the most important thing.
What advice would you give if someone from South America, let’s say they are signing for United?
Take a big jacket! (laughs). No, be professional and work as hard as you can. They are going to do the best to help you. In South America it’s different, I don’t say we are not professional but we take life different from Manchester, and England. In Manchester, the football and things are more serious. In South America you are going to see people, ‘relax, ok, 10 minutes late, nah, come on, it’s nothing, it’s cool’, you know what I mean. So be professional as people are going to like and respect you.
What was your favourite memory from playing for United?
I can say that game against Arsenal when we played as wingers. When my brother scored and I was on the bench against Wigan. Special, he celebrates for me. That first season we won the trophy, I play many games, I play my part, my brother as well, we win the league and of course for me to play the Final, Champions League, even the Semi Final as well, against Schalke, was very special as well. I think was my best year.
When you think about the European Cup Final, you’d been around Utd for three years at that point, you’d got the run of right back at that time, was it scary when you were told you were going to be playing against Barcelona?
I couldn’t sleep that night. I was 20, 21 two months later. It was nice when he said I’d be playing. It was the Champions League Final, against Barcelona! 20 years old, I never had, like my brother, a sequence of playing every game. And in that last two months, that was my start, I played every important match, I played Chelsea at home, Arsenal away, because we had a big, big run of big matches. So when he said I would play it was absolutely fantastic.
What was the advice you had before the game?
No! I would be lying if I said I remember anything! I just remember the focus to play. I remember what we going to do, the tactical things they prepare but for me especially? No, he just say ‘son, go there and enjoy yourself and play’.
What do you think went wrong in that Final? A tactical thing or do you think they were just too good?
Of course they are too good. I think the best Barcelona side, ever, in history. We got to 1-1, but the problem was they have all the possession, all of the time, this frustrates the other teams. When you don’t touch the ball, when you don’t have the feeling of the ball, so you look like you never have a chance to win… but sometimes history can show they have a lot of possession but not win those games.
But in that time they start with this tiki-taka, and it was so frustrating, people didn’t realise how to deal with that. You just think ‘they pass, they pass and they get us’, and no ball. Of course if you have a counter attack, nice and you score, maybe… because we defend very well and they don’t have a chance to score but now it’s in the past so what you can do.
(But) the tiki-taka wasn’t because they were good, it’s to wear you down, they have the ball all the time and you don’t have and you get frustrated, you lose the feeling of the ball. When you have the ball you want to do so many things, but you do nothing, you give the ball away again.
This is a trap. And you’re going to open up and they score. You need to be patient, like they are with the ball. Pass, pass. Now it’s much better, Teams play with tiki-taka and they have a lot of counter attack on them and they losing the games a lot because now the other coaches know how to deal with that. Patience, defend, when you have the ball, have good counter attacks and score. And they going to have to open up. It was very new at that time then.
Is there anything that you wish you’d done differently at United? Any regrets?
I think I was very young. Very immature. I think I couldn’t do much more than I did, honestly. I was very… I was like ‘I see Man Utd, Rooney, Giggs, Scholes’ and I don’t think I played football as I knew it, how I played best. I just think about how Man United was a fantastic club but I forget sometimes about me and ‘let’s go, let’s play and you are a big player as well and just do it’.
This is my regret. I should say, ‘I’m a big player’. I’m too nice sometimes, you have to be a little bit, not arrogant because I can’t, I can’t be arrogant, I’ve got to smile to everyone! But when I play football maybe say ‘no, no, I’m one of the best left-backs in the world, let’s do it’. More of this. I think I miss a lot of this myself. This is what I think.
It’s safe to say that if he had been given the opportunity to show that in the post Sir Alex era, perhaps he would have grown in confidence.
When he arrived at Old Trafford, Fabio was the more highly rated of the twins and his performances, particularly in the European Cup, were outstanding – it’s easy to take it for granted at the time when you were so used to seeing United compete at that level, but now you can tell that we miss players of that standard and technical comfort just as much as we miss their personalities.