Player Profiles: Luan

Brazilian players, as usual, were upping sticks and making their ways across the Atlantic throughout the European summer transfer window that (slammed, it has to slam doesn’t it?) shut last Wednesday.

There were lucrative moves for Gabriel Jesús, Gabriel Barbosa and Douglas Santos, three of the starlets of Brazil’s wildly overhyped Olympic triumph, all of whom will be making their bows on the European stage in the relatively-near future.

Believe it or not, however, there are some players of reasonable quality still left playing in the país do futebol, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to cast an eye over some youngsters the European giants’ scouts will be watching for potential transfers in upcoming windows. I start here with a look at Luan Guilherme de Jesús Vieira, or Luan to you and me, another star of the gold medal-winning team.

The lithe forward drew the attention of the football world after his dynamic performances helped to reignite a faltering Brazil team at the Olympic tournament and is certainly one of the hottest talents still plying his trade in South America. He is currently playing for Porto Alegre’s Grêmio, one of several teams in contention for this year’s Brasileirão title.

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Luan with Neymar and Gabriel Jesús during Brazil’s Olympic semi-final win over Honduras

Luan didn’t start playing 11-a-side football until he was 19, having grown up in the indoor futsal halls of São Paulo state. His close control and ability to manipulate a football with grace and ease are characteristic of players brought up on the small-sided indoor game.

In 2012 he started playing for lower-league club Tanabi before moving to América-SP in his native São José do Rio Preto and then Catanduvense. There he was quickly spotted by Grêmio who took him south to play for their under-20 side.

For the junior team he notched up 17 goals and 13 assists in just 29 starts (he played 37 times in total including sub appearances). The Grêmio academy director Júnior Chávare said in 2014 that “Luan knows how to play inside the area but he also knows how to come in search of the game. He is a real garçom (meaning waiter, a term used to describe players who lay on high-quality chances for others)”.

He has the ability to pull into space away from the centre-halves and play defence splitting through balls on the ground or over the top. Luan also possesses a deadly free-kick, both in terms of shooting directly at goal and delivering crosses for his team mates.

His performances in the youth ranks earned him his debut for the senior side in January 2014 during the Gauchão, Rio Grande do Sul’s state championship, in which he went on to make 14 appearances and score thrice.

Since this he has been a fixture of the Grêmio first team, scoring four goals in 24 games in the 2014 Brasileiro Série A, ten in 33 in 2015 and six in 16 so far this year. He has played in the Copa Libertadores as well, giving him experience at the highest level of South American club football.

As you can see he is not the most prolific marksman, bearing in mind the top goal-scorer in the Brasileirão usually bags somewhere around 19-22 goals. However, it is only when his goals are combined with his assists and all-round link play that you get some idea of his value to the team.

In the Olympics the 23-year-old played in one of the two central attacking roles in Brazil’s wonderfully fluid 4-2-4, interchanging positions and drifting wide to assist Gabriels Jesus and Barbosa in creating dangerous two-on-ones.

Rogério Micale, Brazil’s coach for the Olympics, coaxed some wonderful performances from Luan playing him as a provider for Neymar, Jesus and Barbosa with the licence to swap positions with Neymar in particular, the two taking it in turns to drop deep and pick the ball up from the midfield. After his performances in Rio he was unlucky to miss out on Tite’s first Brazil squad for the qualifiers against Ecuador and Colombia.

He could potentially excel in Europe playing as a second striker, rather than an attacking midfielder, but a provident forward like the Beardsley to a Rush or the Sheringham to a Shearer. Like Beardsley he has the ability to carry the ball past players, despite not appearing to move particularly fast, and put the ball on a plate for others to finish.

He has steadily improved over the three seasons he has played in the Brasileirão and his stats (all provided by the wonderful WhoScored.com) reflect this. As seen before, his goal ratio has shot up since his first top-flight campaign and this year stands at a little over one-in-three.

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Luan in action for Grêmio against Corinthians

This increase is a reflection of his shots per game average, which has risen from 1.9 to 3.6 over the same period, with a very high 2.1 shots per game coming from outside the area this season. Perhaps looking forward he will need to improve in this area, being more patient and waiting for higher-quality shooting opportunities to present themselves.

In his first season Luan only notched one assist but managed seven in 33 in his second season and already has three in 16 this time round. His completed dribbles have also risen steadily from 1.2 to 1.6 per 90 minutes. For comparison Philippe Coutinho completed 1.8 dribbles per game for Liverpool last season.

Luan’s increased participation in decisive moments has also been reflected in his WhoScored average rating. This has gone from 6.74 in 2014, to 7.03 in 2015 and finally to 7.39 this year. There is still room for improvement for the young attacker but he is clearly moving in the right direction.

Barcelona, Liverpool and Manchester United were linked with the striker over the summer, with Liverpool reportedly bidding a ridiculous £30 million,  a rumour denied by the Grêmio hierarchy. It is certain that Europe’s bigger clubs will be watching his performances over the coming months, with the most likely outcome being a move in January, at the end of the Brazilian season. Barcelona might be a step too far at the moment but he could do well at a mid-range Champions League club.

If one of the old continent’s big-boys decided to take a punt they would not just be buying a youngster with potential but a player with substantial experience at the top-level of the South American club game and a nascent international career. He is a player who is consistently improving and anything around €20 million would surely look excellent value for money.

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