After watching his virtuoso performance in the Manchester Derby, I was trying to come up with a good analogy for what Fernandinho meant to Manchester City. I was hung up about it for at least two nights following Saturday’s game. Then, as my kids were watching the most recent installment of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it hit me: Damn it, Fernandinho is the perfect henchman.
In the classic action flick sense, henchmen are characterized as the dumb, drone-like stand ins for the hero to routinely exercise their will en route to saving the day. Sure, they might shoot the protagonist in the arm, but that’s just a flesh wound. I’m certainly not characterizing the 32 year old Brazilian midfielder as such, but one thing good henchmen do is relentlessly get in the way of their opponent. If you saw him on Saturday, he was crashing into Jesse Lingard, hounding Paul Pogba, vexing Wayne Rooney, or even demoralizing Mikhitarian in the same manner that anonymous, bumbling henchmen aimlessly crashing into their opposition do..But there is nothing accidental about what Fernandinho does.
This characteristic is something that quality defensive midfielders actually possess: they get in the way. Often sacrificing their bodies, and their ego, for the greater good of the squad. They protect the back-four while covering the ass of the forward, all while being required to move the ball between the respective parties for the greater good of the team.
It’s hard to be unfamiliar with City and know that they’ve had the unfortunate blessing of being the en-vogue team ever since 2009. Player salaries, transfer fees and other more irrelevant points of contention are often used to create an argument as to why the squad has or hasn’t had success. When Fernandinho came into the squad after the 2012-2013 season from Shakhtar Donetsk, the only question that was asked of him was why the City brass felt the need to spend 34 million pound on him. Nevermind the fact that Fernandinho himself gave up an additional four million to get out of the Ukraine. We should’ve known his character then. A man that wants to win and will give up a lifetime’s worth of money for some of us, to get there.
If you look at what Fernandinho did on Saturday against Manchester United, or during the week against Borussia Monchengladbach, you’ll find that it was not only relentless, but it was often heroic. First, realize that Fernandinho is 5’10" and 140 lbs. One-hundred-and-forty-pounds. A few inches taller than N’Golo Kante, who is probably the best at the position in the Premier League, yet somehow roaming the field with the same Scholes/Makelele-esque build that is typically reserved for teenage boys.
Fernandinho's willingness to play his position allowed Ilkay Gündogân to come into the squad after being on crutches for six months and look like he never missed a training session. Not to mention the effort he’s put forth in the past, allowing Yaya Toure to essentially jog around the pitch for the last two seasons and pick up the Ivorian’s slack. Supporting the squad when they were being exposed on counter-attacks. Hell, he even grabbed Adam Lallana by the throat in true "Streets of Rage" henchman style, almost as if he’s done it before in another life.
Fernandinho is certainly not the stereotypical Brazilian that comes equipped with flair, samba celebrations and the affinity for changing hairstyles with the same frequency that footballers change boots. That’s fine, honestly because enchmen are employed without needing these particular attributes. What Fernandinho is, is an unheralded member of Pep Guardiola (and Manuel Pellegrini’s) Manchester City sides. One that seems to only get rated by City supporters, while fellow teammates, (or villains) Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling run amok in front of him.
Intently observe the Brazilian next time you’re watching City, understanding why possession is changing hands in City's favor, or why John Stones is so cool playing out of the back, or how Kevin De Bruyne seems to be every-damn-where on the pitch. Look for the wiry Brazilian wearing number 25. He won’t let you know he’s there; there is no hairstyle, no announcement of his presence. He might not have a ski-mask on, but he’s definitely handing out pain in a dark half space. Dirty work is Fernandinho’s business, and business is good.