The footballer’s coach prefers to call the player by his proper name, but Gabigol is hoping that a spell at Benfica gives him a second chance of success in Europe
Gabriel Barbosa stole the highlights with his spectacular performances at Santos and quickly caught the eye of several European clubs, before eventually completing a move to Internazionale in the summer of 2016.
Life in Italy was a nightmare for the youngster, who did not start a single league game throughout the whole season. As a result, a loan move to Portuguese powerhouse Benfica was deemed as the best option. Can the 21-year-old still save his career, or will he be heading towards yet another failure?
Gabigol impressed at an early age during his Santos days, and most journalists were already labeling him as the next big thing in Brazilian football. The hype was justified to a certain extent, as he almost always performed in the derbies against Corinthians and Palmeiras, as well as in the big games in the Brazilian Cup and the São Paulo state championship.
Having managed to earn his first Brazil call-up at the age of 19, Gabriel went on to score in a friendly and in Copa América, mustering a total of two goals in four matches. When new manager Tite, succeeded Carlos Dunga, he even included Barbosa in his first call-up, which came right after the Olympic games in Rio.
In that tournament, the Santista-product was one of Brazil’s best players and helped his country achieve Olympic gold for the first time in its history. At that moment, it seemed like Inter’s new signing was on his way to build a glorious legacy. But, things have not gone as well as expected.
After not receiving the chances he deserves in order to express his talent at Inter, a departure to Benfica was seen as the solution. In his cameo second-half performances against CSKA Moscow in the UEFA Champions League and Boavista in the Primeira Liga, Gabigol left a good impression which eventually earned him a start in the home fixture against Sporting Braga, where he proved to be one of the game’s best performers.
However, in the follow league tie against Paços de Ferreira, he remained unused throughout the 90 minutes. The reality is that Benfica is packed with players who share the same position as him, such as Franco Cervi, Andrija Zivkovic, Haris Seferovic and countryman Jonas. Manager Rui Vitoria was quick to warn the Brazilian that he won’t have his place for granted, after answering a journalist who had asked him about Gabigol, by saying that there is no one with this name at Benfica, and that the young attacker must be referred to Gabriel Barbosa, because ‘Gabigol’ is an artist’s name.
Such comments were probably uncalled for, but Vitoria has clearly shown that if the new signing was to win his place, then he would have to do so by proving himself on the pitch rather than counting on his [past] reputation.
Life at Benfica will not be easy for Gabigol, but despite all the obstacles, he is already clearly getting far more playing time then he had at Inter last season. The Portuguese giants do not own his services so cannot financially benefit from him. They would rather develop their own players in order to be able to sell them for high prices, as this is the policy the club has followed in its recent history. Gabriel’s agents may have rolled him once again, but one thing is sure, he remains extremely talented and is already showing signs of adaptation. At 21, age is certainly by his side to bounce back and who knows, maybe make a spectacular seleção comeback in the future.