In March 2011, a 30-year-old Luis Fabiano stood in front of 45,000 adoring fans at the Estádio do Morumbi. He’d just rejoined São Paolo after spending six scintillating seasons at Sevilla. Each person he was waving to remembered his first stint at the Brazilian club. They remembered his raw speed, his powerful physique and his clinical finishing; attributes that were now well-known across Europe after he’d left a goal-laden legacy in Spain.
Most Brazilian footballers dream of playing in Europe, the lure of the greater competition, improved finances and lifestyle difficult to ignore. At the turn of the century, Portugal or France were the first ports of call on many a footballing journey. Others avoided the brutes of English football, the ruggedness of the German game, or the chess matches of Italy.
After taking his first steps at local club Ponte Preta, Rennes were persuaded to pursue the potential that a teenage Luis Fabiano promised. The striker had made just 12 league appearances in Brazil before taking the giant leap across the Atlantic to the north-west of France. And it showed. It was just a few months before he was making the return trip.
São Paulo took him under their wing, and with more experience and pedigree in finding the net, the French decided to give the 20-year-old another chance. Again, it didn’t quite click. At a club where the academy produced such rich talent, Fabiano was discarded and quickly forgotten about.
Destined to be another also-ran in the chase for a career in Europe, he landed at the feet of São Paulo once more. While the first few years of Fabiano’s footballing path were stagnant, the next couple in Brazil were explosive. Goals flowed left, right and centre for the forward and, supplied by a youngster going by the name of Kaká, he netted 19 goals in the Campeonato Brasileiro. It included strikes against the likes of Palmeiras and Santos, a brace against his former employers Ponte Preta, and a hat-trick against Vasco.
Those prolific figures were accompanied by a host of dismissals, earning him a hot-head reputation amongst the public. The bad-boy look didn’t do much to hinder his rising stock as world champions Brazil duly came calling.
After another campaign packed with goals and fights, Fabiano was included in Carlos Alberto Parreira’s squad for the 2003 Confederations Cup, coincidently in France. His first cap came in Abuja and it was marked, thanks to a superb cross from Juliano Belletti, with a stooping header that found the back of the net. Despite not making it onto the pitch during the proceeding tournament, it seemed Fabiano had shown enough to warrant further call-ups. With 22 goals to his name by the halfway stage of the 2004 season at São Paulo, he was a staple in Brazil’s Copa América squad that would travel to Peru.
Part of a remarkably young Seleção, 22-year-old Fabiano was paired in attack with 23-year-old Adriano, who was already making waves in Italy with Inter. Various household names were left out of Parreira’s team due to the timing of the tournament. A September start caused huge disgruntlement in the Brazil camp as Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Roberto Carlos and Kaká were all unavailable due to club commitments.
However, São Paulo native was about to make headlines of his own. In a tense opener against Chile in Arequipa, Fabiano leapt highest to head in a corner in the dying minutes to haul his country to a 1-0 win. Brazil were beaten to top spot in Group C by Paraguay as Fredy Bareiro netted the winner in the decider after Fabiano’s equaliser.
Mexico were swept aside in the quarter-finals as Adriano scored his fourth and fifth goals of the Copa. His sixth came in the semi-final against Uruguay when he latched onto Fabiano’s cross, but it wasn’t enough to beat La Celeste. Júlio César was the hero of the day as he saved Vicente Sánchez’s penalty to send Brazil into the final four days later. It was there that they’d meet eternal rivals Argentina.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side had staved off Colombia in their semi-final and had one hand on the trophy going into second-half injury time of the final. That was until Adriano fired in Brazil’s equaliser in the 93rd minute and sparked several flare-ups both on the pitch and in the dugouts. Riot police were called to diffuse the situation and the game finally reached penalties. Fabiano, who may well have taken the fifth spot-kick of the shoot-out, wasn’t needed. Andrés D’Alessandro sent his shot into the Lima sky before César denied Gabriel Heinze.
After seeing Kaká hop-foot it to Milan the season before, a 24-year-old Fabiano would’ve been forgiven by the São Paulo faithful for thinking about the next step in his own career. While the thrill and enjoyment of playing at the Morumbi was still evident, the truth is that the striker had outgrown the Tricolor.
Having failed in France, Portugal seemed an attractive place to ease into European football again. A move to Champions League holders Porto had been made prior to Brazil’s Copa triumph, but Fabiano didn’t turn out in the famous blue and white until after returning from Peru. A goal fairly soon into his career in Portugal came against Estoril during a 2-2 draw at the Estádio do Dragão, but a similar pattern emerged. Inconsistency blighted his season as the forward ended the campaign on a total of just three as Porto lost to Benfica in the title race. Suddenly the phone went silent and Brazil stopped calling.
However, in the summer of 2005, just 12 months after arriving in the Primeira Liga, Fabiano left for Spain. Juande Ramos offered him a chance to revive his European hopes at Sevilla. The Andalusians had arisen from a slumber that had seen them relegated to the second tier, but by the time their new Brazilian signing arrived, they were back near the right end of the Primera División.
His fine technique seemed to suit the Spanish game but he wasn’t finding the net with any sort of frequency during the first few months. Flashes of brilliance were notably seen in the UEFA Cup rather than domestic competition with one memorable performance against Sam Allardyce’s Bolton at the Reebok Stadium. Although he didn’t find the net, Fabiano wreaked havoc amongst the hosts’ defence and struck the woodwork on two occasions. A point in England secured Sevilla top spot in their five-man group ahead of the knockout stages.
After brushing Lokomotiv Moscow aside, Ramos’s side came back from a first-leg deficit to push past Lille and reach the last eight. Fabiano was the game-changer on this occasion, scoring the all-important second goal in first-half stoppage time to move Los Rojiblancos ahead on aggregate for the first time in the tie.
Zenit became the second Russian team to succumb to Sevilla before Antonio Puerta’s extra-time goal against Schalke opened the door for a final with Middlesbrough in Eindhoven. Managed by Steve McClaren, the Teeside club boasted the names of Gareth Southgate, Mark Viduka, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Yakubu in their ranks.
Skipper Southgate and his defensive partner Chris Riggott couldn’t deal with Fabiano’s forward presence as the Brazilian guided a commanding header past Mark Schwarzer to give the Spaniards the lead midway through the first half. Further strikes from Enzo Maresca (two) and Freddie Kanouté completed the rout and earned Sevilla their first European trophy.
The Brazilian supplied 15 goals the following season in Sevilla’s search for more silverware as the Andalusians followed up their UEFA Cup win with a UEFA Super Cup victory over Barcelona. That set the tone for the campaign as Ramos led his team into a title race against their Catalan opponents and Real Madrid.
Sevilla went to the Santiago Bernabéu at the start of May looking to cause real damage to Real’s title credentials and become a contender themselves. Maresca’s stunning left-footed volley gave the visitors the lead in an opening period that threatened to boil over. Ruud van Nistelrooy levelled after the break as the home crowd erupted and white scarfs swung in the air. The next 30 minutes proved pivotal in Sevilla’s hunt for a first domestic title since 1946. First, Fabiano, who was warming up as a substitute, was mysteriously dismissed after the linesman reported something to the referee.
That expulsion only added to his reformed bad-boy image having served five games of suspension for a ludicrous and bizarre scrap with Real Zaragoza’s Diogo earlier in the season. After he’d been marched down the tunnel, Fabiano left his teammates to fall to defeat.
Robinho put Los Blancos in front before joining his compatriot, receiving a second yellow card for taking his shirt off in celebration. A few minutes later, Fabiano had company in his own changing room as Ocio was also dismissed for clobbering Mahamadou Diarra in the face. The goal-filled feud was only finished by the referee’s final whistle as Real Madrid claimed a valuable three points on their way to their 30th LaLiga win.
Due to his temperament, Fabiano wasn’t trusted as much as the other forwards at the club. He’d often be hauled off before he could make any proper enemies. This pattern was evident in the Copa del Rey and UEFA Cup finals of that season, when he was replaced on both occasions shortly into the second half.
However, the medals continued to stack up for the Brazilian. More importantly, everything that was fleeting about before – the headers, the strength, the link-up play, the speed – all fell into place over the following 12 months. Only Dani Güiza’s 27 league goals that season prevented Fabiano from winning the Pichichi as Sevilla powered back into third spot behind Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Despite his individual displays, Manolo Jiménez’s side finished the year without a trophy. Talks began to surface of a move to Juande Ramos’s Tottenham. Happy in Spain, the transfer was shunned by the player. That paved the way for two further campaigns on the Iberian Peninsula, which ended with another Copa del Rey title in 2010.
Dunga, who had recalled Fabiano to the Brazil squad for World Cup qualifiers, included him on the 23-man list to travel to the tournament finals in South Africa that summer. It was his brace against Argentina in Rosario that pushed him back into the spotlight as far as South America was concerned.
Some Brazilians, mainly São Paulo fans, called for a front three of Fabiano, Robinho and Kaká to lead them to a sixth World Cup. With the line-ups released for their opener against North Korea, that’s exactly what they got. It wasn’t until the second group game against Ivory Coast that Brazil showed their true colours as Fabiano netted twice to secure a safe passage into the knockout stages.
An old combination, formed at São Paulo, came together to make Brazil’s second against Chile in the last 16 as Kaká fed Fabiano, who slotted past Claudio Bravo. The two of them celebrated together, just as they had done several times in their early careers on humble ground.
A Wesley Sneijder-inspired Netherlands denied the Seleção a place in the semi-finals. One more year in Seville was proceeded by a return home. Four years back at São Paulo included a Copa Sudamericana triumph and immortality in club folklore as he climbed the all-time goalscoring charts.
One of the most complete strikers, Luis Fabiano was blessed with skill, pace, strength and intelligence. While his temperament occasionally put paid to those traits really coming to the fore and dominating European football at the very biggest clubs, he remains one of the best Brazilian strikers of his era, winning major trophies and winning the adoration of fans in São Paulo and Seville.
By Billy Munday @billymunday08