Elano: 'I have to play. It just proves what I said was right'

On the eve of the Manchester derby, Elano tells Ian Herbert why he feels vindicated by his rise in form after his rows with City manager Mark Hughes
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Elano is the Manchester City player who, above all others, should have been basking in the afterglow of Abu Dhabi investment this season.

In April last year he began one of the last games under the club's previous owner Thaksin Shinawatra as a stand-in right-back. City lost 3-2 to Fulham, a catastrophic home defeat which saw the man who signed him, Sven-Goran Eriksson, heading out of the door.

Yet within four months his compatriots were riding to his rescue on an Arabian magic carpet. First, with the new owners on the horizon, came Jo, briefly City's most expensive footballer and the striker he yearned to link up with. Then, Robinho, a player with whom Elano shared a footballing genesis at Santos, both coming to prominence in the young team built by Emerson Leao which swept all aside to clinch the Brazilian championship in 2003 and subsequently retain it.

So where did it all go so wrong? Where this season was the player who on a sunny Sunday afternoon back in September 2007 mesmerised Newcastle United and then broke them with a free-kick which, he admits, was "the most beautiful" goal he has scored?

Fined £40,000 and rebuked by his manager Mark Hughes in November for grumbling publicly about his role on the bench, he has drifted around the edges of the team for the best part of nine months. When his training looked insipid back in Manchester two days after a miserable 3-1 Uefa Cup defeat at Racing Santander in December, he and Hughes had words and he was dropped again for the ignominious 2-1 defeat at West Bromwich Albion – the season's low point for the club.

Some might point to a Brazilian temperament, and the player himself, in his last interview with The Independent 18 months back, admitted that he much prefers playing on warm spring days when his "studs are higher." But the 27-year-old, who is fervently hoping for a starting place in tomorrow's Manchester derby, offers a different perspective on belonging to the richest club in the world; of how it feels to be behind closed doors at City's Carrington training complex when the outside world is linking virtually every available decent player with a move to a club where you are already struggling to command a place. "This has been one of the reasons for our difficulties this season," Elano says. "We can't go to the press and express our feelings because otherwise we get fined and punished. But in a way it seems unfair because all the time, on a daily basis, there are reports of a new player coming and it seems to us that we are not worth that much. The players should also have the right to talk about certain things."

His point, which underlines how all that glistens is not gold where multi-million-pound investment is concerned, is one that Robinho has also made this season, and appears to have left some residual indignation where that £40,000 fine is concerned. "I was fined by the club just for saying I wanted to play," he reflects. "When I was called in the office to have a chat with the manager, I said: 'Listen, I apologise if I said something wrong. That was not my intention.' I just wanted to express what I was feeling at the time – that I wanted to play more." There are some obvious flaws to this argument. Clubs surely cannot have players saying whatever they want, can they? To which Elano concedes "there has to be some regulation". But he is standing his ground because that is the person he has always been. Perhaps it was the steely determination to escape long childhood days picking sugar cane with his father, Geraldo, in the wide dusty acres of Sao Paulo state which has made him so single-minded, but Elano is not one to bury his feelings.

"He's an emotional guy," Hughes said of him earlier this season and even though the Brazilian speaks through a translator that much is clear as he discusses how the young players have been the ones most undermined by the rumours of new stars arriving. "It probably won't affect me that much because I play in the Brazilian national team, in the first XI, so I consider myself a good player," he says. "But it might affect my team-mates more because they probably will not give as much on the pitch to help us."

As this conversation evolves, you sense the kind of man-management task Hughes has on his hands here, particularly when it appears that Elano has taken issue with the role he is being asked to undertake – one which has the Hughes work ethic running through it. "Of course you always have to adapt to what your manager wants because he is our commander so we always have to get close to him," he says. "But what we Brazilian players have is creativity, not [the ability to] mark. When I'm asked to do a lot of marking I cannot produce the goods to the benefit of the team because I know creativity and passing and making the team play are my strong points. Last season I was playing well almost throughout the season as I had more freedom on the pitch. I was the main scorer and I was the one who had more assists. If I have to mark I'll do it – but when people ask why I'm not playing so well, it's because [of this.]"

We now begin to see where the suggestions, last winter, of Hughes' dissatisfaction with the attitude of some of his Brazilian contingent came from. All three have been fined; Robinho for his moonlit flit from City's January training camp in Tenerife; Jo for nightclubbing when he was supposed to be recovering from tonsillitis. And yet the City manager knows all about challenging individuals. Three years playing alongside Eric Cantona at United taught him that much. This summer we will discover if Elano has a City future, but for now Hughes seems to have helped him turn the tide. After a January in which there were suspicions the player's representatives were agitating for a move – Hughes was made aware of alleged interest from Lazio and Milan but nothing materialised – the Brazilian has gradually worked his way back into the side. His displays in a wide-right role made him a contender for City's Player of the Month award last month and the pass which set up Robinho's opening goal at Everton two weeks ago was exquisite, during a run of six starts out of a possible eight.

Hughes' part in this transformation has been subtle, with encouragement when due, and happily for the manager Elano's upturn has coincided with something similar in Robinho.

The two Brazilians are certainly soul-mates, City's £32m signing wandering into the interview room during our conversation, slapping hands with Elano and pronouncing: "He's my brother." Elano, as sure of his opinions on Robinho as any other topic, says he has brought out the best in the £160,000-a-week player. "When I wasn't playing he was also unhappy as he knew I could play," he says. "It has been shown so far that when I'm playing, Robinho can produce even better goods. When I was on the bench I was seeing things I could have done better for him. I know his style of play. I know how he wants to receive the ball, where he likes passes to be made. In the Everton match I made the pass and he scored, 1-0 for us. That shows we have a natural, mutual understanding. I'm not taking anything away from other players but there are certain things that you can achieve playing for many years. We know our positions form each other on the pitch. It can only grow even more."

Elano's comments would cause more sensitive men than Hughes to bristle, especially his declaration that his new-found form has vindicated the claim that the manager should be using him more: "You can only achieve a certain rhythm of play by playing regularly. This just proves that what I said was right." Hardly the ideal way to secure the contract extension he is currently seeking "because this is the right time to move forward - for me and the club."

Hughes replied, flatly, last week that "it isn't really a priority at the moment." But the benefits of nurturing this relationship have become self-evident and if Elano does his talking out on the Old Trafford pitch tomorrow, the manager may just think again.

My other life

"I spend a lot of my time with my great friend Robinho and we'll while away many an afternoon after training with our families. I have a place at Alderley Edge with my wife, Alexandra, and daughter, Maria Teresa. But I do go out, too. I've enjoyed trying the artificial ski slope off the M60 and the restaurants around south Manchester and in the city itself. The Ben Brazil restaurant in Manchester is one I've enjoyed."