Kenedy could soon be enjoying a reunion with Chelsea -- and not because there is a chance of his loan period being cut short. The 25-year-old Brazilian winger is back in Rio de Janeiro, but not with Fluminense, where his career started. He will spend the next 12 months with the local giants Flamengo. And while Chelsea are the champions of Europe, Flamengo are in the hunt to become their South American equivalents.
Last week they qualified in emphatic style for the semifinals of the Copa Libertadores where they are strong favourites to get past Ecuadoran side Barcelona SC. A final would then await against another Brazilian club, either Palmeiras or Atletico Mineiro. Win that and Flamengo, Kenedy and all, will be on course for a meeting with Chelsea in December at the FIFA Club World Cup in Qatar.
Flamengo fell 1-0 to Liverpool in the final of the same competition two years ago. They won the Brazilian league that year and the next. For years they were an ailing giant, more known for backstage chaos than for triumph on the field. Then, with surprising patience, they got the finances right. At first they were happy to take small steps in the right direction. The fans understood what was happening, and toned down their notorious impatience. They have been rewarded with a wonderful two years -- and the promise of many good times to come. And signings like that of Kenedy have been crucial to the mix.
Once Flamengo had money -- they had learned how to leverage the club's massive, nationwide fan base -- they then had to apply themselves to how they would spend it. And for a club with global pretensions, it was essential for them to take a look at western Europe, the undoubted centre of the contemporary game.
Two types of Brazilian player were of clear interest. There were the veterans, those who had enjoyed a successful spell in Europe but were now looking to round off their time with a big-club adventure back home. Goalkeeper Diego Alves fits into this category, as does left-back Filipe Luis and midfielder Diego Ribas. And there was also right back Rafinha, a key player in 2019 who was subsequently lured back to Europe to play in Greece and who is now back in Brazil with Gremio. All of these, then, are experienced players with plenty still left in the tank and lots of big match knowledge to pass on.
And then there is the other type: those who failed to live up to expectations in Europe. Here the club have been extremely successful. Gabriel Barbosa, a high-profile flop for Internazionale, rediscovered the form that earned him the nickname "Gabigol" at Flamengo and became the deadly and charismatic idol of the domestic Brazilian game. His strike partner Bruno Henrique has been at least as impressive and important to the cause. He was unable to make any impression at Wolfsburg.
On the bench, but so impressive in his opportunities that he has been capped by Brazil, is centre-forward Fiorentina. And there was left-footed central midfielder AS Roma transformed back in Brazil into a player who many think should be walking into the national squad. Gerson has recently been handed another European opportunity with Marseille, largely because coach Jorge Sampaoli knows what he can do after spending the previous two years in Brazil while coaching Santos.
The fact, then, that these players did not live up to expectations in Europe does not mean that they cannot be stars in the future. Maybe they went too soon, and were not sufficiently mature to deal with living in a new culture. Used to being seen as stars in Brazil, perhaps they found it hard to adapt to being just another member of a much deeper squad with a European club. And sometimes the increased speed and intensity of European football was the problem, highlighting technical or conceptual difficulties.
Kenedy probably fits into the latter category. It is hardly a surprise that he found it hard to shine in Europe. He is a player best suited to operating in space, where he can build up some speed. The lines of the teams are usually further apart in Brazil, which should prove to his liking.
Joining him at Flamengo is a player of a similar age who is also on loan from the Premier League: Manchester United's Andreas Pereira. Born in Belgium to a Brazilian father, Pereira has bounced around Spain and Italy on loan without yet being able to establish himself at Old Trafford. This is his first experience playing in the land of his father's birth, and he appears to have some romantic ideas about the task ahead. But he has the silky skills to turn the romance into reality, and should be another fine asset to a squad of intimidating depth.
And there is another former Premier League stalwart who may also be on his way -- though this one clearly falls into the category of the veterans. Flamengo have not entirely given up hope on the idea that former Chelsea and Arsenal centre-back David Luiz might be tempted to Rio de Janeiro. It is not hard to see why. David Luiz is hardly a natural defender. But, in something of a problem position for the club he would offer a considerable upgrade, especially with his ability to set attacks in motion.
Flamengo's dreams have probably suffered a blow with the qualification of Benfica for the group stage of the Champions League. Coach Jorge Jesus is an admirer, and now has the resources to bring David Luiz on board. But if it breaks down, Flamengo are waiting, aware that they can take Europe's cast-offs and mould them into a triumphant team.