One of Liverpool’s most consistent midfielders, and now a UEFA Champions League winner, Fabinho was just 18 years old when he packed his bags and left Rio Janeiro in 2012.
Despite having never featured for Fluminense’s first team, he was sold to relative Portuguese minnows Rio Ave for a fee of around €750,000 in a move that had super-agent Jorge Mendes’ fingerprints all over it.
A month later, Fabinho was already on loan at Real Madrid, and he’s never looked back since. Last summer, he arrived at Anfield from Monaco for €50 million.
Even though his price tag impresses, he’s still far from being a household name in his native Brazil-after all, his fellow compatriots have never had a chance to watch him play league football on home soil.
There are dozens of other examples of players who never played in Brazil’s top flight before moving to Europe, including the likes of Roberto Firmino, Ederson and David Luiz.
In a way, the amount of talent is so high across the continent-sized country that European big guns are sometimes able to seduce them before Brazilian teams can even make a move to play them and retain them.
That partly explains why no other nation had more players starting games in the UEFA Champions League group stage this season-Brazil (45) was the most represented country, ahead of France (37), Spain (33), Netherlands (25), Germany (22) and England (20), per Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper.
For every Fabinho interception, there’s a Lucas Moura running up the other end to score. Brazil never stops producing mercurial talent.
And as the summer transfer window nears, Bleacher Report has wasted no time in compiling a list of seven young starlets from the Brasileirao who are destined to catch admiring glances from Europe.
We also asked Marcelo Teixeira, former chief South American scout for Manchester United and up until recently in charge of Fluminense’s famed academy Xerem, to give his verdict on each of them.
He’s widely recognized in the football industry for having South American talents all mapped out-Real Madrid’s Marcelo, Lyon’s Rafael Da Silva and West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini are among his former proteges.
RENAN LODI, 21, LEFT-BACK
Club: Athletico Paranaense
Brazilian he’s compared to: Alex Sandro
Potential destinations: Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Real Madrid, Napoli and Zenit
“He’s like an airplane,” summarised Paulo Vinicius Coelho, one of Brazil’s most respected pundits after witnessing another masterclass from Renan Lodi during Athletico Paranaense’s 2-0 win over Fluminense in early November.
That night, he scored the opener and set up the second, but his impact went way beyond that. The No. 12 stole the show with his explosive runs up the left flank, his breathtaking speed and precise crosses.
While most Brazilian full-backs are hailed for the attacking part of their game, Lodi is also solid defensively. Last year, he was a key member of the side that secured the Copa Sudamericanatitle. After lifting the trophy, head coach Tiago Nunes couldn’t contain himself. “This boy is a monster,” he said.
Despite still lacking experience, Athletico Paranaense have already turned down a €18 million offer from Atletico Madrid, as per UOL Esporte, but an improved bid is expected and an offer of around €25 million should get him to Spain.
The full-back is also at the centre of a club vs. country row. He was called up to the under-23 squad for the Toulon Tournament that has just started in France, but Athletico have refused to let him play. The Brazilian FA responded by banning him from Brasileirao games, but despite this setback, he is tipped to make his debut for the senior national team after the Copa America this summer.
Teixeira’s verdict: “Renan Lodi is a product of Athletico’s youth system. Since an early age, there was a lot of excitement about him. He’s an athlete with incredible power, a long stride, very interesting technical capacity. He’s the typical Brazilian full-back-the kind that goes forward with much power and quality. He’s another name that in [a] short time will be making noise worldwide.”
MATHEUS HENRIQUE, 21, DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDER
Brazilian he’s compared to: Arthur Melo
Potential destinations: Barcelona, Shakhtar Donetsk and Monaco
In mid-May, Gremio’s hot prospect Matheus Henrique posted a video sent by Barcelona’s centre-back Gerard Pique on his Instagram story. He quickly took it down, though, after it started spreading on social media. In the video, Pique said, “Hope to see you soon in Europe.” That was enough for the Brazilian’s club board to suspect that they were losing another player to the Catalan giants after having already seen Arthur Melo depart.
It wasn’t an unreasonable conclusion. With Matheus, Gremio are confident they’ve got a star in the making. The club have even held training sessions behind closed doors to protect him from European representatives.
Scouts will get a chance to watch him at the Toulon Tournament in France, though. He started Brazil’s first game against Guatemala, a 4-0 win on Sunday.
The comparisons with his predecessor Arthur are fair, but Matheus is considered an even more complete midfielder. Like Arthur, he dictates the tempo of the game with his outrageous passing but seems more comfortable moving forward and breaking into the box.
“The difference is that I attack more [than him], especially because I started as a midfielder who could also play on the flanks,” Matheus has said.
Teixeira’s verdict: “Matheus Henrique has a curious history. He was very young when he played the Copa Sao Paulo tournament for Nacional in 2013 and was immediately recruited by Gremio. He spent some time there but did not stay long [and] was released a while after and signed for Sao Caetano. He debuted for their first team, and then Gremio decided to bring him back. He’s a dynamic player, very active in the game, currently touted as the new Arthur in Porto Alegre. He has a refined class, is very fast, slim, a box-to-box player.”
ANTONY, 19, WINGER
Club: Sao Paulo
Brazilian he’s compared to: David Neres
Potential destinations: Arsenal, Lyon and Ajax
It’s not the sort of move you expect from a 19-year-old youngster with fewer than 50 professional matches, but Sao Paulo’s highly-rated winger Antony surprised everyone by releasing an ebook about his career at the end of April. And he even got Tottenham forward Lucas Moura to write the preface. Spurs’ Champions League semi-final hat-trick hero shares the same agent as the teenager and has been advising him recently.
After Eder Militao, David Neres and Casemiro, Antony is tipped to be the next big thing to come out of Cotia, the most impressive academy in South American football.
In a recent interview with UOL Esporte, Fortaleza manager Rogerio Ceni, a legend of the club, predicted Antony to be “the best newcomer of the Brazilian league.” He helped his team reach the Sao Paulo State Championship final and has been heavily linked with a move to Europe this summer.
Sao Paulo have been criticised for letting Antony travel for the Toulon Tournament while the Brazilian League is still ongoing-media and fans are saying they are prioritising a sale, but the team’s board have insisted he will only leave for his buyout clause, which is a chunky €50 million.
The left-footed winger possesses electric pace and ability to beat defenders with ease. He has all the attributes to emulate Moura and fulfill his potential on a bigger stage.
Teixeira’s verdict: “Antony is a magical player-he’s the player you expect to do different things, very technical, inventing dribbles, an absolute pleasure to watch playing. Above all, he’s really intelligent and promising. I think he’s one of the brightest stars of Brazil’s new crop of youngsters and has everything to burst on the world scene with his skills.”
ERIC RAMIRES, 18, CENTRAL MIDFIELDER
Brazilian he’s compared to: Ramires
Potential destinations: Arsenal, Atletico de Madrid and Borussia Dortmund
It says a lot about Eric Ramires’ potential that he’s touted to become the most expensive player ever sold by Bahia-the club that produced the likes of Daniel Alves and Anderson Talisca.
The 18-year-old starlet made his senior debut in September, but it didn’t take long for him to impress. A week after his first appearance, he humiliated former international Felipe Melo to setup a goal against Palmeiras and introduce himself to the country’s football fans. He has not stopped since then.
The versatile midfielder, nicknamed, as you might have guessed, after the former Chelsea and Benfica star, rose to prominence with some fine displays in the Brazilian league last season, drawing interest from European powerhouses.
Arsenal are among the sides who have been watching him closely and inquired about his €10 million price-tag.
“It’s very good to know that Arsenal have come here to watch me play,” he said recently.
It doesn’t come as a surprise at all. Ramires has a remarkable calmness and a bold self-assurance for a player born in 2000. He’s also technically gifted, blessed with brilliant ball control and an eye for a pass.
Teixeira’s verdict: “Ramires is a typical player from the north east of Brazil, with very interesting technical ability, dribbling [and is] very good in one-on-one situations. He secured a starting place at Bahia at a very early age, doing really well in big games and showcasing his talent on more than one occasion.”
PEDRO, 21, FORWARD
Brazilian he’s compared to: Fred
Potential destinations: Real Madrid, Manchester United, Inter Milan, Sevilla, Porto and Bordeaux
Last season, while watching Fluminense take on Internacional from a box at the Maracana stadium, Brazil’s head coach Tite could not contain himself as Pedro collected the ball with his back-to-goal, spun away from his marker and almost scored. “Joga muito, joga muito [‘quality play, quality play’, a mantra he repeats whenever he watches someone playing well],” Tite was spotted saying.
A few days later, Pedro earned his first international call-up and featured on the front cover of Spanish newspaper AS after being linked with Real Madrid. He has all the attributes to be the target man Brazil have been searching for.
However, a long-term knee injury sidelined him for seven months.
Pedro’s now back and remains on Tite’s radar. The 57-year-old reportedly recommended his inclusion in the squad for the Toulon Tournament. With Gabriel Jesus not in his best form, Pedro could become the front man Brazil so badly missed in the World Cup.
Manchester United are the latest club linked with Pedro, as per Globo Esporte, and it is worth nothing that one of his agents, Stefano Castagna, is based in the UK and helped broker Alisson Becker’s move from Roma to Liverpool.
Teixeira’s verdict: “Pedro is the sort of No. 9 that we haven’t seen in Brazilian football for a long time-a striker that occupies the box with immense resources to finish with his right foot, left foot, head. He’s extremely intelligent, anticipates centre-backs, scores goals, assists [and] has very good positioning.”
BRUNO GUIMARAES, 21, CENTRAL MIDFIELDER
Club: Athletico Paranaense
Brazilian he’s compared to: Fernandinho
Potential destinations: Chelsea, Watford, Shakhtar Donetsk and Lille
A former water polo goalkeeper, super-agent Giuliano Bertolucci is the go-to guy for Brazilian players wanting a big move. He’s been recently involved in Eder Militao’s €50 million move to Real Madrid and David Luiz’s new two-year deal with Chelsea, but there’s much more to come this summer with David Neres, Philippe Coutinho and other in-demand clients. Among them is Bruno Guimaraes, a holding midfielder who has been outstanding for Athletico Paranaense.
He was pivotal in the 3-0 thrashing of Boca Juniors in the Copa Libertadores this season, providing an assist and receiving a standing ovation as he was replaced in the second half.
Since early this year, his entourage has welcomed representatives from Chelsea, Shakhtar Donetsk and other clubs in their box at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba. They were all interested in confirming the potential of the 21-year-old who plays like a veteran.
Strong, tall and two-footed, Guimaraes is the complete package-he can tackle but also find the right pass to split a team.
Teixeira’s verdict: “Having come through the youth ranks of Sao Paulo-based Osasco Audax, it didn’t take long for Bruno to secure a starting spot at Athletico. He’s had an impressive development after shining during the Copa Sudamericana title last season. He’s very consistent, always plays the same way, hardly has a bad game. He can defend, attack, contribute in the buildup.”
JEAN LUCAS, 20, DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDER
Club: Santos (on loan from Flamengo)
Brazilian he’s compared to: Cesar Sampaio
Potential destinations: Juventus, Valencia and Porto
Brought on loan from Flamengo, Jean Lucas’ arrival at Santos was announced on social media with a photo of him wearing the club’s jersey under a suit. An elegant midfielder, he was part of the same generation as Vinicius Jr. and Lucas Paqueta but had to temporarily leave the Rio de Janeiro-based side this season to get more playing time and justify the hype around him.
There’s something strangely old-fashioned about the 20-year-old’s game. Jean Lucas stands out for his passing ability and long stride, sometimes breaking into the box like defensive midfielders used to do in the 1970s and 80s.
He has been developing impressively under the tutelage of Santos’ Argentinean coach Jorge Sampaoli, who became one of his admirers at Vila Belmiro.
Sampaoli is obviously not alone. Valencia and Juventus have already asked about him and had offers turned down by Flamengo.
Teixeira’s verdict: “Jean Lucas has a technique that is sometimes very difficult to find in his position. His first job is to defend, but he’s also superb in moving the ball between the lines, driving the team forward, assisting his team-mates, shooting from distance. He won a lot of trophies and enjoyed a successful history with Flamengo’s youth teams.”
Other players to keep an eye out for: Pedrinho (Corinthians), Jean Pyerre (Gremio), Alerrandro (Atletico Mineiro), Artur Victor (Bahia), Marcos Paulo (Fluminense), Nonato (Internacional), Marrony (Vasco), Leo Duarte (Flamengo), Kaio Jorge (Santos), Iago (Internacional).
Note: Players who have already signed deals with European clubs-such as Rodrygo (Santos but signed to Real Madrid) and Joao Pedro (Fluminense but signed to Watford)-were not considered. Follow Marcus on Twitter: @_marcus_alves