Brazilian football is often in chaos, but the recent Olympic triumph followed by Tite’s bright start as coach of the national team have given beacons of hope for demanding fans. Here are five players who have shown enough to suggest that 2017 could be a big year for their development.
Ederson: Goalkeeper, Benfica
When Julio César was voted the best goalkeeper in the Portuguese league in 2015, few would have thought that the veteran would find himself relegated to the bench in the following season. Ederson took advantage of César’s injury and shone for the Primeira Liga champions – both locally and continentally in the Champions League.
While his reflexes are impressive, what mostly stands out for Ederson is his brilliant footwork – both in clearing danger as well as helping to build play. Even Guardiola himself was impressed with the Benfica man’s display against Bayern in Champions League action last season. And if reports emerging from England were to be true, Pep has asked City directors to monitor the 23-year-old.
Zeca: Fullback, Santos
Having played almost all his games as left-back at Santos, many were surprised when Rogerio Micale deployed the 23-year-old on the right-hand side in the Olympics. But Zeca was a winning gamble. The rising Santista star is highly versatile with his ability to play on both flanks, as well his knack of keeping the ball under pressure and helping build play from a deep position.
He is not shy on taking long-range shots when the opportunity comes – in fact he has already scored a couple of Roberto Carlos-style screamers. In terms of defending, he is smart at reading the opponent’s mind and intercepting passes.
Rodrigo Caio: Centreback, Sao Paulo
After a knee ligament injury at the start of 2015 which kept the 23-year-old out for 7 months, Rodrigo failed his medical at Atlético Madrid and Valencia. The midfielder then took the decision of redefining his career by turning into a centre-back once and for fall.
After the readjustment, Rodrigo was convincing in the league as well as Libertadores which eventually secured him a starting spot at the Rio Olympics, where the stopper formed the best defensive duo in the competition alongside Marquinhos.
A few months ago, Rodrigo received his Italian citizenship. If the defender does ply his trade there in the future, his best position would be the ‘regista’ role. Brazil has more gifted defenders than him, but Rodrigo might well be the country’s most creative deep-lying playmaker.
Thiago Maia: Midfielder, Santos
Santos has always been known as being a factory of young talent gifted with impressive technique, and Thiago Maia is no different.
The 19-year-old’s versatility allows him to play both as a defensive midfielder, as well as the second most advanced midfielder in a 3-man midfield. Thiago arguably forms the best midfield partnership in the league, with Santos captain Renato who is 18-years older than him.
This mixture between young blood and experience has been pivotal for him in learning a few tricks from the former Sevilla star. Thiago’s passing range keeps improving by the day, as well his audacity to play the ball forward rather than side-back passing.
It’s no surprise that Thiago’s recent performances for Santos and Brazil’s Olympic team has drawn admirers from Europe, including Liverpool coach, Jurgen Klopp who is reportedly keen on him.
Willian Jose: Forward, Real Sociedad
Most Brazilians still remember him as the worst player at São Paulo and Santos and would genuinely laugh at you if you consider him an exciting talent. But it’s hard to blame them, because yes, he was that bad in the Brazilian league.
However, the situation has drastically changed since the day Real Madrid decided to invest in him for their Castilla ranks – a gamble which seemed laughable, almost as laughable as Barcelona’s acquisition of Douglas. Despite that, Willian’s time at Castilla was mixed with some very bad games including sending offs, as well as a few good ones where he found the net.
Overall, he wasn’t convincing enough to replicate Casemiro’s fairy-tale story and earn first team promotion. He wanted a new challenge, so quickly found himself with Real Zaragoza in the second division where he showed some bright signs, before eventually signing for La Liga side Las Palmas in 2015, where he was able to bang 9 league goals, mostly in the second half of the season.
His deadly form in front of goal earned him a move to a higher-pedigree side at his actual club Real Sociedad at the start of this season. And since then, he has been absolutely fantastic, scoring another 9 La Liga goals, to put himself into the race for the top-scoring Pichichi stakes.
Strong In physical duels, dominant in air, a machine in headers and a mobile attacker is certainly worth some attention for a nation that had to rely on Fred and Jo in 2014. Wililan José ends 2016 with 16 league goals, having scored against Atlético Madrid, Real Madrid and on two different occasions against Barcelona.