This is the first of two articles in which I will highlight some of the best talent aged 21 or under currently on show in Brazil. I have avoided the more established players like Rodrigo Caio, Luan and Yerry Mina, who have already played for their national teams and have been linked to moves abroad for several years.
Read on, you will definitely be hearing more about these lads in the near future:
Guilherme Arana – Corinthians
The young left-back has perhaps been the stand out player of the season for the club who currently sit comfortably top of the league, already nine points clear of third-place Flamengo after 11 games.
Arana made his debut in 2015 as Corinthians won the title but it is only this year he has really cemented a place amongst the starting eleven. He is a quick attacking threat and crosses the ball beautifully. Just ask ex-Manchester City man Jô who has benefitted from said deliveries to become Corinthians’ top-scorer this term.
Arana has a penchant for tricks and flicks and is particularly fond of nutmegs and a move Brazilians call a chapéu, or ‘hat’, where the player flicks the ball over an opponent’s head before running around them and collecting it on the other side.
He would have to work on the defensive side of his game were he to move to Europe but he is learning fast and is still only 20. Fábio Carille, the Corinthians head coach, is an expert at organising a miserly back-line, of which Arana is an integral part, and on the odd occasions his does make an error his extraordinary acceleration usually comes to his rescue. He also has a peculiarly Brazilian habit of celebrating as if he has scored a goal when he makes an important block, tackle or interception.
There has been reported interest from Manchester United, Bordeaux, Internazionale and Sevilla but Arana says he dreams of playing for one of Real Madrid or Barcelona. Corinthians will be under intense pressure to sell but the hierarchy have guaranteed Carille that he will not be allowed to leave until January 2018, after the end of the Brazilian league season.
Arthur – Grêmio
Grêmio currently sit second in the table and have been by far the best attacking team of 2017, thanks in no small part to their revelation of the season, 20-year-old central midfielder Arthur.
Promoted permanently from the under-23 side to the first-team squad at the beginning of the year, Arthur made an immediate impression. Put into the team for the game against Guaraní in the Copa Libertadores, when Grêmio sent out a side mostly composed of reserves, he didn’t misplace a single pass and provided an assist for Pedro Rocha. Since then he has proved undroppable, boasting the best pass completion rate in the league and turning himself into the apple of the Grêmio faithful’s eye.
Arthur is a cerebral number 8 in the style of Thiago Alcántara and has already drawn comparisons with the Spanish international in the Brazilian media. He always looks to pass and move into space to receive the ball before laying it off and getting on his bike once more. He can control games from the centre of midfield, gliding across the turf, endlessly moving the ball from one side to the other and probing for fissures in the opposition backline.
Atlético Madrid are apparently already circling and I’d expect a few more big European clubs will be sending scouts to southern Brazil in the near future.
Wendel – Fluminense
In a recent Copa Sul-Americana game against Universidad de Quito Wendel received the ball in acres of room about 35 yards from goal. Universidad de Quito clearly hadn’t done their homework, but the Fluminense fans in the stadium sensed what was coming. Wendel took one step forward before unleashing a ballistic missile of a shot towards goal. It crashed off the underside bar and into the back of the net, which is probably just as well. If the woodwork hadn’t been there to slow its progress the ball may well have removed the head of someone stood on the terraces behind the goal.
It was the second time in a week that the 19-year-old central midfielder had found the onion bag from that sort of range, after a goal in the league against São Paulo, confirming his reputation and one of Brazilian football’s most rapidly rising stars.
A late developer, Wendel was only signed by Fluminense at the age of 17, but his rise since then has been meteoric. He excelled in the youth ranks of the famous Rio club and in February of this year was handed his chance among the professionals as Fluminense fielded a reserve team in the Campeonato Carioca. It was a chance he did not waste.
A classic box-to-box midfielder, Wendel has had a sensational first semester in 2017. He runs tirelessly throughout every game, tackling, passing, harrying opponents, driving the ball forward and increasingly making late runs into the penalty area. He was particularly impressive in the 2-2 draw with local rivals Flamengo in June, when he put in a man-of-the-match performance and opened the scoring after a terrific one-two with fellow Fluminense youth product Gustavo Scarpa.
According to reports in Brazil, Sporting Lisbon have made an official bid whilst Barcelona and Milan have also been sniffing around asking about first preference contracts for the youngster. Fluminense have so far resisted the temptation to cash in but a trip across the Atlantic will surely come sooner rather than later.