A figure largely unheralded in his native Brazil, Lille’s Michel Bastos has been producing performances on an almost weekly basis over the course of the last couple of years that have seen him gradually come into focus as one of Ligue 1’s most prominent stars.
His contribution to les Dogues last season can be understood simply by raw statistics: he top-scored for the Stade Lille-Metropole club by netting on 14 occasions, but he also led LOSC – and the entire league – in terms of assists, making nine decisive passes according to the strict official statistics of Le Championnat.
In all, he therefore contributed 23 key moments to Lille’s season, and he was not even used as an out-and-out striker. Deployed primarily on the left side of an attacking midfield trio, Bastos pushed forward impressively, using his searing pace effectively and cementing himself as a key facet of a strong LOSC side that lacked only the presence of a penalty-box striker and perhaps a top-class goalkeeper to really push them into the upper echelons of Le Championnat.
Bastos’ reward for his efforts over the course of the season were a nomination for the Player of the Year award, which would eventually be claimed by Girondins de Bordeaux’s Yoann Gourcuff, and a spot in the Team of the Year – well-deserved recognition for a real breakthrough year.
His eye for the spectacular has also earned him praise, with a ‘knuckleball’ free-kick style that has drawn comparisons to set-piece wizard Juninho. And Bastos has proven his ability to find the net from similarly outrageous distances as his veteran countryman - who has now, of course, departed Ligue 1. Indeed, the Pelotas-born star even out-shone Juninho in a clash between Lille and Olympique Lyonnais early in the season, scoring an outrageous 35-metre free-kick that deceived OL keeper Hugo Lloris with its power and movement.
Despite his fine performances in France, Bastos has failed to force his way into the Selecao as yet, with Ligue 1 flying under the radar of the Brazilian footballing public, who tend to demand that their star players from the so-called ‘greater’ leagues are used.
GOAL! | Bastos celebrates another strike for Lille
But national coach Carlos Dunga has cast his eye over the Lille man and is certainly keeping him closely in mind. “I know of him,” Dunga said, according to Ligue 1’s official website back in February. “He's very fast and he's got a very powerful shot. He just needs to be consistent in his performances to get the call. If he carries on playing this well he'll get his chance.”
International recognition is certainly a dream of the player, although he has hinted that it is not vital for him. “It’s a dream I’ve had since I was a child,” he told Le Parisien three months ago. “I may be able to reach it with my performance, but it will be very hard. When people see that [national team coach] Dunga has already talked about me, they wonder why I am not already known [in Brazil]. I am young and I will work to make it happen.”
Playing for Lille in a league that is “not watched in Brazil”, according to Bastos, will be a handicap to his international ambitions, although the player has asserted that he is happy to remain with les Dogues for the coming season, even signing a contract extension with them until 2012.
However, this has not stopped speculation surrounding his future, with some of the continent’s most impressive clubs having been linked with him over the past seven or eight months. Juventus and Bayern Munich were said to be pondering a bid in the spring, while perennial Premier League top ten clubs Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa were reportedly quoted a price of €14 million for the player in July 2009.
A talent that is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore, Bastos is set to make a big impression on the European game in the coming few seasons.
Top Assist-Maker In Ligue 1
Robin Bairner, Goal.com
47. MICHEL BASTOS (Lille)