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‘Tactical masterstroke’

Seasoned Zé Roberto excels in central role

At 33 years of age, silky Brazil star Ze Roberto is in the form of his life, neatly exemplified by a stylish overall performance against Nürnberg on Sunday. The display was crowned by an assist and a well-taken goal five minutes before half time, as he anticipated Bastian Schweinsteiger’s clever flick before coolly slotting home from 15 yards. Furthermore, the former Leverkusen man topped the stats by winning 75 percent of his tackles.

“I’m highly satisfied with my performance today,” he declared afterwards. In his new central midfield role, Zé Roberto has become more important to Bayern than ever before, as an all-in-one ball-winner, distributor of possession and goalscorer. “He’s one of the main reasons we’ve come off the blocks so well,” commented Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.

Vital figure in new position

Ottmar Hitzfeld also praised the “new“ Zé Roberto: “In this position, it’s obvious why he was voted Player of the Year in Brazil.” The 33-year-old spent the 2006-7 campaign with FC Santos after four years on the left flank in Munich, but the season back in his home country indicated his prodigious skill might be put to even better use at the heart of the action.

Former Brazil boss Carlos Alberto Parreira introduced him to the role, revealed Zé Roberto, who clocked up no fewer than 17 goals for Santos. The player described his function at Bayern as more defensive than in Brazil, although the combination of defence and attack appealed to him. “I enjoy playing there,” he remarked on Sunday. In fact, Hitzfeld sanctioned “more freedom going forward” against Nürnberg, he explained. His booty might have been more than a goal and an assist had it not been for a fine first-half save by Nürnberg keeper Jaromir Blazek.

Good news for all

Zé Roberto’s two goals so far this term already equals his best-ever in a Bayern shirt (2003-4), and he appears odds-on to set a new personal best this season. “I’m no striker, but I’m trying to score more often,” he promised, although Hitzfeld is impressed by the player’s new-found defensive attributes. “Zé is a class act and vital to our defence, he whisks away possession from behind without committing a foul, he works hard, he’s technically perfect and he sets up attacks. He’s great news for the whole team.“

Hitzfeld’s decision to press for the player’s return to Bavaria prompted admiration from Nürnberg coach Hans Mayer on Sunday: “Ottmar, bringing back Zé Roberto and then fielding him in this position is a tactical masterstroke.“

To be used sparingly

A the age of 33, Zé Roberto benefits from both the ability and the fitness to perform at the highest level: he has appeared in all seven matches in the last 21 days. How does he keep it up? “I know when to save myself,” he revealed, explaining he always gives 100 percent in matches but eases back in training. Sleeping well and spending plenty of time with his family also helps.

His retirement from the international scene is enabling him to conserve energy too. “At 33, it’s good to stay here and not spend two weeks going to and from Brazil,” he explained ahead of the break for internationals. “I need this time for relaxation and for my family.“ However, withdrawing from the national team is the only way in which the in-form Zé Roberto has begun to show his age.