Tom Robinson compiles a list of the top 5 U-22 Players of the 2017 edition of the Brasileiro
Early runaway leaders Corinthians survived a second half dip in form to secure their seventh Brasileiro title with three games to spare. Fabio Carille’s men flew out the blocks, opening up a significant halfway stage advantage and ultimately none of the challengers, many of whom distracted by continental ambitions, were able to reel them back in.
Despite the lack of a genuine title race the Brasileiro did, as ever, showcase a number of exciting young talents. Arguably the most high profile breakthrough youngster came in the form of Flamengo’s wonderkid Vinicius Junior but, for all the hype and attention, the 17-year-old’s cameos from the bench didn’t merit a spot in the list below.
So who are the young players looking to follow in the footsteps of previous breakout stars like Gabriel Jesus and Jorge? Here are five of the best from this year’s Brasileiro…
5. Richarlison // 20 // Fluminense
Much like Thiago Maia and Douglas Luiz, Richarlison may have only played half the season but made a big impact before he left Fluminense. One of the few bright spots in a disappointing Brazil U20 performance at the Sudamericano, the livewire forward hit the back of the net 5 times in 14 appearances before his move to Watford.
To anyone who watched the Brasileiro it will come as no surprise to see that Richarlison has hit the ground running in the Premier League, albeit perhaps no-one would have guessed quite how well he’d adapt. The pace, movement, work rate and knack of getting into the right spaces and the right time he displayed for Fluminense have all translated well to English football and won’t have gone unnoticed by some of the bigger clubs in Europe.
4. Matheus Fernandes // 19 // Botafogo
Young defensive midfielder Matheus Fernandes had a fantastic debut campaign in the centre of the park for Botafogo, helping the Fogao to a tenth place finish and a surprise run to the quarter-finals of the Libertadores. They may not have been the prettiest side to watch but they were solid and effective and Fernandes slotted in without any fuss and quickly became an influential figure in the side. While Fluminense’s Wendel generated a lot of early praise, Fernandes has been a more consistent performer flying under-the-radar across the course of the season.
A rangy, mobile midfielder with great tackling ability, plus the pace and ability to surge forward with the ball, Fernandes has similar qualities to Manchester City’s Fernandinho and is already attracting interest from Barcelona among others. In fact, Fernandes ranked in the top five for successful tackles per game with 3.6 – all the more impressive when you consider he only picked up five yellow cards in his maiden top flight season. Named by FourFourTwo as one of the best teenagers in world football, it’s been a meteoric rise already but there’s plenty more to come.
3. Lucas Verissimo // 22 // Santos
After being a fairly attacking outfit last year, Santos have struggled in front of goal in 2017, averaging only just over a goal a game. Thankfully, their defence has been the second strongest in the league, conceding just 31 goals, and a big part has been down to young defender Lucas Verissimo.
A tall, ball-playing centre back, Verissimo played 33 times and formed a good partnership alongside David Braz at the heart of the defence and no player averaged more clearances per game than the 22-year-old stopper.
An impressive passer of the ball too, he ended the season with an 88% pass completion rate and his accurate long balls were important for Santos’ counter attacks. Honourable mentions go to Botafogo’s Igor Rabello and Atletico Mineiro’s Gabriel who also impressed at centre back.
2. Guilherme Arana // 20 // Corinthians
One position that Brazil has no problems in producing a long line of players for is full back and in Guilherme Arana they look to have another excellent option for the future. Part of the meanest defence in the league, Arana featured 32 times at left back as Corinthians comfortably won the league, scoring twice and laying on four assists.
An attacking full back with a real swagger to his game, Arana uses the ball well and only Arthur had more completed passes. Arana also has great stamina and is fond of a piece of skill or shot from range, while these forward thinking tendencies were demonstrated for the Brazil U20s when he scored 2 goals at the Sudamericano. Sevilla look to have won the race to sign him and should move to Andalucia in January.
1. Arthur // 21 // Gremio
From relative anonymity a year ago to being one of the hottest properties in Brazilian football, dynamic midfielder Arthur has been the revelation of the season. His metronomic passing (93.1% success rate on average) has been essential to Gremio’s high tempo, possession-based style that has seen them emerge as the Libertadores champions.
Arthur’s performances earned him a call up to the Brazil national team and he could even be a dark horse for one of the few remaining spots in Tite’s World Cup squad. What makes Arthur such an interesting talent in the context of the Brazilian game is his ability to receive the ball under pressure, use his excellent balance and awareness to take an opponent out of the game and then drive into space or create good passing angles. This is what has lead to comparisons with Spanish midfielders such as Andres Iniesta or Thiago Alcantara.
Now attracting interest from many of the top clubs in Spain and England, Arthur recently renewed his contract with Gremio until 2021 including a €50mil buyout clause. Any suitors will have to fork out a handsome sum if they are to prize him away from Porto Alegre.