It’s official: Brazil is responsible for the development of more footballers than any other nation in the world.
Based on recent figures, there are over 2,700 Brazilian players currently active in elite domestic competitions globally, including over 1,500 who have followed in the footsteps of the likes of Neymar and are playing for clubs based outside of their homeland.
Since the start of the 2019/20 season, more than 20 players, commanding transfer fees in excess of €180 million, have been recruited from Brazilian clubs by Europe’s leading top-flight sides across the big five leagues and Portugal, demonstrating the intense competition to not only identify, but also recruit young Brazilian players early.
With the start of the 2020 Brazilian Serie A season currently on hold, we have taken the opportunity to look back on the standout emerging players, aged 23 and under, from last season’s campaign, focusing on both players who have already made the move to Europe, together with others who may be eyeing a move across the Atlantic.
The Lowdown on Benfica’s Latest Acquisition
In March, Benfica announced the €20 million acquisition of midfielder Pedrinho from Corinthians on a 5 year contract.
The 22-year-old will make the move to the Portuguese league in Europe’s next transfer window and during last year’s campaign, he created the most chances per 90’ of any player aged 23 or under, just ahead of another player who left Brazil for Europe in the winter – new Lyon midfielder Bruno Guimarães.
As a left footer operating primarily on the right, Pedrinho contributed four open play assists last season, in line with his expected assists, generating high xA outputs from passes played into the box from half space positions on the inside right.
The Brazilian U23 international also contributed 5 goals last season. Despite having a tendency to shoot from distance (74% of his attempts came from outside the box), he still exceeded his xG (4.4).
Overall, he ranked fifth for players aged under 23 for goal involvements per 90.
Reinier, who followed in the footsteps of Vinicius Junior by joining Real Madrid for €35 million in January, had a hand in 1.01 goals per 90’, more than any other under 23 player, but as the 18-year-old appeared in only 708 minutes he isn’t included in this graphic.
Of those who did play 1,000 minutes, Grêmio’s Pepê had a hand in the most goals per 90’ (0.6). Another wide player, playing primarily as an inverted winger, Pepê was more selective with his shooting in front of goal compared to Pedrinho, which is reflected by his volume of high probability shots from inside the box.
The Youngsters Bolstering Red Bull’s Top-Flight Assault
The proficiency of young players being nurtured and developed by Red Bull Salzburg in Europe is already well documented. Now the Red Bull brand will appear in the Brazilan top flight for the first time, following the merger of Bragantino and Red Bull Brasil.
Following promotion, the newly christened Red Bull Bragantino have been busy in the winter transfer market and amongst their new recruits are two of last season’s standout emerging players.
After only making a handful of appearances for parent club Palmeiras, Artur enjoyed a breakthrough first team season in 2019 on loan at Bahia. The right winger scored seven goals, with an xG total of 4.9 (excl. penalties), the biggest xG differential (actual goals – expected goals) for a player under 23.
As well as possessing the biggest xG differential, Artur also created the most chances (61) of any U23 player during the campaign, showing a tendency to getting the ball into dangerous areas in the six yard box.
Another player who excelled on loan last season, Thonny Anderson, will also be part of Red Bull’s stable in 2020. During his spell at Athletico Paranaense, the midfielder provided the most assists (0.26) and expected assists (0.21 xA) per 90’ among under 23 players.
Although his output was boosted by only playing the full 90 on six occasions, his numbers are impressive given he had only appeared in 582 minutes prior to the start of the 2019 season.
The Emerging Ball Carriers
One area of the game where emerging players stood out during 2019 was dribbling. Five of the league’s top ten players, recording the most completed dribbles per 90, were under 23.
Two of the top three players are Venezuelan: Rómulo Otero (27 years old) and Yeferson Soteldo (22). Soteldo enjoyed a fantastic debut season in Brazilian football after joining Santos from Universidad de Chile – he also contributed 9 goals and 5 assists – and no other player under 23 could match his aggregated total.
Caio Paulista (21) and Mateus Vital (22) both recorded dribble success rates above 60%, whilst completing substantially more game time than Otero.
Another standout name on this list is Talles Magno. The 17-year-old Vasco da Gama winger completed 3.6 dribbles per 90’, almost as many as Everton, but with a higher success rate than the full Brazil international.
Magno, who also scored twice in four appearances for the national team at the 2019 FIFA U17 World Cup, has already been linked with a move abroad, with Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain mentioned as potential destinations. He will be one of several emerging Brazilian wonderkids to watch once the season finally gets underway, as Europe’s leading club scouts, from the Premier League and the rest of the continent, watch on.