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Angelo Gabriel: Record-breaking wonderkid surpassing Pele and Neymar at Santos

12:00 BST 27/04/2021
Angelo Gabriel NXGN GFX
The 16-year-old, who is already the youngest goalscorer in Copa Libertadores history, has been linked with Real Madrid and Liverpool in recent months

Lightning is not meant to strike the same place twice, but in the case of Santos' Vila Belmiro stadium, it just keeps on returning.

The Brazilian outfit can already boast genuine superstars Pele and Neymar among those they have produced over the years, while in recent times 2020 NXGN winner Rodrygo and forward Kaio Jorge, who placed 18th on the 2021 list of the world's top teenage talents, have both broken out from the club's famed academy.

And yet there is a player emerging at Santos right now who made his debut for the club at a younger age than any of those aforementioned, with record-breaking becoming second nature to the Peixe's latest youth prospect.

The excitement around Angelo Gabriel was already huge before, in early April, he found the net against San Lorenzo to become the youngest goalscorer in the history of the Copa Libertadores.

At the age of 16 years and 105 days, Angelo broke a 59-year record previously held by ex-Argentina international Juan Carlos Cardenas as he tapped in at the back post after a shot was parried into his path.

And though it was by no means a stunning strike, it was a momentous moment for a teenager who has been part of the club's academy since the age of nine and is being tipped for huge things.

Born in Brasilia in December 2004, Angelo grew up in the town of Samambaia, a place his father, Elismar, described as "like a favela in Sao Paulo" when speaking to Estadao.

Like a number of Selecao greats from down the years, Angelo has been forced to work his way up from humble beginnings, though it was clear from an early age he possessed superb dribbling ability and impressive speed when in possession.

As such, he was enrolled into the Santos-affiliated Meninos da Vila school, and despite interest from other top Brazilian clubs, joined the Peixe's academy, with his parents able to move with him into the city.

“In the first training session, we noticed that he had a lot of skill and above average speed," Angelo's former teacher and first coach, Betinho, told Correio Brasiliense.

"The following year, we presented him to Santos for tests in the basic categories, and he passed quickly. He was fast and skilled, an irreverent player with a lot of technical and attacking quality."

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Those talents allowed Angelo - who plays predominantly off the right before looking to cut inside - to quickly make his way through the club's youth system, and in October 2020 he was deemed ready to make his mark on the first team.

Emerging off the bench at the Maracana, the forward came on for the final 30 minutes against Fluminense, becoming the youngest player in the history of the national championship at the age of 15 years and 308 days.

He also surpassed Pele by 11 days to become the second-youngest debutant in Santos' history behind legendary forward Edu, who made his bow at 14.

As is the way with modern players, Angelo took to Instagram to celebrate, and after expressing his honour at having debuted in the same week as Pele's birthday, he ended his message with three simple words: "The favela won".

The youngster went onto make eight further appearances before the delayed 2020 campaign was over, and since the appointment of new manager Ariel Holan in February, he has started nine of Santos' first 14 games of the new season.

“I see a lot of potential in Angelo," Argentine coach Holan told SporTV, "he is a boy who likes to go for the goal.

"I really like Brazilian football, and Angelo plays Brazilian football. This essence of dribbling, of taking on the opponent, is very important.

“He has a huge future. By working hard, he will be able to play not only at Santos, but I believe that, in the future, he will be able to play in major leagues around the world."

Interest from those "major leagues" has already emerged, with Real Madrid and Liverpool just two of the teams to have been linked with bringing Angelo to Europe.

To do so, they would likely have to pay close to his €60 million (£52m/$72.5m) release clause, which was inserted as part of the contract he signed following his 16th birthday at the end of 2020.

The deal runs until 2023, and Santos are hopeful that Angelo will follow in the footsteps of both Neymar and Robinho before him in earning experience in his homeland before crossing the Atlantic.

Should that clause eventually be met, Angelo would surpass Neymar - the player he has modelled much of his career on - as the most expensive sale in Santos' history.

"He is like Neymar in terms of his dribbling at speed and his change of direction," said Betinho of a player that, despite now wearing the No.27 for the Santos first team, has worn the No.11 shirt throughout his youth career in homage to his footballing hero.

Neymar, though, did not make his Santos debut until a month after his 17th birthday, meaning that Angelo is already a year ahead of the Paris Saint-Germain icon in terms of his development.

Santos, it seems, have done it again. A new potential superstar has arrived at Vila Belmiro.