Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Yerry Mina scouting report: Why the Barcelona-bound dance master could be the next great centre-back

He's got moves, you cannot deny that.

Yerry Mina, the Colombian defender who is starring for Palmeiras in Brazil, celebrates goals with moves that would make Fred Astaire green with envy – and is partial to a jig in his spare time, too.

That would be neither here nor there were Mina not also a very promising footballer, but he's got that covered too. Powerful in the air and capable with the ball at his feet, he has been the most impressive centre-back in Brazil over the last year, and a deal is already in place for him to move to Barcelona.

Find out all about the 22-year-old in my latest scouting report for Unibet.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Wendel scouting report: Meet the ice-cool Fluminense midfielder who has Barcelona and Milan scouts swooning

At times, it's tempting to think of football as a complicated beast. Then someone comes along and reminds you of the simplicity. at its core You get the ball, you pass it, you put it in the net.

He may only be four months into his senior career, but already Wendel is one of those players who makes everything look easy. The 19-year-old has taken to the Fluminense starting XI like a duck to water, belying his tender years with displays of real class and confidence.

It's little wonder European scouts are already queueing up to get first dibs. Barcelona and Milan have already made enquiries, while Sporting Lisbon are also rumoured to be keen on his services.

But just who is Wendel and what would he offer a team on this side of the Atlantic? Find out in my latest Unibet scouting piece.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Barcelona tipped to sign Lucas Lima, the Santos star with "something of Rivellino or Gérson" about him

Those who have had even half an eye on the Brazilian domestic game over the last three of four years will be well acquainted with the talent of Santos playmaker Lucas Lima.

The 26-year-old has long been one of the country's best players, laying on countless assists and breaking into the Brazil team despite resisting the lure of Europe.

Well, resisting until now, at least. For reports suggest that Lucas will soon be on his way to the old continent, with Barcelona tipped to sign him on a free transfer when his Santos deal expires at the end of the year.

In my latest for The Independent, I look at that move and explain why, for all Lucas' talent, it would be something of a gamble for all parties.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Rodrigo Caio scouting report: São Paulo's Mr Versatile ready for Europe after putting injury woes behind him

Some people in Brazil call him a Mauricinho – a daddy's boy – because he's got nice hair and choses his words carefully. But while Rodrigo Caio might not be your typical street footballer, there's a proper player there.

The São Paulo man has been tipped for the top for some time, but his progress was slowed by a serious knee injury in 2014. Now, though, having established himself as one of the most cultured defenders in Série A and broken into the Brazil squad, his star looks to be in the ascendency again.

I profile the Tricolor's Mr Versatile in my latest Brazilian scouting report on the Unibet blog. You can read it here.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Guilherme Arana: Why Corinthians' nutmeg master could be the next great Brazilian full-back

Next up in my summer series of Brazilian scouting reports for Unibet is one Guilherme Arana.

The Corinthians full-back, already a Football Manager legend in some quarters, has had an excellent few months for his club, impressing with his lightning-quick forays down the left and fine delivery.

The 20-year-old has already been linked with Manchester United, Sevilla, Ajax, Internazionale and Schalke, but admits his dream is to play for Barcelona or Real Madrid.

Find out more about him here.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Luan scouting report: Liverpool target has enchanted Grêmio fans and can do the same in Europe

Ding, ding ding!

Hear that? That's the big silver bell that signals the start of transfer silly season in Europe. No football for the next few months, amigos, just that old cocktail of myth, conjecture and soda. Always water it down with sod

Most deals will be done between sides in the Old Continent. But chances are there will be a few Brazilians knocking about on the radar of the big clubs, who will be keen to snaffle the new Gabriel Jesus, or perhaps the new Vinícius Júnior before he's even out of nappies.

To that end, I have started a summer series of scouting reports on the best prospects in the Brasileirão for Unibet. First up, naturally, is Luan of Grêmio, who has been linked with Liverpool.

Friday, 2 June 2017

'A full-back is everybody's friend' – on Dani Alves and Marcelo, Brazil's Chuckle Brothers

There are other attacking full-backs, but few near their level and none who make more compelling demands for your attention. 53 trophies between them, most of them in Europe's toughest competitions, tell some of the story, but their true greatness is to be located in the heart. To watch Marcelo and Dani Alves play is to remember why you fell in love with football in the first place.

There is a wide-eyed, forward-facing innocence to their play. It is there in every foray down the flank, every daft bit of skill, every laser-guided cross. Every celebration and off-field interaction, too: Alves is what Brazilians would call brincalhão – a joker, a goofball – and Marcelo is no shrinking violet. They are serious competitors and seriously good at their jobs, but neither fact quells the feelgood factor. Nor should it, either.

Read my pre-Champions League final piece on the two players who, more than any others, make full-back fun on the Eurosport website.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

David Luiz 2.0: still fun, a bit less maddening & now with the chance to win over Brazil fans like he did Chelsea's

Last week, David Luiz was named in the Brazil squad for the June friendlies against Argentina and Australia.

That might not immediately strike you as remarkable. But it was Luiz's first call-up in over a year, and his first under Tite, the master navigator who has guided the Seleção into calmer waters after the stormy misery of the second Dunga era.

It would be a push to describe his 14-month absence from the squad as an exile, but it might have felt like one. Now, he has the chance to win over Brazil's fans in the same way he has Chelsea's over the last year.

Read my piece on David Luiz's career renaissance on the Football.London website.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Farewell to Maxwell, the decade's most underrated player and the man who made PSG cool

The Paris Saint-Germain players came out onto the Parc des Princes pitch wearing t-shirts bearing his name, then gave him a guard of honour. All of the mascots donned his trademark No.17 jersey. Unai Emery handed him the captain's armband on his 213th and final appearance for the club. A video message recorded by Zlatan Ibrahimovic was played on the big screens.

It was an all-singing, all-dancing send-off, and it came as little surprise when a couple of tears escaped down the recipient's cheek at full-time. Rarely, even in a career spanning over 17 years and taking in countless adventures, can Maxwell have felt so much love.

Only the delusional, of course, would claim that the Brazilian belongs to the same elite club as Alonso, Totti et al. Nor does he have one-team loyalty credentials or a drawer bursting with international caps. But there's a good argument to be made that Maxwell, the Little Full-Back That Could, has been among global football's most underrated players over the last decade or so.

Read my piece on Maxwell's farewell on the Unibet website.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Sultan of stepovers: Remembering Denílson, Brazil and São Paulo's rubber-legged Pied Piper

There he goes, steaming down the flank with a gaggle of would-be markers in tow, doing one, two, three [*fast forward to save time]... nine stepovers and whipping the ball into the box.

Yep, it's Denílson, the rubber-legged wing whippet and self-described social "tsumani", solely responsible for 70% of playground grazes sustained in the summer of 1998.

The former São Paulo, Flamengo, Palmeiras and Seleção winger is the subject of my latest South American Cult Heroes column for Unibet.

You can read it here.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Release clause: Controversy as convicted murder Bruno resumes playing career in Brazil

On 8 March, Cruzeiro – one of Brazilian football's traditional 'big 12' – took to the field for a cup match against Murici-AL wearing a special kit. The jerseys were royal blue, as ever, but did not carry the names of the players. Instead, to mark International Women's Day, the squad numbers spelt out statistics highlighting the challenges faced by women in Brazil.

"Salaries 30% lower," read the shirt belonging to midfielder Thiago Neves. Others were even more shocking: "A rape every 11 minutes"; "A woman killed every 2 hours". The club earnt plentiful praise, both at home and abroad, for drawing attention to such a worthy cause. In a country as patriarchal as Brazil, such gestures make waves.

Other clubs essayed their own initiatives, but if the sport was hoping to present a united front on the issue of women's rights, the waters would soon be muddied in spectacularly galling fashion. Just two days later, second-division Boa Esporte Clube – Minas Gerais neighbours of Cruzeiro –announced the signing of Bruno Fernandes de Souza, a player who, four years prior, had been convicted of the brutal murder of the mother of his child.

You can read my piece on Bruno's controversial return to football in the latest issue of When Saturday Comes magazine – available at newsagents and to order/read online.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Animal instincts: Remembering Edmundo, Brazilian football's original bad boy

Edmundo wasn't blessed with blistering pace or enormous power. He wasn't a supermodel-in-waiting or a deep thinker. He wasn't naturally charming and wasn't very popular among his colleagues.

He was, however, a brilliantly compelling footballer, a lit fuse of a player who was liable to explode at a moment's notice. At his best, he was a menace to defenders, snapping at their ankles and making them pay when they took the bait. At his worst... well, he was just a menace.

The man known in Brazil as 'The Animal' is the subject of the first piece in a new series on South American cult heroes for the lovely people at Unibet. There should be plenty of Brazilian entries, which will all be posted here in due course.

Have a read of Part 1 here.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Gabriel Jesus' breathtaking ascent to the top – told by those who helped make it happen at Palmeiras

He faces a couple of months on the sidelines, but that won't stop Gabriel Jesus. The Brazilian teenager has been on a mission since the start of his teens, cruising over every obstacle placed in his way with that trademark brand of serenity and flair.

After his lightning start to life at Manchester City – three goals and two assists in his first three starts – I got in contact with some of those who knew him best during his time at Palmeiras, where he blossomed from a coltish upstart into a genuine star.

I spoke to his former coach, Cuca, who told me why he's best played through the centre. Fernando Prass, the captain of the São Paulo outfit, recalled Gabriel practising his finishing after training until he could shoot with both feet. Matheus Sales and Agustín Allione shared their experiences of seeing the forward at close quarters.

You can have a read of what they all had to say in this piece for The Independent.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Brazil swoons over Gabriel Jesus, the thoroughbred export making a mockery of country's "mongrel complex"

Anyone who has spent time in Brazil will probably have heard the phrase "complexo de vira-lata". It translates as "mongrel complex" and refers to a self-imposed feeling of national inferiority. "Brazilians are upside-down narcissists who spit on their own image," Rodrigues wrote.

One of the symptoms of the affliction – and we are of course generalising here – is that Brazil cares what others think. This can be seen in everyday language and, most significantly, in the media, where outlets frequently carry stories about how local events are being covered around the world.

The recent spate of violence in Brazilian prisons, for instance, hit the headlines around the world and those headlines were pumped back into the echo chamber. Stories about outrageously outmoded beauty contests and governmental corruption follow a similar pattern. Often, this is done with cringe implied; at the embarrassment Olympics, Brazil always sees itself as a medal contender.

Now and then, though, the mongrel complex is turned on its head by events that prompt a swell of pride. At which point, enter Gabriel Jesus: instant Premier League idol and Brazil's new leading export.

Read the rest of this piece on the Mirror website.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Ronaldinho's sugar-rush genius in 11 moments

This month's FourFourTwo magazine is a South American special, featuring interviews with Robinho, Arturo Vidal, Solomon Rondon and plenty more besides.

The cover star is Ronaldinho, who reflects on his career, talks about Brazil's emerging generation and swoons over Dele Alli.

To coincide with the issue, I picked out 11 of the most memorable moments of Ronaldinho's career, including that goal against England, his stunning toe poke at Stamford Bridge and – hopefully – a couple of stunning bits of skill that you've never seen before.

Have a read here.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Brazil and Colombia honour Chapecoense victims in Rio, but half-empty stadium provides pointed contrast

It was always going to be emotional. Two months after the tragic plane crash that robbed 71 people of their lives and a football club of its happy anonymity, Brazil welcomed Colombia to Rio de Janeiro for a meeting that was not about the match.

The marketing men had dubbed it 'The Game of Friendship', but the feelings ran deeper than that. In the first instance, it was a chance to pay tribute to the fallen – to the players, officials and journalists who boarded LaMia Flight 2933 and never returned home.

Beyond that, this was also an opportunity for Brazil to say thank you to Colombia. Footballing relations between the two countries have not always been the warmest, but the humanity with which the Colombian people reacted to November's devastating events struck a real chord among their south-eastern neighbours.

Yet for all the heartening brotherhood on display, it was hard to deny that there was something a touch unsatisfying about the occasion. Find out why by reading my ESPN FC piece.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Brazil's 2002 World Cup winners: Where are they now?

The three Rs, Cafu, Roberto Carlos... Brazil's squad for the 2002 World Cup was certainly not lacking in star power or quality. Under Luiz Felipe Scolari, the Seleção made amends for the disappointment of 1998 by taking their fifth title, seeing off Germany in the final.

You'll know what happened to quite a few of the players in the years following that success. But which member of the squad appeared in a reality show? Who is still playing in India? And who has a zoo animal named in his honour?

I've taken a look at the 2002 heroes for the latest instalment in FourFourTwo's Where are they Now? series.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Porto Alegre giants Internacional facing up to life in the second flight after year to forget on and off the pitch

2006 was a high watermark in the history of Sport Club Internacional. The side from Porto Alegre won the Copa Libertadores for the first time and, just before Christmas, came to global attention by beating Barcelona in the final of the Club World Cup.

Under normal circumstances, the tenth anniversary of that golden year would have prompted a fresh wave of celebration; Brazilian clubs rarely need an excuse to hark back to past glories, after all.

But few fans had much time for the commemorative medals and sticker books that hit the market in 2016, for Inter endured an annus horribilis both on and off the pitch.

You can read about their plight in the February edition of When Saturday Comes magazine, which is available in newsagents and on their website.

Monday, 16 January 2017

The new Rivellino, the ultimate utility man, 'Jorge Alba' and more Brazilians YOUR club should be trying to sign

After a five-month wait, Gabriel Jesus could make his debut for Manchester City this weekend.

The Brazilian, who joined the Blues in a £27million deal before being loaned back to Palmeiras, is hoping to be in Pep Guardiola's squad for the visit of Tottenham.

Of course, England has not always been a fruitful stomping ground for Brazilian players. For every Juninho, there has been an Afonso Alves; for every Gilberto Silva, a Paulinho. Yet the success stories are becoming more and more frequent: Willian, David Luiz, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Fernandinho have all thrived in the last few seasons.

Those players, admittedly, did not come directly from Brazil, but via other European clubs. But if Gabriel Jesus can settle and live up to his colossal potential, other clubs will be tempted to dip into the Brazilian market in search of rough diamonds.

I picked out five that should be your club's radar, for Mirror Football.