Will Brazil lure Fernandinho back for redemption at Copa America?
After his Burnley side took a weekend mauling from Pep Guardiola's men, coach Sean Dyche was emphatic. Manchester City, he said, are in the fight to win all possible titles this season.
The Premier League has become a little bit harder for City after Tuesday's 2-1 defeat at Newcastle, when Fernandinho gave away a late penalty. Nevertheless, the Brazilian midfielder is a key component of the team's four pronged title charges. City suffered a little dip in form during his absence last month. Fernandinho is the man who balances out the side, the dynamo and the problem solver, with the collective sense to put team before self, the vision and intelligence to spot possible risks and the lung power to move around the field offering options and snuffing out danger. His stock in England has never been higher.
Back home, though, his statue might contain a few more cracks.
Football can be a cruel game, and the World Cup, an event of almost transcendental importance to his compatriots, has certainly been cruel to Fernandinho.
He was appointed as the villain of last year's quarterfinal elimination. Casemiro's suspension meant that he was brought into the side to face the dangerous Belgium, and he did not enjoy a happy afternoon. An own goal on which he inadvertently glanced a corner into his own net presented Belgium with the lead. And the second, and as it proved decisive, goal also did not show him at his best. He was turned with ease by Romelu Lukaku, who then powered up the field to set up the shooting chance for Kevin de Bruyne.
Brazil strived mightily to get back into the game in the second half, but they lost 2-1, completing a second desperately disappointing tournament for the Manchester City midfielder.
Fernandinho's form in 2014 is perhaps the most telling barometer of Brazil's emotional collapse under the pressures of playing at home. Normally so disciplined and reliable, he was giving away reckless fouls in the knockout rounds before putting in a dreadful display in that horrendous 7-1 semifinal defeat against Germany. Normally never less than a six out of 10 even on a bad day, Fernandinho was one of the worst on the Mineirao field, neither protecting the defence, nor offering anything in possession as everything around him fell to pieces. It was an entirely atypical display, especially from a player who is usually mentally so strong.
But it is not the mental strength of Fernandinho which will determine whether or not he has an international future. It is the fortitude of those around him.
In normal circumstances, there would be no need to talk of a future for Fernandinho's Brazil career. He is 34 in May, and with very little chance of making to the next World Cup at the end of 2022.
But Brazil have short-term needs. They host the Copa America this June, and coach Tite is aware his job is on the line. He will look to experience to help him out. It's possible he'll recall veteran right-back Daniel Alves. It's closer to a certainty that Tite would like to count on Fernandinho.
But this depends on a change of mind from the player's family. Footballers are obliged to develop a thick skin. They grow up with their worth as a player, even their worth as a human being, under the microscope -- judged by thousands in the stadium and millions more watching on television. It is a hard school, and those who are unable to cope usually fall by the wayside. Their families, however, do not necessarily develop the strength to deal with the criticism. And in the case of Fernandinho's family, they would prefer to see him stop playing for Brazil.
"In this profession," he said recently, "we end up learning how to deal with the knocks. It's part of the process. Maybe those around us are not accustomed to this reality and can't deal with it the same way. I've arrived at a moment in my life when things don't just depend on me, but on those who are around me every day. The only thing I want is that they don't suffer because of me.
"Any decision I take about my future with the national team will not only be though thinking about myself."
This is the position he gave Tite when they met in November. The coach asked him to think about it some more and talk to his family. Tite is adamant -- no matter what happened in 2014 or '18, he believes Fernandinho is the man for 2019, for all that he offers on and off the pitch. And perhaps Brazil's friendly draw in the Copa America (the group opponents are Bolivia, Venezuela and Peru) might help his family come round to the idea. Maybe they can all share a dream of Fernandinho's international career ending on a high, picking them out in the crowd as he performs a lap of honour in the Maracana stadium after the final on July 7.