Taking the year 2000 as the start date of Generation Z, ESDF begins its series looking at some of the best young prospects born in the new millennium.
Football and Brazil are inextricably intertwined, perhaps more so than any other nation. From the joga bonita of the 1970 and 1982 sides to the samba hips of Ronaldinho and Jairzinho and the goal-scoring exploits of Pele and Ronaldo, the five-time world champions have left an indelible mark on the global game.
Indeed, no country exports more talent abroad than Brazil. In May of last year, CIES Football Observatory published data indicating that 1,202 Brazilians are currently plying their trade on foreign shores. Even when the national team is not at its best, you can always guarantee a steady flow of elite players being produced.
The Seleção is in fine form right now under Tite ahead of Russia 2018, but there also seems to be a particularly promising new generation emerging. The majority of these teen tyros represented Brazil at last year’s U17 World Cup and are already beginning to make waves in the senior set-ups of their respective clubs.
While analysing or making predictions about players at such a young age is riddled with pitfalls, and many will inevitably fail to live up to their early promise, there is certainly cause for justifiable excitement. Here we look at the first batch of Brazilian starlets tipped for the top.
The world’s most expensive teenager is an obvious choice after his breath-taking transfer to Real Madrid and the 17-year-old is already starting to show why Los Merengues splashed the cash. Vinicius initially caught the eye as top scorer at the U17 Sudamericano with seven goals but, with the world’s eyes on him, initially endured a tough start to life at Flamengo.
Guilty of poor decision-making and unnecessary tricks in his opening appearances, the improvement in Vinicius is already clear to see. He already has a better goal to minute ratio than Neymar and Gabriel Jesus at the same age, with 10 senior strikes in 2,188 minutes, while both Messi and Ronaldo hadn’t seen anywhere near as much first team action at the same point in their careers.
The comparisons with Neymar are not going to go away as Vinicius prefers to drift in from the flanks and displays a similar inventiveness and fearlessness in his dribbling at speed. His recent brace against Emelec was a real coming-of-age performance to win the game from the bench and his first goal in particular provided the perfect example of Vinicius in full flight.
The second example against Vitoria shows not only Vinicius’ frightening dribbling skills but also his improved decision-making and his ability to turn provider as well as score goals.
Along with Lucas Paqueta and Felipe Vizeu, Vinicius is just one of a number of exciting talents currently on the book of Flamengo and, with a maiden Libertadores campaign ahead, it will be fascinating to see what he can do before his move to Real Madrid this summer.
Whisper it quietly but, with all the attention on the aforementioned Vinicius Jr, could Paulinho actually be the better prospect? The Vasco da Gama attacking midfielder was born just three days after his illustrious U17 teammate but actually beat him to the punch to become the first player born after 2000 to score in the Brasileirao last season.
Blessed with searing pace, clever off-the-ball movement and an eye for goal, Paulinho’s historic double against Atletico Mineiro showcased some of his abundant talent. The second goal in particular demonstrated the timing and speed of his run, as well as his powerful shot from distance.
Paulinho has begun the year in fine form and has impressed in the early stages of the Libertadores already. In the two legs against Universidad de Concepcion he sparkled, providing an assist in the first leg rout (see below) and a goal and assist in the home tie.
The 17-year-old starlet also grabbed a brave goal against Jorge Wilstermann as Vasco clung on to scrape through to the group stage. Should Paulinho continue this form then it won’t be long until we see him move for a sizeable fee to one of Europe’s biggest clubs.
It seems Real Madrid weren’t satisfied with snapping up one precocious Brazilian talent and they appear to have already made another pre-preemptive raid for another of the country’s best prospects. According to AS, Los Blancos have apparently agreed a verbal deal with Palmeiras’ diminutive playmaker Alan – one of the standouts at last year’s U17 World Cup.
In Brazil’s run to the semi-finals Alan displayed his excellent range of passing, exquisite vision and scampering dribbling. Although slight of physique and lacking in height, the scheming midfield more than held his own, scoring one goal and providing two assists.
Yet to make his senior debut for Palmeiras, he should nonetheless get some first team minutes this season despite the creative talent on the books of the Verdao. Real Madrid are not the only ones interested and they will have to fight off interest from Barcelona and Liverpool if they are to lure Alan to the Bernabeu.
One of last year’s biggest revelations was midfield metronome Arthur who sparkled in Gremio’s Libertadores winning campaign and secured himself a big money move to Barcelona. The classy 21-year-old won’t move to Catalonia until next year but Gremio may already have his long-term heir waiting in the wings.
A tall, composed young defensive midfielder with good passing over both short and long distances, Bobsin was an unsung hero in the Brazil U17 squad. He dictated the play from deep and shielded the defence, providing the security for the attacking players to flourish further up-field.
Compared to Edmilson and Sergio Busquets for his elegant style, Bobsin combines good upper body strength, ability to resist the press and reading of the game. His displays in the Copinha also showed that he can contribute in the attacking side of the game too, as shown by the assist versus Guarulhos below.
He might have to bide his time for the moment but is nevertheless one to keep tabs on. Barcelona are said to be following him already and we could one day see him paired alongside his former teammate Arthur either for club or country.
The first player on this list not to have featured for the Brazil U17 World Cup squad, Rodrygo is nevertheless extremely highly thought of in Brazil. A graduate of the Santos academy that has produced the likes of Robinho, Neymar and Gabigol in recent years, the 17-year-old forward is the next strike sensation off the production line and is expected to have a breakthrough year in 2018.
On their books since the age of nine, Rodrygo became the youngest player to play in the Libertadores when he came off the bench against Real Garcilaso and promptly became the youngest scorer in the competition with his goal against Nacional last week. His fantastic solo effort saw him beat the record previously held by former Santos alumni Diego.
Prolific at youth level, Rodrygo scored 24 goals in 22 games in the U17 Campeonato Paulista last year and already has two goals in the senior state league this year. Lithe, lightning-quick and ruthless in front of goal, the teen prodigy often likes to operate wide on the left but does his best work when in the penalty box.
Rodrygo’s explosion onto the scene, combined with the return of Gabigol and the emergence of Arthur Gomes and Yuri Alberto, means that Santos’ reputation for unearthing diamonds is as strong as ever.
Part 2 of the Brazil section of Generation Z will follow shortly