The 'new Neymar'? Man Utd target Antony dreaming of Brazil World Cup spot after sparkling Ajax season

Antony Ajax celebrate 2021-22Getty Images

As Brazil continued their imperious march towards the 2022 World Cup last October, two players in particular stood out for the South American giants.

Leeds United's Raphinha had an immediate impact on the Selecao, scoring twice in three games and adding a further two assists to establish himself as a real contender for a seat on the plane to Qatar. But the winger was not the only newcomer to leave fans clamouring for more.

If anything, Ajax gem Antony's rise has been even more meteoric than that of his compatriot. The 22-year-old has built on a brilliant start to 2021-22 to enjoy a fantastic year for his club and country, one which has caught the attention of Premier League giants Manchester United - and there seems no limit to where his talents can reach.

Antony was already a regular first-teamer as a teenager with hometown club Sao Paulo. He was born in the tough Paulista suburb of Osasco, and told the Guardian that his first pair of boots were 'borrowed' by his mother from the shoe shop in which she was employed at the time.

He played alongside ex-Barcelona star Dani Alves when Ajax swooped the day before his 20th birthday in February 2020 to complete a transfer worth an initial €15.5 million (£13m/$18m).

His first season in Amsterdam proved a rousing success, with 10 goals in 46 games in all competitions as the club completed a league and cup double – all of which put him firmly in the gaze of Brazil's selectors.

A spot in the nation's Olympic Games squad followed, and the youngster was ever-present as the Selecao beat out Spain to retain the gold medal won by Neymar and Co. in Rio de Janeiro five years earlier, setting up Malcom's decisive extra-time goal in the final.

Not content with merely hanging the medal round his neck, the winger has since had it tattooed on his body, although he quickly detailed his next ambitious objectives: “Performing in the Champions League. I had the chance to play on that stage in my first season and at that very high level I hope to show more and more of myself.

“The World Cup is also on my priority list. It would be a dream to play for Brazil in Qatar. And I’m going to work hard for that.”

He certainly did his chances no harm with an electrifying introduction to senior international football. Antony entered as a substitute in all three of Brazil's October qualifiers and made a positive impact in each with his explosive running and constant threat around the box, netting on his debut against Venezuela for good measure.

The youngster has gone on to pick up nine caps since that auspicious debut, scoring twice, while finishing his best season yet for Ajax with 12 goals and 10 assist in 33 games as Erik ten Hag's charges retained the Eredivisie title.

Unsurprisingly, with Ten Hag now at Old Trafford, United have added their name to the already fervent interest in the young attacker.

Liverpool, Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Barcelona have all been linked to Antony, whose pace and fantastic dribbling skills have seen him branded with the inevitable label of the 'new Neymar' by some observers.

Now, with the summer transfer window in full swing, the winger faces a tough choice.

There is fierce competition for Tite's squad, particularly in those wide attacking positions. Antony must contend with Neymar, Richarlison, Raphinha, Lucas Paqueta, Everton Ribeiro and Vinicius Junior to name only the leading candidates, while there is still plenty of time for other contenders to make their case for selection.

The youngster thus may soon face a dilemma. Should he continue to shine for Ajax week-in, week-out, showcasing his best side to the Brazil management, albeit at a slightly lower level than in Europe's big five leagues?

Antony Brazil GFXGetty Images

Or should he gamble on making the step up to the elite this summer, with the risk that he may suffer a reduction in playing time during his adaptation to a new club which could ultimately hurt his chances of standing out amid so many fine players?

That will be a question that only he and his team of advisers will be able to answer, and one hopes that he makes the right decision with the World Cup just around the corner.

But even if he does not make the cut, with his spectacular talent and drive Antony should have plenty more opportunities to shine for Brazil and the world's biggest clubs in the years to come.