Outside Brazil, Fred’s that lump who lost 7-1. But for Brazilians, Fred is the national league’s second highest top goalscorer ever, Fred is the man who stops to talk to his fans on the streets, Fred is the fox-in-the-box, instinctive striker, and, for Fluminense FC fans, the Superman-Rambo hybrid who is worthy enough of an extravagantly ceremonious farewell to football.
What did he do to deserve an outlandishly spectacular mosaic at the age of 38? Well, he scored the fastest goal in football (just over 3 seconds) as an under-21 player at Copinha; he won three consecutive league titles with Lyon between 2005 and 2008; he kissed a stranger on a motorbike! And he also made me wait one hour and a half when I visited Fluminense’s Laranjeiras training ground in 2011 because he was playing video games in the dressing room.
These are but footnotes in Fred’s football story. To any reader, it would seem that the earlier parts of his career– as a top scorer for France’s best team in and being selected for Brazil’s unbelievable 2006 World Cup squad— mark out the pinnacle of his career. Instead, it’s his unique relationship with Fluminense FC and his miserable World Cup performance in 2014 that truly defines his paradoxical legacy on football.
I got to the Maracanã some 5 hours before kickoff for Fred’s last match. This is irregular. Brazilians are normally late. I luckily went with the right group of friends, because had I gone to the match with another friend, I would have had to tolerate the “Fredch is the best striker since Ronaldo”, “Fredch is better than Drogba” drivel all day long. For the first time since the Maracanã re-opened in 2013, over 60,000 fans were present to watch top-four-competitors Fluminense play relegation contenders Ceará for the striker’s last game in football.
Fred won 2 Brasileirãos for Fluminense in 2010 and 2012. If fit all season, he was certain to score over 20 goals. He was key to helping Fluminense out of relegation in 2009 and winning the Brasileirão in 2012, but he was injured for much of the season in 2010 and never reached the Libertadores semi-finals with Fluminense.
You could count on Fred to nudge a goal in, yet the extent to which Fred alone brought success to the club is up for discussion. So when Nicholas, a Fluminense fan I incidentally spoke to outside the Maracanã, explains that he cannot exactly pinpoint the reason why Fred is among the best players to have played for Fluminense, you sense that the reasons for the passion that Fluminense fans feel for Fred go way beyond his performances.
Nicholas went to the hotel the team were staying at ahead of Fred’s last game. Multiple fans, like Nicholas, camped outside the hotel for hours, waiting for the team bus.
Fred spoke to as many fans as he could. Nicholas described his meeting with Fred as if they had met on the beach on the caipirinha– “Woah, that’s mad! You want me to sign your ticket? I’ll do whatever you want me to do, my friend,” Fred allegedly told Nicholas as he signed four separate items.
Fred’s I’m-like-you aura produces a profound and perhaps even extreme among the club’s fanbase. Thousands of ticketless fans bombarded the streets surrounding the Maracanã. Literally. All sorts of missiles were being tossed about: flares and fireworks were set off by fans while beer bottles were lobbed by ticketless fans. Even the police contributed to the spectacle by blasting pepper spray and flares themselves while hiding behind their riot shields. Silly tourists might have thought that this was a warzone, but any half-important event in Rio is an occasion for carnival.
My eyes stung for a few minutes. “It’s normal here,” my friend told me when I expressed my fear of the mounting fan trouble and the use of pepper spray by the police. “I’ve been pepper sprayed countless times.” No wonder fewer and fewer children and seniors attend football matches in Brazil.
Turn the corner, the team bus is wriggling its way through supporters, my cousin puts me on his shoulders (when really it should have been him on mine), and everything turns colourful again. “O Fredch vai te pegar, O Fred vai te pegar, O Fredch vai te pegar…” What final are Fluminense playing at here again?
Of course, Fred never fulfilled his dream of playing in a World Cup final. Could a World Cup win have drawn over 60,000 fans to pack out the Maracanão to produce a “3D mosaic”, with the words “Thank You” and “Etern9” spelled out across the stands? Probably. But it happened anyway.
“I need to try and express a bit what these fans have done for me. We value goals and titles, but what has impacted me most in my career are the moments where [Fluminense fans] helped me when I wanted to give up. I was in a bad way. I was afraid; I was weak.” After crying, cycling round the stadium, doing the media rounds, and getting his foot moulded in wax so that he could be introduced to Maracanã’s hall of fame, Fred jumped into the stands and joined the crowd.