Gabriel Barbosa: The Arsenal-linked Santos star who could be even better than Neymar
The 60-second story
- Date of birth: August 30, 1996
- Place of birth: Sao Paulo, Brazil
- Height: 5ft 9in
- Position: Forward
- Current club: Santos (114 apps, 39 goals)
- International: Brazil U23
As one of Brazil's biggest clubs, Santos have a proud history of producing world-class players to complement their glittering trophy cabinet. Pele, Carlos Alberto and Dunga all played for Peixe (the Fish) for long periods during the 20th century, and in recent years Robinho and Neymar have also followed through the club’s ranks before going on to bigger and better things.
Now there is a new name to look out for. European audiences may not be too familiar with him yet, but 19 year-old Gabriel Barbosa is the next big thing to come out of Santos, with many believing that he may even eclipse Neymar, the man he is frequently compared to.
Santos have been aware of his potential for years. Gabriel, who has been at the club since he was eight, had a £40 million buyout clause inserted into his first professional contract before he had even made an appearance for the first team. Since then he has slowly but surely improved, becoming the club’s most prized asset and attracting the attention of scouts from across the globe. As is the way nowadays, it shouldn't be too long before the teenager makes the move to Europe – work permit permitting, as ever – with many of its biggest clubs interested in signing one of the world's hottest young talents.
Why you need to know him
Last month, Gabriel stated that his dream is to play alongside compatriot Neymar at Spanish giants Barcelona. In many way, that would be the logical next step for a player who shares so much with the Blaugrana's No. 11: both are fast, technically gifted and have an eye for goal. But Arsenal are said to be keen too according to reports that circulated on deadline day, with Arsene Wenger & Co. said to have been tracking the young Brazilian.
Gabriel scored 21 goals in 56 games in all competitions in 2014, while this year he has netted 17 in 47 – impressive returns given that he is often deployed out wide. (By comparison, Neymar struck 42 in 60 in the season he turned 18 – so there's still a way to go yet before he's surpassing his predecessor.)
As part of the deal that took Neymar to Camp Nou, European champions Barça acquired a first option on Gabriel, so it would be no surprise to see him lining up alongside Lionel Messi et al in the near future.
Despite not playing as the central striker, Gabriel was Santos' joint top scorer in all competitions in 2014
Just like the player he's regularly compared, it is Gabriel’s technical ability that immediately catches the eye. The 19-year-old is capable of simply drifting past opponents with ease, his neat footwork and close control making it all look easy.
He is also a distinguished finisher who rarely panics when chances come his way. Despite not playing as the central striker, Gabriel was Santos's joint-top scorer in all competitions in 2014, and is second so far this term. His strikes have helped the club win the Campeonato Paulista and reach the semi-finals of the Copa do Brasil. There’s a reason why he’s been nicknamed 'Gabigol'.
As well as his composure in front of goal, Gabriel’s work ethic and passing ability have endeared him to the club's fans and confirmed he is far more than just a penalty-box poacher.
Like many young talents Gabriel is far from the finished article, with the physical side of his game still requiring further development.
Standing at just 5ft 9in and possessing a slight frame, the forward often struggles to assert himself
Standing at just 5ft 9in and slight of frame, the forward often struggles to assert himself; while that isn't a huge issue in the Brazilian league, it's likely to cause the teenager more problems against robust European defences. Perhaps for that reason, La Liga might be a good starting point for him on the continent.
Gabriel also needs to become more consistent. After impressing throughout the 2014 season, he went through a rough patch in the middle of the current campaign. The teenager has shown character to return to form in recent weeks, but he needs to perform on a more regular basis if he has true ambitions of becoming one of the world's best players.
Many have said that he has no strength and resistance to make it as a professional, but I think he will be the idol of his generation
Enderson Moreira, who coached the 19-year-old at Santos, said last year: “Gabriel has extremely high quality [and] is a good finisher and provider. He knows where the goal is, but obviously as a new player he has things he needs to build on to make the most of a professional career.”
Not everyone can hide their excitement, however. Brazilian football scout Betinho, who was credited with recommending Neymar and Robinho to Santos, was glowing in his review of the player. “Many have said that he has no strength and resistance to make it as a professional, but I think he will be the idol of his generation. He is a healthy, dedicated and focused boy, born with the gift of goals.”
Did you know?
Gabriel's first professional goal came on August 22, 2013 against Gremio... in a game that he wasn’t even supposed to play in. Not selected in the matchday squad, Gabriel – a lifelong Santos fan – turned up to the ground to watch the game from the stands. When team-mate Victor Andrade was ruled out at the last minute, Gabriel was drafted in despite not even having a pair of boots with him. Suitable footwear was soon found, and the debutant found the back of the net just 15 minutes after coming on as a substitute.
What happens next?
Given that they have first option, Barcelona will be monitoring Gabriel closely but they may not exercise that right immediately
While there is no indication that the player is in any hurry to move on, it's likely that we will see him plying his trade in Europe sooner rather than later. Given that they have first option, Barcelona will be monitoring Gabriel closely but, with Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez already in their ranks, they may not exercise that right immediately.
Should Gabriel not get his dream move to Catalonia, there won't be a lack of other suitors. Arsenal are the only English club to have been linked so far, but it's unlikely that Chelsea would turn their noses up given the club's propensity to buy young, develop and sell for a bigger fee. That, or just watch him blossom at Stamford Bridge.
Playing for Brazil’s senior national team would further increase the player's profile. Although the Santos man has yet to receive a full Seleção call-up, he was included in the U23 squad for last week's friendly Dominican Republic in which he rounded off the scoring in a 6-0 romp. Barring injury, he will almost certainly play at next year's Olympics in Rio, which is a rather big deal in a country where football is king. Don't be surprised to see Neymar's younger pretender prove what all the fuss is about.