Mario Fernandes – To find God in Moscow?

Russian Football News

Signed for a then-record transfer fee, Mario Fernandes was a very promising if unproven Brazilian arriving on Russian shores. It’s a wonder but it looks he will finish his career at the “poor” CSKA (in financial terms) in spite of the interest of other Russian oligarch clubs like Zenit or Spartak, any reported interest of a host of Italian and Spanish sides.

Mario was born in S?o Caetano do Sul (in the Sao Paulo state). His father was a futsal coach and as a young boy, he started his career in this sport. Then he transferred to the football team of Sao Caetano. In the youth teams, he played as a centre-back. The youngster had great speed and technical ability – and attracted the interest of Brazil’s biggest clubs.

In 2009, Gremio paid $1 million dollars for the centre-back, and he got his big domestic move. After signing the contract Mario went missing, presumed awol, and didn’t turn up at the club until four days late. This story is still a total mystery even now. It is probably likely that the then 19-year-old was depressed due to the transfer to Porto Alegre, something which he has discussed since but not linked to going awol. He has undergone psychological rehabilitation in the next few years, and his mother even moved to Porto Alegre to live with him. In Gremio, Mario started to play as a wing-back for the first time in his career. Big European clubs were interested in the young player but a serious shoulder injury stopped his progress.

After recovering, Mario received his first invitation to join the Brazilian national team to participate in the Roca Cup. In the first match, the youngster was on the bench and he was late to the plane for the second leg. It was also a mysterious story. According to rumours, Mario was too late because he was in a night club as usual after Gremio matches. Fernandes denies this story, but Meneses, the-then Selecao coach did not call him up again.

Mario facing up against Ronaldinho for Gremio | TalkSport

In May 2012, CSKA announced the signing of a five-year contract with Mario Fernandes. The transfer fee was reported from €10.5-16m according to different sources. It was a very expensive deal for the Red-Blues especially considering the obvious prior psychological problems of the rookie moving from just two cities in Brazil, nevermind across the world into a wholly different culture. The Army men fans remember similar cases: the brilliant Daniel Carvalho almost finished his career due to metabolism problems, “future Kaka” Ramon despite being hugely rated could neither break into the CSKA first-team. One-time star striker Jo started to drink in Moscow and then could not stop in Machester, Polish talent Dawid Janszyk became a drunk. It was a big risk for Mario Fernandes too.

Former CSKA Head Scout Anton Evmenov said that Real wanted to buy the player too and made a better proposal to Gremio and a much better proposal to Mario, but the contract was already signed. However, Fernandes’ agent said that he would rather move to CSKA at the change of first-team football.

Fortunately, these fears were allayed. Mario said that “God leads him in Moscow” and that “he meets the God in Moscow”. In pre-season matches, the Brazilian scored twice and deserved his spot in the first-team for the season. 2012/2013 was magic for Super Mario, a new idol of Red-Blue fans. In Slutskiy’s 4-2-3-1 formation he played as right lateral full-back supporting Zoran Tosic in attack. The Moscow side took the RFPL title and the Cup of Russia and later Super Cup of Russia. On May 18, 2013, the Red-Blues played the “golden match” against Kuban. The draw was enough to win the title, but personal tragedy happened in the last minutes. When everybody was ready to start celebrating, Fernandes fell down into the pitch with a terrible knee injury (ACL).

SAs a result, he missed over six months. To thank the side for support during the injury Mario proposed to extend the contract for the term of recovery. Leonid Slutskiy suddenly included Mario in the starting squad for the Russian derby in late November 2013. CSKA versus Spartak is always more battle than football, it was a huge risk for such an important match. The Brazilian brilliantly played 86 minutes and made his contribution in CSKA’s victory (1-0). But it was the only match he played in the autumn part of the season, the last matches he missed too due to further knee problems.

In the spring part of the season Super Mario had returned and after an impressive ten wins in a row, he won the Russian title for the second time. In October 2014, he again received an invitation to the Selecao and made his debut in the friendly against Japan.

Although it was given as an own goal in the end, Mario thought he had scored the opener against Egypt in the World Cup | Sport-Express

In 2015/2016 CSKA again was in the hunt for the title. The side needed a perfect finish of the championship to outrun FC Rostov. In the 25th matchay, the Brazilian received a hard concussion. Super Mario missed only one match, but for the last few matches, he played in a mask and hhelped the Red-Blues take their third title in four years.

After the end of the season, Fernandes received his Russian citizenship and then received special permission of RFU to play as a Russian in the RPL. Because his only appearance for the national team was in a friendly, the Brazilian had the right to change football citizenship after five years living in Russia. So in October 2017, Mario made his debut in the Sbornaya during the friendly against South Korea.

In the winter break of 2016/2017, Goncharenko took over as CSKA head coach after Slutskiy resigned. As we mentioned earlier, Mario played right-back in the formation of 4-2-3-1 under Slutskiy. The Army men’s attack was right-flank oriented, while the left-flank with Shchennikov was more defensive. Because the centre-backs Sergey Ignashevich and Vasily Berezutskiy were rather slow, wing-backs should assist them in defence. Sometimes Fernandes could not return from attack to help in defence.

Goncharenko switched formation to 5-1-3-1/5-1-2-2 or 3-1-5-1 in attack, which was his favoured formation at Ufa. In this formation there are no wide midfielders, as Mario and Shchennikov would play box-to-box as proper wing-backs. While CSKA’s attacking play remains right-flank oriented, the opponents opposed to active Mario’s play, it creates space for left wing-back Shchennikov to score goals. Mario can easily dribble at an opponent or sprint beyond them. He is also technically astute and very strong positionally. The main disadvantage of the Brazilian is the lack of scoring actions (goals + assists) in spite of his active play. For 6.5 years in Russia Fernandes scored only two times. He also still to this day cannot speak a single word of Russian.

Stanislav Cherchesov, head coach of Russia uses Fernanes in largely the same way as CSKA, lining up as either a wing-back in a five-man defence or on the right of a back-four. The main difference is that during set pieces Mario plays inside the box in the Sbornaya and outside the box at CSKA.

Mario wearing his eponymous helmet against Akhmat | Sport-Express

Mario Fernandes is a great fighter. In his Moscow career, the Brazilian has already accrued five concussions and three nasal bone fractures. The last terrible injury he received in the Champions League match against AS Roma in November. After this injury, Mario was forced to play in a helmet. Goncharenko said: “Mario will play in a helmet, we would only usually put on his mask but we’re scared of when he goes in on hard tackles. But when he plays, he fights”.

This season, Mario Fernandes played 23 matches and made six assists including two in the Champions League. Though in this winter there were rumours about Roma, Napoli and Inter’s interest to Mario, I don’t think the shy lateral is ready to leave Giner’s “Family” squad. Of course, the main opponents of CSKA, Spartak and Zenit can pay big money for him and there is interest in the Russian international. Mario commented on rumours about Spartak’s interest: “Spartak and me? It’s impossible. In my heart there IS CSKA only”. The Red-Blue fans hope that their Super Mario will lead the Army men to their fourth RPL trophy.


Author: Vitaly Leonov

Football fan. Former reporter and chief-editor of the Inform Agency PESKI.RU ( I like travel and visit stadiums and attend matches in Europe. CSKA Moscow fan.

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