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It is widely accepted that Fabinho is one of the most dominant holding midfielders in world football after becoming a crucial player in Jurgen Klopp’s all-conquering Liverpool side – but many may be unfamiliar with just how he got to where he is now.
Ahead of this Saturday’s Champions League final, it may be surprising to learn that Fabinho has actually played for Liverpool’s opponents in the Paris showpiece, Real Madrid, during a brief stint there during the 2012-13 campaign.
But let’s go back to where it all began for the defensive midfielder.
Fabinho could come back to haunt Real Madrid in the Champions League final this weekend
The Brazilian has become one of the best holding midfielders in world football for Liverpool
Having risen through the ranks at Fluminense in his native Brazil, Fabinho caught the eye of Portuguese side Rio Ave after shining in a youth tournament – the Copa Sao Paulo.
Despite not making a single senior appearance for Fluminense, Rio Ave handed a 17-year-old Fabinho a six-year deal to make the switch to Europe.
Less than a month after arriving on the north east coast of Portugal, Real Madrid came calling and Fabinho was on the move once again, joining the Spanish giants’ reserve team on a season-long loan.
‘We arrived in Portugal, but I stayed around at Rio Ave for just two weeks, maybe three at the most,’ Fabinho told FourFourTwo.
‘I had a barbecue with other Brazilians and then my agent called to say that Real Madrid Castilla [Real Madrid reserve team] needed a right-back and wanted to know if I was interested.
A 17-year-old Fabinho was sent on loan from Rio Ave to Real Madrid Castilla in 2012
‘Then one night, Lucio [Araujo, brother of former Chelsea and Barcelona midfielder Deco], came and told me to pack my things because Jorge Mendes was on his way by car in the early hours of the morning.
‘I was like, “Is something wrong?” Nobody said a word, but then at some point in the car, Mendes said we were travelling to Madrid and that I would sign for them.
‘I called my mum in Brazil to tell her about that and she started to cry. No one had expected something this huge to happen in such a short time. It was a very special moment for me.’
The very special moment would later become a surreal one for Fabinho, following a late-night visit from a familiar face.
He continued: ‘We headed to the hotel in Madrid, and while I was still sleeping, I woke up to somebody knocking on the door. I looked through the peephole and couldn’t believe it. It was Mendes and Jose Mourinho!
‘I was still wearing my pyjamas, not at all prepared to meet him. I didn’t even know what to say. He wanted to welcome me. I was still a bit shy and never thought I would meet him like that!’
The Brazilian was awoken in the night upon his arrival by then-Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho
Fabinho would feature 30 times for Real’s reserve team before making his professional debut for Mourinho’s senior side later on in the 2012-13 campaign
It would be the start of Fabinho’s ascent to the top of world football with his journey to becoming a household name still in its infancy.
He would go on to feature 30 times for the reserve side in a campaign where they finished eighth, playing predominantly as a right back and occasionally at centre back.
His coach at Real Madrid Castilla, Alberto Toril, described him as ‘very shy’ but ‘you could immediately see his potential’. He added that the Brazilian was also ‘positionally very good’ and ‘made good decisions on the ball’.
So much so that Mourinho had been left impressed by his displays and would call him up to Real Madrid’s first team.
Fabinho was sent on as a second-half substitute in Real Madrid’s LaLiga clash with Malaga, playing just 14 minutes in what was, amazingly, his professional debut.
Fabinho would make a name for himself at Monaco and would go on to win 2016-17 Ligue 1 title
He even got himself an assist, setting up Angel Di Maria to score in a 6-2 win. But unfortunately for Fabinho, he would not feature for the senior side again.
He would ultimately make the move to Monaco, featuring predominantly as a right back throughout the 2013-14 season and at the beginning of the 2014-15 campaign.
However, Fabinho was later played as a defensive midfielder towards the back end of that season by Leonardo Jardim in what proved to be a pivotal move in his career.
His versatility as a full back and holding midfielder saw him scouted by some of Europe’s biggest clubs and he would become an integral part of Monaco’s Ligue 1-winning squad in 2016-17.
A year later, Liverpool would go on to complete the £44million signing of Fabinho – less than 48 hours after experiencing heartbreak in the Champions League final against Saturday’s opponents, and his former club, Real Madrid.
Now he has become one of the best holding midfielders in Liverpool’s all-conquering side
Jurgen Klopp (right) will be desperate for the 28-year-old to be fit for this Saturday’s final
It proved to be a shrewd acquisition by Klopp, given how Liverpool would go on to win the Champions League the following summer, win the club’s first ever Premier League title the year after that, and become one of the best sides in world football.
Klopp is currently sweating over the fitness of the Brazilian, who was forced off with a hamstring injury during Liverpool’s FA Cup triumph over Chelsea earlier this month.
But the 28-year-old is expected to return to light training this week ahead of what will be a defining moment in the club’s history.
Four years on from that devastating Champions League final in Kyiv, Liverpool can finally get their revenge – and should Fabinho recover in time for the Paris showpiece, he could get the chance to send the club that gave him his first start a timely reminder that they should have never let him go.