A certain 17-year-old kid from Brazil, more specifically Santos, has been doing the rounds in the footballing world over the past few
months. Here’s a Scout Report on the latest sensation from the nation that produces the most exciting talents in the world. His name is Gabriel Barbosa, commonly known by the nickname Gabigol.
WHO IS GABIGOL?
As Christopher Atkins informed readers in this piece for SambaFoot, Gabigol’s career started off at a Futsal tournament where he was representing São Paulo FC, and Brazilian legend Zito was the coach of the Santos side. Zito witnessed the then 8-year-old kid doing wonders for his rivals throughout the tournament, including a 5 goal display against his own team. He invited Gabriel for a trial at Santos, eventually signing up the kid to the club that has produced some extraordinary talents like Diego, Robinho, Ganso and Neymar over the years. The kid was so special that Santos took his whole family from São Bernardo to live with him.
Wagner Ribeiro, the agent of Gabriel [also manages the careers of Neymar, Robinho and Lucas Moura] was definitely betting on Gabriel to be a success when he says this (as mentioned by Sean Mullan ar SambaFoot): “He has Ganso’s left-foot, Neymar’s technique, and the speed of Lucas. I had made the same comparison with Neymar, saying that he had the vision of Kaká, Robinho’s skill and the finishing ability of Ronaldo. Soon with Gabriel, this will also be seen”
Fellow Brasileirão outfit Flamengo had approached Wagner Ribeiro to see if they can steal the precious diamond from Santos, but the kid himself rejected the offer saying that he should be grateful towards the club which gave him the opportunity to showcase his talent.
Santos finally tied down Gabriel to a 3-year professional deal in September 2012, including a mighty release-clause of €50 million. The club holds 60% of his economic-rights, and an option to buy the remaining 40% from his family. Valdemír Almeida also said that his son signed the contract by refusing proposals from European clubs.
Now let me take you all to May 2013, when Santos faced Flamengo at the Mané Garrincha Stadium, considered to be Neymar’s farewell game before taking off to Spain and team-up with Lionel Messi at Barcelona. With around 20 minutes left on the clock and the score still 0-0, the then Santos manager Muricy Ramalho introduced 16-year-old Gabriel Barbosa to the field, to make his eagerly awaited début. The boy was deployed on the right side of the pitch and even came close to breaking the deadlock. I was fairly impressed with his display, as the kid showed some maturity and was making intelligent runs both on and off the ball.
Now taking you to Santos’ Copa do Brasil 1st-leg Round of 16 fixture against Grêmio last August. Gabriel wasn’t even included in the
match-day squad and came to the Vila Belmiro to support his teammates after playing PlayStation all afternoon. It was then he was instructed to get ready for the match by the coach because Victor Andrade had to be excluded from the squad in the last minute due to sickness. Might sound like a joke, but Gabriel didn’t even have his playing-boots with him. He came on as a late substitute for Neílton with 15 minutes left to play, but it was all what the 16-year-old needed to make an instant impact and become the hero of the night at the Vila Belmiro. Gabigol expertly lost his marker to get at the end of a low-cross driven in by Montillo from the left-hand side, and took a shot with his left-foot to put the ball past Grêmio goalkeeper Dida, yes you guessed it, the one-time FIFA World Cup winner with Brazil.
Brazilian media outlets were quick to compare his performance to none other than his idol, Neymar. Gabigol took fewer minutes than Neymar and was even younger than his idol when scoring his first goal for the Peixe.
As a reward for his heroic display in the cup game, Muricy Ramalho handed Gabriel his first league start against Vitória. Same was the outcome, as the kid needed just 9 minutes to put the ball into the back of the net.
COMPARISONS WITH NEYMAR
Just like his idol, Gabriel started by showing off his skills in Futsal, and comparisons have already been made between Gabigol & Neymar. First of all, Neymar and Gabriel are different kind of players. Gabriel is a physically stronger, two-footed forward player possessing the quality of an intelligent number 9 making clever runs through the defense and someone who uses his great speed to penetrate into the box and finish off a move. His eye for goal was pretty obvious ever since his young days, scoring for fun for Santos’ youth teams, hence the nickname Gabigol. It’s like a routine to compare all the promising talents from Brazil and the Peixe youth system to Neymar, same is the case with Gabigol. Unlike other overhyped Brazilian talents who fail even before they make it to the top level, Gabigol seems to take the hype in his stride and has shown that he can handle senior football aswell, compared to, say, Atlético Paranaense’s Nathan and Mosquito. Although he recently got a somewhat Neymar-esque Mohawk and tattoos, he concentrates on his performances when on the pitch.
Gabigol is extraordinarily talented as he combines his strength, athleticism and technical ability on the field, we easily tend to forget the unbelievable fact that he’s just 17 years old.
IMPACT DURING PAULISTAO 2014
After a pretty disappointing Brasileirão season, Santos board, joining hands with Doyen Group, gave their fans a 2014 treat by landing Leandro Damião from Internacional – an experienced high-profile Brazilian striker who was on the sights of European clubs until last summer. But so far, things haven’t worked out as it was supposed to be, with Damião struggling to make an impact. From what I’ve seen over the past years, it’s a different approach to Santos’ game when Damião plays. Despite the poor display from him, Oswaldo de Oliveira lead Santos to their sixth consecutive Paulistão Final, thanks to Gabriel, 2014 revelation Geuvânio, and club captain Cícero. During the tournament, against Botafogo-SP, Gabriel scored twice and wrote his name in the Santos history books by becoming the scorer of the club’s 12,000th goal, for which he was honored.
Being the biggest signing in Brazilian football history, Damião has been automatically guaranteed a start in every game by Oswaldo. He even dropped the in form and proven forward Gabigol for few games, although it was pretty obvious that the team looked more focused and stable when the 17-year-old kid plays, which wasn’t the case with Damião. Oswaldo even shifted Gabigol from the striker role to a playmaking role, only to accommodate Damião as the lone striker. Still, it didn’t stop the kid from scoring goals and impressing consistently. There’s been instances like the supporters singing Gabigol’s name in the stands during a match where he was benched and after getting ‘bored’ by seeing Damião upfront.
Gabriel’s performance in the classic against Corinthians this year is enough to realise his potential and ability. It was largely received by the crowd and fans in social networking sites.
Eyebrows were raised regarding Oswaldo’s decision to drop Gabriel to the bench for the 2nd-leg of their Paulistão Final against Ituano, where the Alvinegro side lost to the 4th division club on penalties. Oswaldo has stated that despite being 17, Gabigol is versatile and can operate in a number of roles – one of the excuses used by the coach to keep Damião in the starting XI – but moreover it shows the incredible quality of Gabigol. With 9 goals, he was the club’s joint top-scorer in the Paulistão and also saved his team by scoring late on in the opening match of the 2014 Brasileirão campaign against Sport Recife. Gabriel has registered 10 goals this year, more than Fred and Jô, both on their way to wear the country’s shirt in the upcoming World Cup – once again shows the potential of the boy.
With Santos hoping to push for the league title this year, Gabigol is expected to be one of their trump cards during the campaign. But we should wait and see if he can replicate his tremendous state-league form in the national-league aswell, because there’s a quality difference between the teams participating.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR GABIGOL?
As part of his idol’s dream move to the Camp Nou for €57 million, Barça managed to get a first-option on three of Santos’ prospects – Gabriel, Victor Andrade and Giva – for which they paid a further €8 million. I’m not at all exaggerating when I say that Gabriel has proved that he’s far, far better than the other two, who are elder too. With all the complications regarding Neymar’s transfer to Barcelona, I honestly doubt if Santos would be willing to do a deal with the Catalans, although we can’t rule out the possibility. Recently I was informed by a friend in São Paulo, also a Santista, that Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid have already enquired about Gabigol, but he’s not leaving anytime soon, as stated by the player himself.