When decisions are made surrounded by so much anxiety, matches that put such coveted and important cups at stake, it is natural that each team, each fan understands they deserve more than their rival. Everyone knows their trajectory, their anxieties, their reasons for wanting a title so much. Perhaps this is the singularity of the Libertadores edition that ended this Saturday, in a Maracanã that was pulsating. It was difficult to look at Fluminense’s celebration on the Maracanã lawn and not think that that was the most beautiful possible outcome for the tournament.
And for reasons that go beyond Boca Juniors’ campaign, a team that didn’t win a single game after the group stage. Much less because of its more conservative proposal to play football, after all the team showed a competitive character, it grew throughout the final, to the point of even appearing to be a better team than it was during its journey. But let’s look at Fluminense and the many fascinating stories built around this achievement. Football doesn’t guarantee anyone happy endings, but the same game that knows how to be cruel, sometimes has its rewards.
Fernando Diniz returned to Fluminense last April. In this year and a half, even though they hadn’t won the most important titles in dispute – at least until last Saturday -, the Tricolores achieved something that is perhaps much more important: they built memories, awakened good feelings in the public. What other Brazilian team, in its best moments, was able to entertain, to enchant with the frequency of Fluminense? Tricolor became the team that many people, including neutral fans, wanted to see play. There is a special flavor when aesthetics and results meet. Hopes are renewed, while the theses that pleasure and beauty are incompatible with competition fall.
This Fluminense did something more. His game of approaches around the ball, mobility, short passes, tables and infiltrations, is closely linked to an imaginary of what a “Brazilian school” would be. Whether this is a correct finding or a theory that ignores regional differences or natural transformations over time, it is a fact that globalized football has made the ideas and models applied in the European elite the standards replicated throughout the world. Including in Brazil. Diniz, by doubling down on approaches, by radicalizing the proposal of bringing players together around the ball, ignoring symmetries on a football field and giving his team the freedom to express themselves, has created the opposite script: analysts from various parts of the world study this Fluminense.
But while building his career, Diniz was treated as an eccentric, a vain person uncommitted to results, using football teams to prove his theses. All this because, they said, he was not capable of winning titles. Because this Saturday he responded with the biggest cup in South America. The Libertadores was unprecedented for Fluminense, the club he left in 2019 after very modest results, but which had offered him a second chance.
The tricolor story towards the top of America ends in a final with several elements: an initial dominance, the difficulty in creating chances, the goal that seemed to open the way, the growth of the opponent, an extra time that inevitably referred to the drama experienced by that same crowd, and in that same stadium, 15 years earlier. Until John Kennedy’s goal.
Because there are more elements that make Fluminense’s victory the most beautiful outcome of this Libertadores. Firstly, because this team with such a marked identity, with its own DNA, built its two goals in its own way, with its concepts. The two wingers close together, on the same side of the field; Marcelo leaving the wing and becoming a right midfielder in Cano’s goal; combinations between players; Kennedy’s personality, driven by encouragement typical of Diniz’s work. At Fluminense, playing is not treated as a risk. Whether the ball is released very close to Fábio’s goal, or close to the opponent’s goal.
This Fluminense has definitively inscribed at least one name that can no longer be excluded from the club’s history: Cano, scorer of the first goal in a move that is typically his. A symbol of this team.
Regarding Kennedy, here is another very rich character. The easiest thing would be to label him as a “problem player”, a “basket case”. Many people thought it was funny when Fernando Diniz said that human relationships were the basis for building his game system, his tactical model. Kennedy is perhaps the personification of a theory treated as romanticism doomed to failure. Instead of giving up on a young man full of virtues, capable of playing with his back to goal as a pivot, of infiltrating the area, of understanding spaces, of shooting from outside the area, Diniz embraced the striker who was returning from a loan to Ferroviária. Football tends to treat worse players as worse people. Or treat young people whose talent is hidden behind troubled personal and social realities, as irrecoverable. Kennedy scored a goal that, from Saturday onwards, will be an obligatory scene in any anthology about tricolor history.
Fluminense champion. The Libertadores could not end any other way.