Jose Mourinho is convinced he’s onto something. Thomas Lemar? Tiemoue Bakayoko? Kylian Mbappe? No. The player who makes AS Monaco tick. The one Mourinho wants at Manchester United? That’s Fabinho.
You can make statistics prove anything with the right manipulation. But these figures don’t lie: When Fabinho is in ASM’s XI they win 75 per cent of games. Without the Brazilian? It drops to less than 40 per cent.
Eric Roy, the former Sunderland striker and Nice sports director, is convinced: “When he’s not there, of course it makes a big difference.
“In Monaco, there are sometimes four attackers at the same time. So they need someone to cover a lot of ground. As soon as he misses, the team becomes a bit wobbly.”
Mourinho penciled Fabinho’s name onto that shopping list he handed over to Ed Woodward, United’s vice-chairman exec, at the start of the month. The focus has been on closing terms with Benfica for Victor Lindelof and trying to settle Alvaro Morata’s fee with Real Madrid. But Fabi’s been contacted. He said as much while back home in Brazil last week.
“It’s a tempting invitation,” he volunteered to local TV. “I will talk about it first with my agent and then it’s for Monaco to decide. But it is a great club and I will think about it.”
This week in France, it’s emerged PSG have come forward amid claims that United’s interest has gone cold. But with Woodward focused on driving Real’s price down for Morata, Fabinho knows he has to wait.
So why the push from Mourinho? The United manager has known Fabinho for four years and like Morata, he gave the Brazilian his LaLiga debut as Real Madrid coach. The pair haven’t been in regular contact, but Fabi appreciated Mourinho’s man-management during their time together.
“I had contact with him in the training of Real Madrid and some opportunities in games,” he recalls. “Whenever he saw me, even in the corridors, he asked how I was, my adaptation in Madrid, how I was living, whether I was with the family.
“He asked these things more than anything else, because he knew that the adaptation might be a bit difficult for me.”
Now known as an energetic, box-to-box midfielder, at Real, with Castilla, Fabinho spent the season as a wing-back. And it wasn’t until a trip to London that he, or rather Leonardo Jardim, identified his natural midfield qualities.
Says Fabi: “This change of position began two years ago. I played on the flank, but the coach saw in me some traits of midfield. I think the game he saw that he could count on me also as a midfielder was in the last 16 of the Champions League two years ago in a 3-1 win over Arsenal in London, where I played in the position and went very well.
“At the beginning of this season, in my first training session, he said that a wing-back of the French team, Djibril Sidibé, was arriving and he wanted to count on me as a midfielder.
“I’ve been getting impressive numbers, like goals and assists, better even from when I played as a wing-back. I’ve gained a lot from this change, I’ve learned more about the centre of the park.”
For many inside the French game, Jardim’s positional intervention has been the stuff of genius.
“In my opinion, he is the best for his position in Europe,” declares Marcel Dib, the former Marseille and Monaco midfielder.
“He is the star of Monaco.
“Everyone revolves around him. He has an incredible power on the game, and on his teammates. And then technically and physically, he is a class above.”
Dib mentioning Fabi’s power and physical attributes is significant. You couldn’t dub Fabinho brittle or fragile – accusations which Mourinho has leveled at his own players this past season.
The Brazilian, in his four years with ASM, has only suffered one significant injury – back in May 2014.
“With Fabi, there’s a fantastic combination of three factors,” a close friend says. “It is clean living, hard work and genetics.
“His body is a blessing. A gift from God which Fabi is determined to make the most of.”
But what about upstairs? Well, if his success from the spot is any indicator, Fabinho will have no problem handling the pressure of being a Manchester United player.
From 13 penalties, he boasts a 100 per cent record – which says it all, according to Nice football chief Frédéric Brando.
“He never trembles, and it’s not luck,” says Brando. “This shows a great emotional stability.
“The pressure of a penalty? He does not feel it, he manages it. He’s different. This technical serenity also gives great confidence to him.”
And away from the spot, Brando agrees with Dib over Fabinho’s influence on Monaco.
“His greatest quality is his ability to make the transition. He allows his team to quickly project forward. It’s extremely rare, so the interest of the biggest European clubs for him is no surprise.”
And they don’t come any bigger than Manchester United.
“Look, I’m happy in Monaco,” said Fabinho at the end of last season. “But the Premier League is attractive.
“I hope I can play there one day.”