Luan Gremio Ronaldinho BarcelonaGetty Images

The new Ronaldinho? Luan can help Gremio deny Real Madrid another Club World Cup

Imagine, for a moment, that you are a young football star with the world at your feet. Your biggest test, however, is still to come: a Copa Libertadores final in front of thousands of baying rival fans, and no margin for error. 

What's more, your team has gone no less than 22 years without winning South America's premier club tournament. There's also the fact that half of Europe's elite clubs will be defying the time difference to watch you in action.

Would you feel the pressure? Not if you are Gremio's irrepressible talent Luan.

Article continues below

The 24-year-old phenomenon had been compared to his childhood hero Ronaldinho in the build-up to last month's Copa Libertadores final and his goal in the second leg of his side's 3-1 aggregate win over Lanus was eerily reminiscent of the former Barcelona and Brazil No.10. 

Luan Gremio Copa LibertadoresGetty Images

Picking up the ball in a seemingly innocuous position outside the Lanus box, the phenomenon waltzed past three Granate defenders with an insolent shake of the hips.

Ronaldinho, one of Gremio's most illustrious alumni, would have been proud of the mazy movement, and equally happy with how his successor lifted the ball over the head of goalkeeper Esteban Andrada and into the net.

It was the forward's eighth goal of Gremio's triumphant Libertadores campaign and he could have even netted a ninth, only to see a second, equally impudent chip drift just wide of Andrada's far post in the final minutes.

Luan's status as one of the leading lights of South American football had nonetheless been cemented. Now, though, he has the opportunity to announce himself to the world.

On Saturday, as reward for winning the Copa Libertadores, Gremio will face European champions Real Madrid in the Club World Cup final in Abu Dhabi, which will be broadcast LIVE and exclusively on Goal's Facebook page – and the Brazilian outfit will be relying on Luan to lead them to victory.

Luan Gremio Copa LibertadoresGetty Images Luan Gremio Pachuca

Indeed, injury has robbed the Brazilian side of their other much-coveted starlet, Arthur Melo, the 21-year-old midfielder who only broke into the team at the start of the year yet is now on the verge of a move to Barcelona.

Veteran Paraguay striker Lucas Barrios will, of course, be a familiar face to European football fans, in light of his time at Borussia Dortmund, while jet-heeled 21-year-old winger Everton could be rewarded with a start after coming off the bench to decide Tuesday's semi-final clash with Pachuca in Gremio's favour with a sublime strike.

Gremio, though, are a side that champion teamwork over individualism. They lifted the Libertadores trophy with a display of intensity and precision that is rarely seen at the top level of South American football.

Losers Lanus were relentlessly harried whenever they touched the ball, forced into mistakes which would immediately put them on the back foot in vulnerable areas. 

It was an exemplary demonstration of how to play a continental tie defending a slender 1-0 lead away from home, and testament to the fine work done by Renato Gaucho on the bench since the Gremio idol returned to his beloved Porto Alegre. Renato was a member of the Tricolor side that won the club's first Libertadores in 1983, and the following year missed out in the final to Argentines Independiente. 

In 2007, Luiz Felipe Scolari was the beaten coach, as Gremio were destroyed 5-0 on aggregate by a Boca Juniors team inspired by the artistry of Juan Roman Riquelme. 

A year later Renato lost another Libertadores final, this time at the Fluminense helm to rank underdogs Liga de Quito. Finally with his hands on the coveted trophy again, he becomes just the eighth man - and first Brazilian - to taste Copa success as both player and coach. 

Everton Gremio PachucaGetty Images Renato Gaucho Lanus Gremio Final Copa Libertadores 29112017

“I deserve a statue at the stadium,” Renato had jokingly stated in 2016 after delivering a Copa do Brasil to Porto Alegre just three months after coming back for his second spell as coach. In light of the Libertadores triumph, that wish may just come true.

The 55-year-old has worked wonders with his charges, bringing in the likes of Melo to the first team and successfully moulding a host of young talents with experienced heads like Fernandinho and Barrios. The trainer himself, however, modestly gives the credit to those on the pitch.

“This team has a lot going for it,” he said to prior to the second leg. “It’s disciplined, has a lot of skill and a real desire to win. But the biggest thing it’s got going for it is the friendship between all the players. They really love each other and that’s vital to the success of any team.”

That inspirational team spirit will be key for Gremio they attempt to upset the odds against the mighty Madrid on Saturday.

However, Luan, the reported Barcelona target playing of course for a place in Brazil's World Cup team, will be their primary source of danger.

"It's the game of my life," Luan told Goal on the eve of the showdown with Madrid in Abu Dhabi.

"It's going to be difficult but we have our chances to beat Real Madrid."

Luan GremioGetty

Particularly if he performs as he can. As one would expect from a player who grew up playing five-a-side football, Luan is a wonderfully skilful player with awesome close control.

"I played futsal until I was 19," he explained. "But I adapted quickly to 11-a-side football. T

"The best thing about futsal was that I always scored. Now, it's more difficult, but I love having more space to run into and dribble."

Luan is made of stern stuff too. Once, when he was a kid, he broke his arm ahead of an important game but rather than sit out the match, he ripped off the cast and hid his injury under a long-sleeved jersey in order to play.

Essentially, he is driven by the desire to make his mother proud. 

"My dad died when I was five," he revealed. "It was difficult. My mother was maid and she worked a lot. 

"So, my mother is everything for me. Of all of the messages I received ahead of the final, hers was the one I loved the most.

"She always advised me to be myself and to follow my heart."

It could well lead him to Europe, although he insists that he is now rush to leave Gremio. However, a transfer would appear inevitable if he shines against Real.

Indeed, readers may recall that 10 years ago Gremio's foes, Boca Juniors, went on to face Madrid in the competition's predecessor, the Intercontinental Cup, and that Riquelme dismantled the star-studded Merengue with an outrageous performance to hand his side the trophy. 

Luan is more than capable of emulating Riquelme, who ended up moving to Barcelona, and putting in an equally decisive display against los Blancos. The pressure on him to deliver will be huge. But then, it's never bothered him before.