Gabigol Flamengo 25 04 2019Getty Images

Icardi out, Gabigol in? Why Flamengo's reborn Brazilian deserves a second chance at Inter

Inter may be limping towards a second successive qualification for the Champions League, but there are more doubts than certainties around San Siro as the 2018-19 season comes to a close.

Coach Luciano Spalletti has failed to build on a decent first campaign, leading to plenty of questions over his continuity at the Nerazzurri helm. His team currently has 11 fewer points and 15 fewer goals than that which finished the 2017-18 term, and with clashes against Juventus (on Saturday) and Napoli still to come in their final five games the team's chances of passing last year's marks appear slim.

That apparent stagnation aside, it is up front where Spalletti, Antonio Conte or whoever is in charge come the start of next season faces the toughest dilemma. With Mauro Icardi still at loggerheads with club authorities and seemingly determined to force a move, the Argentine's goals must be replaced in order to avoid yet more treading water in the future.

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Youngster Lautaro Martinez has performed admirably in the face of the unexpected pressure handed to him in Icardi's absence, and Inter will also have a sizeable transfer chest to replace the forward should he leave. But Nerazzurri's answer to their troubles might yet already be registered on their books.

Gabriel Barbosa is Inter's forgotten man, hustled out quietly months after joining from Santos after failing to make an immediate impact, and back in his native Brazil. But the talent which led to him being dubbed the 'new Neymar' has not abandoned him.

A strong loan spell with Santos put him in the sights of Rio giants Flamengo, who made him their marquee signing in a summer break full of big-money transfers ambitious recruitment. So far, he has not disappointed.

The 22-year-old striker netted seven goals in 12 games in the Carioca to help Flamengo regain the intensely competitive Rio state championship. He has also contributed to his side's Copa Libertadores campaign, scoring twice in two consecutive victories at the start of the group stage to put the team in a commanding position.

All eyes, including many from Inter, will now be on the youngster on Saturday as Flamengo begin their bid to add Brazil's national championship to the state crown. Gabigol will resume his role as a lone striker ably assisted by the likes of Everton Ribeiro, Bruno Henrique and Uruguayan gem Giorgian de Arrascaeta when Fla host Cruzeiro in their first match of the 2019 league campaign.

Individually, Gabigol's overriding objective will be a repeat of the top scorer award in Brazil's top flight won last year in Santos' colours. Gabigol netted 18 that term to far outstrip his nearest rivals, and there is no reason to think that he cannot surpass that total in 2019.

Gabigol PS

While Gabigol is happy in his new Rio home - “Whenever I came to play at the Maracana I looked at the [Flamengo] fans and saw they were different. I was always sure I wanted to play at Flamengo one day,” he told the Copa Libertadores' official website in April – there is also no hiding the feeling that he would love another chance at Inter, where he believes he was short-changed.

“When I came to Inter the coach Frank de Boer told me I would have a chance in the first team, but with so many changes that never happened,” he fired to Premier Sports.

“The club was going through a hard time and wanted more experienced players, and I understand that. But I was never given a chance in the team to show my talents.”

The numbers back up those assertions. In his 12 months at Inter Gabriel played just nine league matches, not one from the start, netting on one occasion. Compare that to this, the maiden season of Martinez, admittedly helped by the Icardi debacle, where the young striker has featured thus far in 22 Serie A matches, starting 11 times and contributing six goals and an assist for Spalletti's charges.

When given regular first-team minutes, as he has shown in his two spells at Santos and now with Flamengo, Gabriel is a born goalscorer. His instincts around the box are second to none and he has also proven himself adept at holding up the ball as a lone centre-forward, a factor that would not go amiss at Inter either given their chronic issues in creating chances in the final third.

Gabigol comemora em vitória do Flamengo sobre o Vasco na final do CariocaGabigol Flamengo Fluminense Carioca semifinal 06042019Alexandre Vidal/CR Flamengo

Whether the Italians are willing to give him another shot remains to be seen. His loan contract at Flamengo runs until December, and reports in Italy suggest that Inter are willing to sell him on and recover their initial €20 million investment.

Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku has also emerged as a proven if rather more pricey option to bolster the strike-force in the event of Icardi's sale, leaving a less than clear horizon for the Brazilian once his current deal ends. None of that speculation should cause a loss of sleep for Gabriel, though, who has just one goal on his mind.

If he can build on this encouraging start for Flamengo and keep them at the top in both Brazil and the Libertadores, he will be impossible for Spalletti or whoever is in the Inter hot seat come December to ignore. Gabriel deserves another chance to shine in Europe. Now all he has to do is prove that.

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