By Mark Duckworth
The No. 9 shirt and the striker role arguably carry the most pressure and expectation of any position on the football pitch. For the Brazilian No. 9, the digit may carry even more than most.
For years the Brazilian No. 9 has been worn by the world’s best and World Cup winners – most notably Ronaldo. Ronlado wore the number nine of Brazil for three World Cups and at the moment sits atop the World Cup all-time scoring chart with 15 goals. Hoping to fill those big boots – and even bigger jersey – is Sevilla’s Luis Fabiano.
At the moment Fabiano is the proud holder of the golden No. 9, but for so many years it seemed he would be destined to play a bit part in Brazil’s rebirth as the world’s best footballing nation. He starred alongside Adriano in the 2004 Copa America, but would then be banished from the national scene for three years with a bad attitude and a loss of confidence to blame.
It’s these three years that seem the most sobering for the 29 year old who struggled to adapt to European football and its differing styles.
Fabiano’s first European club was FC Porto. He lasted just one season which resulted in three goals, it wasn’t exactly what the Porto faithful were expecting from their 10 million euro man. His Porto form was a real shadow of his former glories, but his time was not helped when armed gunman kidnapped his mother. The terrifying ordeal would lead to a more mature Fabiano as he looked to improve his conduct on and off the field.
His Porto nightmare though was short lived and a transfer to Sevilla was soon in the cards. There Fabiano settled to life in Spain and in 2004 scored one of Sevilla’s four as it dismantled a Steve McClaren led Middlesbrough in the UEFA Cup final. Fabiano had the taste for goals and success and another successful season would follow in the white of Sevilla as he notched 24 goals in La Liga finishing runner up in the scorer’s race.
His improved attitude and taste for goals were not going unnoticed and he finally earned a recall to the Brazil squad in 2007 for a World Cup qualifier. The goals would soon start to flow for the forward; in an international friendly in Brazil’s, Fabiano would lead the goal fest with his first hat-trick, as Samba football ran riot against an aging Portuguese side, 6-2. It’s this hat-trick that really turned the locals onto his side, and, with his athletic frame now filling out, the comparisons with Ronaldo would begin. The Portuguese game was probably one of Fabiano’s most important, before this match Brazil had drawn their last three games nil-nil and pressure was mounting on the manager Dunga and his misfiring strikers.
It seems Fabiano relishes the pressure situation and would rather take the harder route to glory, and at the Confederations Cup in 2009 he did just that. Brazil were shockingly trailing to the United States 2-0, before the Sevilla striker turned on the Samba style and helped his side complete a remarkable comeback by scoring two of its three second-half goals in a 3-2 win over the Yanks. Fabiano finished with the Golden Shoe and had already started dreaming of lifting the World Cup in South Africa.
Fast forward to the World Cup in South Africa, where Fabiano entered facing a similar confidence crisis without a goal in his last nine games, and the locals back in Brazil were getting restless with their No. 9 pretender. This would not be helped by a flat performance against North Korea in Brazil’s World Cup opener. Just like back in 2007, Dunga and Fabiano would take the brunt of the media and fans anger.
Fabiano had been there before, though. And just like Brazil’s previous No. 9, Ronaldo, he is used to setbacks, but more importantly bouncing back from them. And bounce back he would against the Ivory Coast with two goals any striker would be proud of. His first was a typical Fabiano goal, quick movement followed by a shot you would have thought was fired from a rifle not his boots. His second was a bit lucky, after the use of his arm he neatly controlled his volley to spin off the ground and into the net.
Even with these two goals, his critics are still out for him and Dunga, but with an impressive strike rate of 27 goals in 40 matches you have to wonder why. Some people think its Dunga’s head that the press and people of Brazil want, and that Fabiano with his fiery personality is just caught in the crossfire. The crossfire doesn’t seem to be hurting Fabiano, and I wouldn’t be surprise if come July the 11th, along with a World Cup trophy, he picks up another piece of golden footwear for the second consecutive summer.
Mark Duckworth is a contributing writer for The National Game. His column appears here with written consent.