With the talent now flying the nest earlier and earlier, the fortunes of a new Selecao rests on the old continent - and the future looks bright
With the World Cup just six months away, Brazil coach Tite has already settled on 80 per cent of the squad he will take to Russia in search of an unprecedented sixth world title.
Barring any injury issues, the first XI that will open the Selecao’s tournament against Switzerland on June 17th in Rostov has already been selected.
Reserve roles, however, are very much up for grabs. And while it remains unlikely that any new faces will be added to the squad prior to the big kick-off, Brazil’s endless production line means it would not be entirely unsurprising were a couple of youngsters to be handed an unexpected opportunity in Russia.
And many of those in contention are currently making great strides in European football.
Perhaps the most surprising of which is Richarlison. The 20-year-old wide attacker is unfortunate inasmuch as he operates in positions where the Selecao are anything but short of options; however, the former Fluminense man has been a revelation since making a switch to Watford in England’s Premier League.
While he may not have pulled up too many trees in Rio, the youngster’s robust, direct approach has seen him take the Premier League by storm. He already has five goals and four assists in just 18 league games, for a team who have struggled in recent months.
With Tite still keen to perfect a counter-attacking style that could pay dividends against top European opposition, Richarlison’s pace, physicality and rapid adaptation to European football has already seen him namechecked by the coach.
Another candidate is David Neres, currently starring in the Netherlands with Ajax. The 20-year-old only joined Ajax this past European summer but has made such an impression that he is already being linked with some of Europe’s biggest clubs, including Arsenal, Manchester United, AC Milan and Juventus.
He too will have to overcome the same intense competition for places that has held back Richarlison, however, and he’s not the only one.
Over in France, Malcom is taking Ligue 1 by storm, singled out by many as a candidate for the outstanding player in the country so far this season.
With seven goals and four assists in 16 starts in the league, Malcom too has been mentioned directly by Tite and is also seeing a groundswell of support from back from, with endless column inches in the Brazilian media suggesting he could join the Brazil squad for March’s Brasil Global Tour double-header against Russia and Germany.
Like Richarlison and Neres, Malcom is yet to be handed a senior international call up, but the fact that he played under Tite in Corinthians’ Brazilian league title-winning campaign will no doubt play in his favour, with the boss having repeatedly called up players with whom he has worked previously.
Closer to home, for now at least, Gremio’s Arthur remains hopeful of making it to Russia. The 21-year-old central midfielder was a revelation in his first full season as a professional, earning comparisons to Barcelona great Andres Iniesta and has also been strongly linked with a move to Camp Nou.
Tite is still keen to add the options of a wider range of passing to central midfield zone and Arthur’s assured performances in his side’s victorious Copa Libertadores campaign has certainly increased his chances of a second call-up under the current coach.
Likewise, Arthur’s team-mate and current South American player of the Year Luan will be desperate to return to the squad in March. His fine performances alongside Neymar and Gabriel Jesus at the 2016 Rio Olympics should play in his favour.
But back in Europe, the future looks bright. Impressive midfielder and fellow gold medallist Thiago Maia is finding his feet in Lille, while left-back Jorge has impressed with Monaco. Fellow full-back Guilherma Arana has just left Corinthians for Sevilla and appears set to be a long-term rival to Jorge with the Selecao.
Flamengo starlet Vincius Junior is Real Madrid-bound and will and remains a great hope for the future of the Selecao. One impressive youngster already in Spain is Douglas Luiz, who is on loan at Girona after Manchester City spent big to secure his future from Vasco.
Brazil are looking to 2018, but beyond the future looks bright. And in a fully globalised industry where the talent now flocks earlier and earlier, the fortunes of a new Selecao rests on the old continent. And the future looks bright.