Of late, Brazil’s plush, exotic pool of attacking talent has become more of a grimy, rusty bathtub littered with the odd stray hair. For a country that has boasted the likes of Pele, Romario, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, the last few years, including the World Cup in their own backyard has seen the Seleção start with Jô, formerly of Manchester City and the 32 year-old Fred as their offensive focal point. With current options continuing to age, combined with undelivered potential in Alexandre Pato and the over reliance on Neymar, it’s time for the next generation of young talent to shine through.
But where is that next generation blossoming from? Scour the top five European leagues and you won’t find much. Head west to MLS and still nothing. Even China’s best efforts to nullify domestic football in Brazil by stealing all their players isn’t bringing out the next samba star. However, should they dare to look a little bit closer to home, to a league with a thirst for the mad and the spectacular, the Brasileirão seems to have birthed two more diamonds in the rough. Two Gabriel’s to be exact. No Angels, but Jesus and Barbosa.
Gabriel Jesus, the baby faced Paulista is already being dubbed as the ‘Palmeiras Neymar’ by the local and national press, and while these comparisons are understandably premature it’s difficult not to get excited by his prolific goalscoring feats at youth level. During his first year at the club, the forward netted 54 goals in 48 matches, before scoring 37 goals in 22 games in the Under-17 Campeonato Paulista in 2014.
With those impressive numbers, it wouldn’t be long before the teenager got his chance in the Verdão first team as they urgently searched for a spark, competing for their first division lives. The Palmeiras faithful would celebrate any Gabriel introduction as if it were a goal, cheering his every involvement. Not only is he a talent, but a fan favourite too, proving that there are few things more exciting in football than a young player with the world of opportunity at their feet.
Able to play anywhere along the forward line, Gabriel is a defenders nightmare due to his explosive pace. A tricky, jinky player who is comfortable taking players on with the ball at his feet, that also thrives on the shoulder of the last defender, ready to exploit large spaces in behind. The 18 year-old truly found his feet in 2015’s Copa do Brasil partnering ex-Dortmund man Lucas Barrios in a 4-4-2, scoring twice and assisting once in five games, aiding the Verdão to their third Copa do Brasil title.
Similarly to his namesake, Gabriel Barbosa, the not so baby faced Paulista has also received the Neymar treatment. The 19 year-old nicknamed ‘Gabigol’ joined Santos’ youth academy in 2004, aged just eight. As one of Brazil's most famous clubs, Santos are proud to match their vast success with a world-class production line. Familiar names such as Pele, Carlos Alberto and Dunga all played for O Peixe towards the end of the 20th century, and in recent years Robinho and Neymar have also progressed through the club’s ranks to excite the wider audiences of Europe.
Gabigol scored 21 goals for Santos throughout 2015, becoming the Copa do Brasil’s top scorer for the second year running as his side ended up losing to Palmeiras on penalties in the final. Like Gabriel Jesus, the left footed forward has played across the front line for Santos, but has found extra joy on the right hand side as a wide forward, with veteran striker Ricardo Oliveira leading the line as more of a poacher. Playing out wide has allowed him to remain a goal threat, but also improve his all round game simultaenously.
The silky teenager is capable of gliding past opponents with ease, his smart footwork and close control making him extremely difficult to stop. One of his biggest assets is his excellent finishing, rarely becoming flustered when chances come his way in and around the box. Not only ice cool in front of goal, Gabigol’s vastly improved work rate and selflessness have endeared him to the club's fans and confirmed he is far more than just a penalty-box poacher, with many believing that he may even eclipse Neymar, the man he is frequently compared to.
After both players enjoyed a successful 2015 for Palmeiras and Santos respectively, the next port of call is for them to go on and represent the Seleção. With another Copa America around the corner this summer, while unlikely, there is time for the talented teenage duo to make their mark on Dunga as they hope to make the 23 man squad. But the real goal is for the World Cup in 2018, where after two more years of regular football under their belt, they will be able to join the likes of Neymar, Willian, Douglas Costa, Oscar and Coutinho in what could be the most exciting Pentacampeões attack in a long time.
It would be naïve to expect fireworks straight away from these promising talents, but the ability is certainly there and should they carry on developing as they are right now, Brazil could have two more heroes hoping to lead them to glory again.