John Kennedy, since his days in Xerém (the nickname for Fluminense’s youth academy), has always been highly rated.
Everyone believed in the young player’s potential. However, his career didn’t unfold as smoothly as expected.
Join us as we look at John Kennedy’s journey and prospects for the future.
The winding path of John Kennedy
John Kennedy was born on May 18, 2002, in the city of Itaúna, in the interior of Minas Gerais.
The boy was given this name, clearly, in homage to the former President of the United States of America, who was assassinated in Dallas, Texas in 1963.
According to the player, his name was chosen by his father, who greatly admires American history.
JK took his first steps in football in América Mineiro’s youth academy. The following year, he transferred to Cruzeiro’s under-13 team.
His arrival at Fluminense, the club where he began to rise to prominence, occurred in 2018, when he joined the under-17 squad.
In 2019, he started playing more prominently. In his debut season, he appeared in 39 matches and scored 16 goals.
Image: Gilvan de Souza / FFC
In 2020, it was a rollercoaster year for the young player. In that year alone, he played for four different age categories: under-19, under-20, under-23, and finally, he was integrated into Fluminense’s senior squad.
The year 2021 was marked by a period of great instability in the player’s personal and professional life.
According to reports, he began to have various disciplinary issues, such as being late for a departure to a Campeonato Carioca match and participating in a late-night live stream before a game.
These situations continued into 2022, where it was rumored that JK had even missed physiotherapy sessions to address an injury sustained while playing with friends. The breaking point for Fluminense’s management was in May 2022 when John Kennedy’s car was seized. His friend, who was driving the vehicle, was found in possession of two tablets of marijuana.
Image: Reprodução Rádio Tupi
The negative headlines made John Kennedy a burden behind the scenes at the club. Everyone knew of his potential and quality, but what should be done?
As a form of discipline, he was sent back to the under-20 and under-23 squads to train with the youth categories. Obviously, his performance was impressive, scoring 9 goals and providing an assist in 13 games.
Fernando Diniz arrived at Fluminense during this period and in various interviews, he expressed his intention to utilize and rehabilitate the player, emphasizing the human aspect of the professional athlete.
In 2023, Fluminense challenged Kennedy. The young player was loaned to Ferroviária to compete in the Campeonato Paulista.
The boy seemed to have understood the message. In his debut match, he scored a hat-trick against Água Santa, and in 11 appearances, he scored 6 goals.
Despite the strong performances, Ferroviária was ultimately relegated in the competition. Regardless, he displayed commitment, which Fernando Diniz was seeking.
After the Paulistão, he returned from loan to Fluminense, under Diniz’s guidance, who mentored JK in every possible way, both technically and tactically to improve his performance as a player, as well as advising him and showing him the path to becoming a better professional and person.
Close supervision had the desired effect.
Gradually and under supervision, the 21-year-old forward was integrated into the senior squad. So far, he has played 20 games in the Brasileirão, scoring 4 goals and providing 1 assist, along with 3 games and 1 goal in the Copa do Brasil.
But it was in the Copa Libertadores that he secured the status of “predestined” and even an idol.
Image: Buda Mendes/GettyImages
The Copa Libertadores of JK
A player who, at the beginning of the season, was considered a possible candidate for dismissal, proved to be truly indispensable.
It is no exaggeration to say that without JK, Fluminense would still be without a Copa Libertadores title. Fate had his path continue in Rio de Janeiro.
Fluminense started the competition against Sporting Cristal, but he didn’t get to play in that game, which Fluminense won 3-1.
Against The Strongest at the Maracanã, he played for 60 minutes and contributed to the 1-0 victory.
In a stunning performance against River Plate in the group stage, he needed only 2 minutes on the field to provide the assist for the fifth goal, scored by Arias. These were the signs that Diniz was looking for.
A player who enters the game in injury time, adds speed, and provides an assist is a clear sign of commitment.
He wasn’t used in the match against Sporting Cristal, nor in the first leg against Argentinos Juniors in the round of 16.
Despite that, he didn’t let it discourage him. On the return leg of the round of 16, he demonstrated that he would be crucial to this triumph.
It was a very difficult game. The first leg had ended 1-1, and both teams had a chance to advance, as the Argentinos were also putting on a good performance.
But everything changed in the 72nd minute when Fernando Diniz substituted Keno with John Kennedy. As the game became increasingly nervous and seemed to be heading towards a penalty shootout, John Kennedy provided the assist for Samuel Xavier, who opened the scoring for Fluminense.
Even with the goal conceded, Argentinos Juniors didn’t give up on qualification. However, it became inevitable in the final minute of the match when John Kennedy scored his first goal in the competition, the second for Fluminense, and the ticket to the quarterfinals.
In just about 25 minutes on the field, he changed the course of the game. Even though he was very young, he took on the responsibility, promoting an assist, a goal, and qualification.
From there on, his confidence and the certainty that he would be an essential part of the successful campaign translated into outstanding performances. This only increased with the attainment of a starting position, as Keno had suffered an injury. JK was chosen to replace the experienced winger.
Against Olímpia, there was a good home victory of 2-0.
In the return leg, he singlehandedly dominated the match. He scored a brilliant goal to open the scoring and give Fluminense more comfort. In the 80th minute, he also provided an assist to Cano to secure qualification to the semifinals.
Against Internacional, he delivered two more outstanding performances.
At the Maracanã, he provided an assist for Cano’s goal. The match ended 2-2, and the decision was completely open for Rio Grande do Sul.
At Beira-Rio, Fluminense saw the chance to play their second Libertadores final slipping away. That was until the 81st minute. However, the Predestined was on the field. He equalized the match and six minutes later, Cano secured the qualification.
Image: Gustavo Garcia
The time for the grand final had come.
Although Kennedy had delivered phenomenal performances, Diniz chose Keno, who had returned from an injury and had had great performances in the Brasileirão.
Furthermore, Keno’s playing style better suited Fluminense’s game plan, especially considering Boca Juniors as the opponent. Fernando Diniz needed speed on the wings to break down the Argentinians’ defense.
The Tricolor and Amarelinha coach’s idea paid off, as it was Keno who provided the assist for the first goal, scored by Cano, in an overlapping play down the right side of Fluminense’s attack.
With the game tied 1-1 and heading for extra time, Diniz called JK and told him he would come on for Ganso, which happened in the 80th minute.
But now, let’s take a look at the possible audio messages sent by John Kennedy to his friends when they asked him if he was nervous about the final:
I’m not anxious at all, man. I’m going to be the one to decide the game, man. I’m mentally prepared, bro. When I say I’m going to score, it gives me chills all over. The goal is mine, bro.
The final is a matter of honor, the goal is mine. I’m going to become an idol for this damn (Fluminense) club, at 21 years old.
And so it was. With another assist from Keno, in the ninth minute of extra time, the ball fell perfectly for him at the edge of the box. With all the determination in his veins, John Kennedy, the predestined one, unleashed a powerful shot with his right foot.
The ball hit the post and nestled in the back of the net.
The emotion was so overwhelming that he ran across the entire field to celebrate with the Fluminense fans.
For almost invading the Maracanã stands, the referee Wilmar Roldán showed him a second yellow card and sent JK off.
He watched from a distance the final minutes of the realization of his prophecy.
John Kennedy’s future belongs solely to him.
Just as he had the necessary confidence to be pivotal in winning the Copa Libertadores, he must also know that without dedication and hard work, no player gets very far.
He has known from a very young age what he is capable of. He scored goals in all the knockout stages of the Copa Libertadores.
Naturally, for a player with his decision-making ability, technical quality, and physical strength, the future should be in Europe.
Intelligent in reading the game, he has even played as a center-forward, a second striker, a midfielder, a left-winger, and even as a left-back.
He possesses all the main attributes sought after in the European market, in addition to being a young player, which is another attractive feature.
The main question now is to see his level of commitment, which Diniz was able to extract quite effectively.
In high-level European football, players must dedicate a lot of time and effort to learn all the tactical nuances imposed by the coaches.
If he can maintain this level of commitment, he will undoubtedly become an important player in the highest echelons of European football.
We will root for this scenario to come true.
Image: Lucas Merçon/FFC
Written by Vitor F L Miller.