When the call came, it arrived as no surprise for Fabinho. He was expecting it. He was ready for it.
The 27-year-old has spent much of the season to date operating at centre-back; making the transition from deep-lying midfielder to a cornerstone of the defensive line – and doing so to eye-catching success.
He did hold some prior experience with a handful of games at the heart of Liverpool’s defence, first coming in a 1-0 win at Brighton & Hove Albion in January 2019.
However, for Fabinho, the most significant aspect in enabling the conversion to be so seamless has been essentially a simple one: preparation.
“In my first season, I’d already played as a centre-half and last season, I don’t remember exactly when, but I played some games there, too,” Fabinho recalls as he chats to Liverpoolfc.com in an exclusive interview at the AXA Training Centre.
“The manager had prepared me to play in this position, so it was not a surprise when I had to play there because of the injuries and I am happy because it’s worked out good so far.”
Fabinho is softly spoken and naturally modest; but his assessment of his form is something of an understatement.
The No.3 has been deployed solely at centre-back since Virgil van Dijk sustained a knee injury at Everton in October, to great acclaim.
“The manager has tried to help with small things, positional things or sometimes when to play a long ball or step forward with it,” Fabinho continues. “Things like this – the small details – so I can get better. He doesn’t talk too much about it, he has just tried to give me the confidence to play the position.
“I always say the communication is very important with my partners when playing there – the other centre-back, the full-backs and the midfielders. The boys have helped me a lot and now I am used to playing in this position, so I have more confidence to play there. I just want to help the team to play good football and be as good as possible.
“As I said, I know in this position I have to be more communicative with all the players because I can see almost everything on the pitch. I try to help my partners in their positions when they have to close the left or right sides.
“It’s more about the communication, but I don’t know if I have really had to change a lot in terms of how I am on the pitch. It’s more about leadership and communication.”
It says much about Fabinho’s professionalism and dedication that the switch has been so smooth.
“Brighton was the first time I played there… as a kid, maybe a couple of times but it was not my main position. Liverpool was the first time in my professional career.”
Long-term injuries to Van Dijk and Joe Gomez have dictated the need for the midfielder-by-trade to be used in the back four.
It’s perhaps only natural to wonder whether Fabinho has picked the brains of his teammates on their experiences of marshalling defences.
“No, not really,” he responds. “I played some games with Joe as a partner and, of course, in the game we talked a lot.
“Before the games as well, I asked him some things about positioning and things like this. Now they are injured, I just ask them how they are, how it’s going and things like this.
“I don’t really ask too much about the position; not because I think I am already very good in the position or something like this! It doesn’t mean that! I just talk normally with the boys.”
Such has been his success in the newly adopted berth, talk is steadily growing within the media and among fans and pundits that Fabinho would be a worthy winner of the club’s Player of the Season accolade if it were to be decided today.
It’s not something he himself has read, but he smiles when it’s put to him: “I am happy because I always try to give my best for the team, I always try to get better as well and it doesn’t matter what position I play, whether it is midfield or centre-back.
“Of course, defence is a new position for me so I can improve a lot there, I can learn with my teammates, so I am always trying to learn, improve and to be a better player so I can help the team. I have always said I wanted to be important for the team and so I am happy to hear this, but I know I can improve more in the position – and I will do my best to be better.”
Liverpool wasted little time in planning to ‘go again’ after suffering defeat by Real Madrid in the 2018 Champions League final.
Fewer than 48 hours after that loss in Kiev, a handful of staff at Melwood were buzzing around the complex preparing to put the finishing touches on an incoming transfer.
Fabinho – joined by his agent and wife, Rebeca – arrived late afternoon on that warm Monday to complete the formalities of his switch from AS Monaco and undertake club media duties ahead of that evening’s announcement, which captured the excitement of supporters.
“For me personally, it was a really special feeling because in my career I always wanted to progress, so a move from Monaco to Liverpool was something great for this moment in my career,” he recollects of his emotions of that day.
“So, on a personal level, it was a good day for me. I’d watched the Liverpool-Real Madrid game on TV and I was supporting Liverpool, but unfortunately, they didn’t win.
“That for me, though, was the beginning of a new history. I didn’t see anyone when I came to Melwood, which might have been a good thing because maybe they’d have been angry they’d lost the final, but it was a good moment for the club to play a Champions League final after a long time.
“And it was definitely a good day for me because I signed for this big club.”
Liverpool had flown home directly after the 3-1 loss at the NSC Olimpiyskiy. A small team meeting was held within the changing room at Melwood before the players and backroom staff said their goodbyes and departed for the summer recess.
Jürgen Klopp would later detail to this website how the sight of his squad moving through Kiev airport stoked something inside of him.
“Last year when we flew back from Kiev, after the game directly, there was a moment when we were all really sad and disappointed, frustrated, whatever,” the manager said a year on. “I was standing behind all the guys in the queue and going to the plane and I really thought, ‘We have to come back, we have to go back and get this thing right!’”
That they did.
On June 1, 2019, Fabinho would fall to his knees on the turf of Estadio Metropolitano overcome with emotion.
The goal had been achieved. The Champions League had been secured courtesy of a 2-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur, with the Brazilian capping his first season as a Red with a winner’s medal in Europe’s most prestigious competition.
“It shows the mentality of this group of the players and the staff as well,” Fabinho underlines. “It is not easy to play two Champions League finals in two years.
“After losing one final, it could change some things inside a club, but with this team I think it helped to make them even more hungry to win trophies, hungry to win this competition – one of the best competitions in the world.
“In my first season at Liverpool, playing in a Champions League final and winning it was really special.”
An ability to react positively to – and ultimately overcome – setbacks has been a hallmark of this Liverpool team in recent seasons.
It’s a trait that’s been emphatically displayed in Premier League terms, too.
The Reds had travelled to Madrid at the end of a season that saw them accrue a club-record 97 points in the top flight, but fall short of bringing the title back to Anfield by a solitary one to Manchester City.
By the conclusion of 2019-20, Liverpool posted 99 points and, of course, clinched their first league championship in 30 years.
“I had an idea of what it would mean to the fans,” Fabinho states in reply to a question about the Reds’ plans to strike back having come so agonisingly close in 2018-19. “Of course, if you asked this question to a fan who has waited 30 years to celebrate this moment, they will give you a better answer than me!
“But for me, since I arrived at the club, some fans said to me that it was very important for the club to win the Premier League. I remember in the first year, we were close to Man City in the fight for the title and the fans were saying if we won the title, they’d party for… well, I don’t know how long because they really wanted it.
“This year we did it – and the mentality of this group of players is unbelievable. We are still hungry for more. We knew it would be hard to win the Premier League and we had to be always at 100 per cent.
“Last year was so special, we played a very good season and the title was very deserved. We were very happy for the fans because we know what it means to them.”
Liverpool finally hoisted the Premier League trophy aloft at Anfield on July 22, with a specially constructed platform on the Kop the centrepiece of scenes that will long be remembered.
However, they did so without the presence of supporters in the stadium due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has gripped the world in 2020.
Klopp, defiantly, has continually vowed to stage a celebration with fans when it is safe to do so in recognition of the team’s success of last season – and that’s something Fabinho is eager to experience.
“Of course, I will look forward to that. I remember the celebration after the Champions League final, when we came back to Liverpool, it’s something I will never forget because it was so special.
“I think there were almost one million supporters in the city to celebrate the moment with us, winning the Champions League. So, to celebrate the Premier League, it would be the same – or maybe even better.
“We are really looking forward to celebrating with them, but we don’t want to stop here – we want to celebrate more things with our fans because they really deserve it.”
Fabinho is chatting to Liverpoolfc.com the day after the 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion at Anfield. He’s just finished a late afternoon training session and the interview is conducted completely in English.
The day’s snowfall across the city formed part of the small talk – “In Brazil, I never had snow… but to be honest, there was no snow at my house this morning, it was only here when I got to training, and I saw some pictures of it in Manchester…” – while Klopp briefly punctuates the conversation with a comment and trademark grin as he passes by inside the Kirkby facility.
While the unanimous verdict was the stalemate with the Baggies and the performance were disappointing, for the man affectionately known to his teammates as ‘Flaco’ it was a landmark afternoon as he notched his 100th appearance for the club.
Not our best today, but glad to reach 100 matches with the red jersey. Such an honor! 🔴🙏🏾 #LFC https://t.co/r6yYcnZwM5— _fabinhotavares (Fabinho) 27th Dec 21:51
“I didn’t know before the game it was already going to be my 100th for the club, but my time here has gone really fast – it’s already my third season at Liverpool and now 100 games. It’s special for me, but I am still hungry for more: more games and more titles. I just try to work hard to try to achieve more important things here.
“So, as I said, it is good to achieve this number. When I came to Liverpool, I wanted to achieve important things and I think 100 games already for me is very special.”
Has his perception of Liverpool Football Club changed over the course of his century?
“Liverpool is famous because of its fans and it’s a club with a big history. But when you are inside the club, when you play at Anfield every other weekend, when you know the feeling to play with these fans, the atmosphere in the stadium and the ambience, it is different.
“When you live it, when you live inside the club, then you really know the passion of the fans. And also the club from the inside because the people who work here are very good people, nice people.
“You have a little idea of what it’s like when you are outside, but when you are inside you really get to know why this club is special. I am lucky and blessed to play for Liverpool and living in this club is something very good.”
There is one moment, however, that Fabinho circles as being the moment. The one where he felt the uniqueness of Liverpool and the connection with its supporters.
“Playing every other weekend at Anfield with the fans, with that atmosphere, is always special; you feel really blessed to be playing for a club like this,” he begins to reveal. “But if I have to say one special moment, I would say the game against Barcelona.
“After the game, when all the players and staff sung You’ll Never Walk Alone with the fans, it was a really special moment. I’ve said to all my friends, if I had to pick one where the fans really made a difference, it would be the first game in my mind.
“From the beginning of that game until the end of it, they were really one extra player for us. Those moments we shared after the game were very, very special.”
Along with wife Rebeca, Fabinho lives in the coastal town of Formby on Merseyside.
In his downtime in the last two-and-a-half years, they’ve taken the opportunity to embrace the culture of the city of Liverpool and take in some of the tourist attractions on offer with their families.
“Of course, now it’s all a little bit different due to the virus and, like everyone else, we cannot do everything we’re used to doing, but we enjoy Liverpool. We are more used to the weather, to the times, so it’s not a problem for us.
“When we are able to have family here, that’s good – they like to be here and they like to go to Anfield and watch the games. Our families like Liverpool and sometimes we go to the centre to know a little bit more about the city.
“We enjoy the city. We are usually going to restaurants to eat, but we have been to see some of the Beatles landmarks like The Cavern. We’ll do a walk around this area and when we want to go to see somewhere, we’ll just go and enjoy it.
“We could enjoy Christmas Eve last week – in Brazil we celebrate on the 24th – so we ate some good food with the family we have here. Usually, we’d have a lot of people at home with us, but this year the house was not full because of the restrictions.
“But being with family is important for me and my wife and this time of year is very special. It was good.”
Sky it’s not the limit, it’s just the view @_fabinhotavares https://t.co/yzN2mqTcsZ— reebecatavares (Rebeca Tavares) 26th Jul 17:45
Fabinho is set to make appearance 101 for Liverpool in Wednesday’s trip to Newcastle United – and he already has his sights trained on significantly enhancing that tally in the coming seasons.
“I feel really at home here. I am friends with all of the players. With all the people at the club, the staff, we have a very good relationship and I feel really comfortable.
“It is already 100 games, my third season at Liverpool, but everything has happened very, very quickly and I feel like it is still my first season here because I really enjoy playing for Liverpool, I really enjoy playing with all my teammates and, of course, to play for these fans.
“It is very special to play for this club and hopefully I will play many more games.”