Manchester City’s masterful second-half showing in Saturday’s 4-0 win over Norwich City brought some very high praise for their most experienced campaigner.
Raheem Sterling might have collected the man-of-the-match award on the back of a hat-trick but, in the Sky Sports studio, Jamie Redknapp was marveling at a master of his craft.
“The number one defensive midfielder the league has ever seen,” was the former Liverpool, Tottenham and England player’s emphatic verdict on Fernandinho.
As Twitter users furiously put forward the cases of Claude Makelele, Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira among others, it dawned that such labels are only applied when you are thought to be close to being in the same company as that trio. A former player.
Fernandinho will be out of contract and 37 at the end of this season. He now serves as back-up to Rodri and it stands to reason that City will be bidding farewell to another modern great when the curtain comes down on what looks set to be another lavishly successful campaign.
As the last among his generation of pre-Guardiola era contemporaries, the Brazilian veteran is entitled to rue the fact he will find it harder than most to leave with a picturebook moment.
Sergio Aguero unforgettably came on to score twice on his farewell appearance at the Etihad Stadium last May, with Vincent Kompany having implausibly fired home from 30 yards to sink Leicester in a seismic 2019 win.
There was more of an enjoyable pantomime feel when the whole ground was desperately calling for Yaya Toure to “SHOOOOT” against Brighton in 2018.
David Silva did not depart with a league title and did so in the unsatisfactory conditions of behind-closed-doors football. But he still got to spin through a few final masterclasses and curl in a free-kick or two.
By contrast, Fernandinho’s lot is one of spit and sawdust. It was often said of Makelele that all his best work went unnoticed, but Pep Guardiola’s footballing vision means no player is more visible than his lone holding midfielder.
The man in the position he thrived in himself at Barcelona sets the tone and the tempo. Everything goes through them. If things are going wrong, you’d better believe you will notice them. A lot.
Instead of swanning through some farewell minutes, if this is goodbye, Fernandinho will salute us all from the thick of it – in the heat of battle. City’s midfield warrior would not have it any other way.
It’s not always going to be easy to watch. Before half-time, with the game goalless at Carrow Road, he looked every one of his years as Milot Rashica glided away from him. Ruben Dias had to halt the Norwich attacker in agricultural fashion and earned a booking for his troubles.
Fernandinho will have been pleased to bail his teammates out a few moments later when he hacked clear after Grant Hanley’s header came back off the post.
City hit the front through Sterling after the half-hour and did not look back. Phil Foden’s goal early in the second half meant the team and Fernandinho’s work was allowed to progress at a more regal pace.
He completed 71 of his 82 passes, won 75 per cent of his duels and regained possession five times to earn the plaudits of Redknapp and his manager.
“I said many times what an incredible captain he is,” Guardiola said.
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“On and off the pitch he helps the team a lot. In the locker room he is always there to give good advice.
“Of course, Rodri now is in form but he cannot play every game. He played today with personality.”
Fernandinho is unlikely to bow out with a showreel moment like some of his old colleagues mentioned above, but the esteem in which he is held by his coach, fans and pundits alike mean the tributes will be just as gushing when the time comes.
Where do you think Fernandinho ranks among the Premier League’s best defensive midfielders? Follow City Is Ours editor Dom Farrell on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts in the comments section below.