Last Wednesday evening Grêmio travelled to Rio de Janeiro to take on Botafogo in the first leg of this year’s Copa Libertadores quarter-final. The game finished nil apiece, leaving the prospect of a mouth-watering second game in Porto Alegre this week. Grêmio went into that first match without their principal attacking threat in Luan and best defender, Pedro Geromel, so a goalless draw would have pleased manager Renato Portaluppi. Even more satisfying for their gregarious head coach, however, was the performance of 21-year-old central midfielder Arthur.
After the game Portaluppi proffered the opinion that “Arthur is another hen from Grêmio’s golden eggs.” Renato would know, he was once one of those eggs, the most golden of all in the opinion of most Grêmio fans. Others to have hatched at the Porto Alegre club more recently include Lucas Lima, Douglas Costa and the inimitable Ronaldinho. The latter, at his peak, was perhaps more of a strutting rooster.
Arthur, Portaluppi continued, “is really good. He plays with ease.” The game on Wedenesday was perhaps the finest of his still-nascent career. He was majestic in the middle of midfield for Grêmio, taking full control of the game and seizing the responsibility of being his team’s main man in the absence of Luan and Geromel.
Arthur, however, is far from typical of the central midfielders that Brazil has produced over the last two decades. Normally Brazilian central midfielders are split into two categories, volantes and meias. The former are out-and-out destroyers in the mould of Gilberto Silva or Felipe Melo, running from side to side, screening the back four. The latter are attacking midfileders, charged with creating chances for their forwards but usually unwilling to help out at the back. It is an unhelpful and outdated distinction that makes little sense in the context of modern football, where teams are expected to attack and defend with 11 players.
Arthur fits into neither category, playing with equal poise at both ends of the pitch. He is already master of making short, simple passes and moving into space to receive the ball again before laying it off and getting on his bike once more. He merely lends the ball, rather than giving it to his team-mates.
It sounds simple but there are few players in Brazil who do it as well as Arthur. On Wednesday it appeared as if there was an elastic cord attaching his foot to the ball, with it bouncing straight back to him after every pass he made. Every single one of those passes he made reached it’s intended destination, too, making it the second game in this year’s Libertadores in which Arthur has completed 100% of his attempted passes.
That is the reason the coaches nicknamed him Iniesta when he was learning his trade in Grêmio’s youth system. In an interview with Grêmio TV, Arthur stated that he idolises the Barcelona legend, seeking to model his game on Iniesta’s. He seems to be going the right way about it and currently has the highest pass completion percentage of any player in the Brazilian league.
Tite, the Brazil manager, was at the game on Wednesday and on Friday announced Arthur as part of his 24-man squad for the upcoming qualifiers against Bolivia and Chile. He seems the most natural available replacement for Renato Augusto in Tite’s current system and, if his performances in this year’s Libertadores are anything to go by, will not be phased by the step up in class and pressure.
He is reportedly being closely monitored by Atlético Madrid and it seems like Spanish football would be a perfect fit for Arthur’s qualities. At his best he can make it look easy not only for himself but for those around him, carrying the ball forward, pushing and pulling his team into dangerous areas of the pitch.
Despite not being particularly quick or athletic he is also capable of beating his marker in tight situations. This was demonstrated perfectly in the first half on Wednesday when he created the best chance of the game for himself. He intercepted an Igor Rabello clearance just outside the penalty area before running directly at the heart of the back four, leaving Rabello and his central defensive partner Joel Carli in a twisted mess before drawing a smart save from Gatito Fernandez.
Grêmio will be hoping to go all the way in the Libertadores this year and if they do Arthur may well be the name on everybody’s lips by the time the next transfer window rolls around.
(Featured image: Lucas Uebel/Grêmio)