Tuesday 19 December 2017

Kaká, Vladimir Yashchenko and the historic melancholy of being on the wrong side of a Great Leap Forward

Kaká, as you've no doubt grown bored of being reminded in the last few days, was the last player to win the Ballon D'Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year awards before the inception of the all-powerful Messi-Ronaldo Duopoly.

And while it's hard to imagine Kaká being tormented by anything, let alone existential doom, but there was a paradigm shift and someone got paradigm-shafted.

The past isn't just a foreign country in this case; it's practically another world. A decade is a big old chunk of time in anyone's book, but Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have pressed the accelerator on progress, as if determined to operate in dog years. Kaká may have shared a couple of podiums with them, but compare the three and the he cannot help but lose.

Read my piece on the newly-retired Kaká, and his legacy, on the Unibet blog.

Friday 8 December 2017

Is Gabriel Jesus the new Ronaldo? I asked him – plus team-mates and opponents – that very question

Gabriel Jesus' progress since leaving Palmeiras for Manchester City a year ago has been nothing short of phenomenal.

Little wonder, then, that some have sought to draw comparisons with the last great Brazil No.9 to make that adjective his own. "He's the new Ronaldo," claimed Daniel Alves before Brazil's game against England last month. "They have similar qualities, a similar drive. He's going to be one of the greats."

That's lofty company to keep, but what does the player himself make of the comparison? And do team-mates and opponents see the similarities?

Find out in my latest for The Independent. 

Wednesday 6 December 2017

Arthur scouting report: Barcelona target is a pass master who can go far after 'magical year' at Grêmio

"Everything is easy for him," swooned Grêmio coach Renato Gaúcho after another passing masterclass. "Arthur is a hen who lays golden eggs."

It's not the most compelling of metaphors but you get the point: the kid is a bit good at football. Not that you'd have known it 12 months ago: the midfielder played just 36 senior minutes in 2016 and looked to be stagnating.

How things have changed since. Arthur has established himself as one of the best player in Brazil, winning fans in Europe – and at the Camp Nou especially – with his passing masterclasses from deep.

In my latest for Unibet, I look at his strengths and weaknesses, which apparently include PR.

Tuesday 28 November 2017

What's up with Gabigol? 'The new Neymar' has played just 332 minutes of football since leaving Santos

You probably first heard of him years ago, his name whispered on the wind (or perhaps just Football Manager forums) like a secret.

'Gabigol' they called him and it was not hard to see why: he scored over 600 times at youth level for Santos and made his first-team debut at 16.

By the time he joined Internazionale, three days before his 20th birthday, he had racked up 56 senior goals in 154 appearances. €29.5million was a hefty fee, but his numbers justified it.

But since that move, 15 months ago, Gabriel Barbosa has played just 332 minutes of football. I look at his plight in my latest Unibet column.

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Malcom X-factor: Ligue 1's 'other' brilliant Brazilian is ready to take off after conquering Bordeaux

At times, it has been as if he is holding his own personal Ligue 1 Goal of the Season competition: witness his crackerjack equaliser against Lyon, the laser-guided curler against Toulouse or his surge against Nantes.

No wonder Bordeaux coach, Jocelyn Gourvennec views 20-year-old Brazilian forward Malcom as one of the best players in France – and no wonder Europe's giants are beginning to circle after an explosive start to the season.

But it's not just his attacking returns that make the youngster special. Named after Malcom X, he has the maturity and confidence beyond his years and has been planning for superstardom since for three years.

Read my piece about Ligue 1's other brilliant Brazilian on the Unibet blog.

Monday 13 November 2017

Roberto Firmino interview: 'We have restored Brazil's reputation, playing joyful football. That is our essence'

“That defeat to Germany was a really big blow to all Brazilians. But we put it into our heads that what happened then doesn't matter anymore; it's what we do from now on that counts.

“The team spirit couldn't be better. We have been able to restore Brazil's reputation, playing joyful football that is respected around the world. That is our essence.

"Professor Tite is a brilliant coach, with a unique way of working, but he's also a marvellous person. He makes everyone feel at ease. It's because of his manner that the team spirit as good as it could possibly be. He transformed the atmosphere, imposed his style of play and everyone embraced his ideas."

Ahead of Brazil's game against England, I interviewed Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino. See what he had to say about Philippe Coutinho, his slow ascent to stardom and plenty more at The Independent.

Monday 30 October 2017

Kerlon's retirement at 29 is a sad tale, but we'll always have the joyously goofy theatre of the seal dribble

“I had the privilege of doing something unique in the game.

"Guided by my greatest partner and friend, my father, we created a skill that had never been seen before. I did it in big moments, both for Brazil and for Cruzeiro, even in a big derby at a packed Mineirão.

“Even knowing that I would suffer a foul or a violent challenge, I still tried it, flicking the ball up in the air and travelling metres with the ball on my head, not letting it drop. That was my style of football: irreverent, with lots of joy.”

His own words sum it up rather nicely, but for more on the stunted career of Kerlon – now retired but destined to be remembered for his famous 'seal dribble' – read my latest Unibet blog.

Tuesday 24 October 2017

The Emperor's new clothes: Adriano's comeback plans are ambitious, but he does not deserve ridicule

The last seven years have been tough for Adriano. 

There were eight games and no goals at Roma, who sent him on his way after nine months. He returned to his homeland with Corinthians, replacing the retired Ronaldo, but managed just five appearances in his first eight months after rupturing his Achilles tendon. One year and 67 skipped training sessions later, his contract was torn up by the club.

Flamengo, with whom he had won the 2009 Brazilian title, offered him another lifeline, but that came to nothing. So too did brief stints with Atlético-PR (2014) and Miami United (2016), announced to some fanfare but ultimately unproductive. "It was an error," Furacão president Mario Celso Petraglia has said since. "He was a good kid, a spectacular guy with a good heart, but sadly he didn't have the strength. There's no way back for him."

Now, though, the Emperor is planning a fresh comeback. I take a look at his chances in my latest piece for Unibet. 

Wednesday 4 October 2017

Stick or twist? Five lingering questions for Brazil coach Tite as Brazil begin their World Cup countdown

Qualified for the World Cup early? Check. Clear set of tactics? Check. Settled line-up and plentiful options on the bench? Check, check, check.

With nine months to go until Russia 2018, things are certainly looking good for Brazil. The progress made under Tite has been startling, drawing an emphatic line under the dog-eared dog days of the Dunga era.

Yet a a coach's work is never done and now begins the challenge of ensuring that the Seleção are reaching their very best form next June. It's no easy task, as Luiz Felipe Scolari would certainly tell you.

In my latest for Unibet, I look at five lingering questions that Tite will have to answer in the months ahead if Brazil are to live up to expectations next summer.

Monday 2 October 2017

On Edinson Cavani, Neymar and the morals of penalty theft, football's ultimate dick move

You wouldn't put up with it at your workplace.

Imagine it: you're just about give that knockout presentation you've been working on since last Tuesday when Dominic (it's always a Dominic, isn't it?) from accounts comes over and grabs your laptop, in full view of all your colleagues and the board of directors. "I'm giving this presentation," he whispers to you while avoiding eye contact.

You're flabbergasted, obviously. Dominic's the office whizzkid and you've been getting on well. Beers on Thursday, football chat by the coffee machine, all that jazz. Now here he is being... well, being a total w*****. Your name was down for this; this presentation was yours to give. As a wave of revulsion swells in your belly, you tear the laptop back from Dominic's duplicitous mits. After an unseemly struggle, he backs down.

The damage is done, however. Your confidence shot, you give a bad presentation, stuttering and sweating in front of your PowerPoint slides. Dominic, now lurking beyond the glass room divider over by the pot plant, catches your eye. He's smirking. He knows the next one is his.

Belatedly, here's my piece on the Neymar/Edinson Cavani penalty scuffle at Paris Saint-Germain, for Unibet.

Wednesday 23 August 2017

Neymania 101: Enjoy the surface pleasures of Brazil's stepover-envoy, but let's choose our moments

Monday's sports pages in Brazil were dominated not by domestic goings-on but to the latest exploits of the country's premier stepover-envoy over on the other side of the Atlantic.

Fantástico, the frothy staple of the Globo network's Sunday-night offering, now has a whole section – complete with a horse puppet speaking with what the show's producers clearly believe to be a French accent – in which Neymar's every movement is dissected.

Yes, friend, we are now firmly in the grip of Neymania. It bubbled along nicely enough during Barcelona-apprenticeship years, but now it's a whole new thing. Resistance is futile.

My latest piece for Unibet is on Neymania and its dangers. Read it here.

Monday 21 August 2017

Neymar's breakout year: How the world's most expensive player went from 'butterfly fillet' to Santos star in 2010

Had you asked a hundred Santos fans to identify the club’s brightest star at the start of 2010, you would not have received anything close to a unanimous response.

A good chunk of the vote would likely have gone to Paulo Henrique Ganso, the elegant playmaker with a topographer’s mastery of space. Robinho, back at the Vila Belmiro on loan from Manchester City, would also have been a popular choice. A few contrary types might even have chosen Arouca or Wesley, the side’s midfield dynamos, or arch goalhanger André.

Plenty, of course, would have plumped for Neymar, the wisp of a forward who had emerged from the hinterland of boy-wonderdom in 2009, scoring on his first start and generally looking far more assured than a 17-year-old should. Yet as one decade dissolved into the next, there was no consensus that he – rather than Ganso, say – would be the club’s next big thing.

Twelve months later, though? Well, there wouldn’t be much of an argument then.

I've written a long piece on Neymar's breakout year for FourFourTwo's Year Zero series. Have a read here.

Tuesday 15 August 2017

'We've got a phenomenon here' – how Roberto Firmino went from shy defensive midfielder to Liverpool superstar

Jürgen Klopp clearly loves him: only Nathaniel Clyne and James Milner played more minutes for Liverpool in the Premier League last season.

Tite loves him too: barring injury or a severe downturn in form, he'll be in the Brazil squad for the World Cup next summer.

At this point, the world is Roberto Firmino's oyster. And tonight, when Liverpool play former club Hoffenheim, with Philippe Coutinho exiled, he'll be in the spotlight more than ever before.

But did you know that he used to be a defensive midfielder? Or that he was so shy as a boy that he let one youth coach call him 'Alberto' without correcting him?

In my latest for Unibet, I take a look at Firmino's early years in Brazil.

Saturday 12 August 2017

Mercenary or pioneer? What Brazil thinks of Neymar's world-record move to Paris Saint-Germain

"With the World Cup a year away, Neymar can now play in exactly the same way for his new club as he does for the Seleção: however he wants."

That is a line from one of the many think pieces that have been circulating in Brazil in the wake of Neymar's big-money move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain last week.

The move, clearly, has generated great discussion on both sides of the Atlantic. But while much of the fallout in Europe has been fairly negative in tone, there has been a greater degree of sympathy in his homeland.

In my latest for FourFourTwo, I assess the Brazilian reaction to the move.

Wednesday 9 August 2017

Chapecoense's miracle man: Eight months after that tragic air crash, Alan Ruschel is a footballer again

"It's a dream come true. Just being able to do what I love again... that's what's important. I want to show people how to celebrate life – to show the joy of living, working, just being alive. I always dedicate myself to my work and today I was rewarded."

Those were the words of Alan Ruschel on an emotional night at the Camp Nou. The Chapecoense left-back had just played for the first time since the air disaster that claimed the lives of most of his team-mates and friends 252 days earlier.

It has been a long road back for the 27-year-old, who was the first to be rescued on that dismal night on Colombia last November. Through it all, he has been a picture of grace and determination, so it was good to see him get his reward on Monday.

For Unibet, I take a look at his heartening journey back to first-team action.

Thursday 3 August 2017

Neymar at Santos: Remembering the best (and weirdest) moments from his breakthrough years in Brazil

Neymar's star power – both as footballer and as cultural artefact – has been glaringly obvious during his time in Europe. At Barcelona, he has gone from scrawny hopeful to genuine global superstar.

But the forward's grace, cheekiness and charm were evident long before he left his homeland, as those who followed his progress at Santos will recall.

As he prepares to make the second high-profile move of his career, this seems as good a time as any to look back at some of the best (and weirdest) moments from his breakthrough years.

Have a read on the Unibet site.

Wednesday 2 August 2017

Time waits for no manager: Rogério Ceni & Vagner Mancini the latest victims of Brazil's rampant short-termism

As anyone with even a passing interest in Brazilian football will know, this is not the home of job security.

Managers are rarely two or three more bad results away from the axe. Talk of 'projects' and 'progress' is usually hopeful at best. No one really thinks this merry-go-round is a good thing, yet it is the norm.

Yet while those numbers have largely inured people to the precariousness of it all, there is still the odd case that manages to raise eyebrows – as proved by a pair of controversial sackings in Série A at the beginning of July.

You can read my take on the demise of Rogério Ceni at São Paulo and Vagner Mancini at Chapecoense in the latest issue of When Saturday Comes, which is available in newsagents and online.

Friday 28 July 2017

Richarlison scouting report: Meet the two-footed whippet who is joining Watford from Fluminense

He first started playing in a soccer school run by a man known as Big Uncle Butterfly. If that doesn't endear Fluminense starlet Richarlison to you, then you've a heart of stone.

As it goes, there's plenty more to love. The 20-year-old has been one of the most compelling forwards to watch in Brazil over the last few months, capable of roasting his man on either side and chipping in with a good number of goals.

No wonder, then, that he has been linked with a whole host of European clubs, from Ajax and Inter to Chelsea and Manchester United.

UPDATE: he's heading to Watford. Told you there was a buzz about him.

Find out what all the fuss is about in my latest scouting report for Unibet. 

Monday 24 July 2017

Tchê Tchê scouting report: Why Palmeiras' Mr Versatile would be a good signing for European sides this summer

Another week, another scouting report from Brazil. At this rate, I'll be running out of young players to get excited about in... oh, three or four years.

Next up on the conveyer belt is Tchê Tchê, probably one of the most versatile footballers to have played in Brazil in the last decade. Is he a right-back? Is he a central midfielder? Is he a winger? No, he's all those things and probably a few more besides.

At 24, he's no boy genius. But having come through relatively late – he really caught the eye for Fernando Diniz's fine Audax side in the 2016 Paulistão – there is still a freshness about him that makes him worthy of a closer look.

I do just that in my latest for Unibet.

Wednesday 19 July 2017

Neymar to PSG: Why mooted €222million move would be a gamble – not for club but for player

If reports in Brazil are to be believed, Neymar has told Paris Saint-Germain that he is willing to join them in a blockbuster €222million deal this summer.

That would smash the world record for the biggest transfer fee ever and would likely ignite the summer transfer window, prompting a domino effect that could have knock-on effects for all manner of other teams.

The stakes are high. PSG would be buying one of the world's best players, who is entering his prime and has the global star power to take them to the next level. But what about Neymar? There's good reason to doubt whether this would be the ideal move for him, given both short-term and long-term considerations.

I explain why it would be a gamble for the forward in my latest for Mirror Football. 

Tuesday 18 July 2017

Who is Douglas Luiz? Manchester City's new signing profiled after sealing move from Vasco da Gama

“He is the real thing. He has potential that you don’t see in many players. He’s a classic No.8 and I’m sure there will soon be a spot for him in the Seleção.”

That endorsement, from Vasco da Gama coach Milton Mendes, will doubtless be music to the ears of Manchester City fans.

They might get to see new signing Douglas Luiz in a sky-blue jersey for a while, with a loan to Spain likely, but the teenager is viewed as a major talent in Brazil thanks in large part to his displays under Mendes this year.

Read my profile of the midfielder on the Yahoo Sport website.

Monday 17 July 2017

Thiago Maia scouting report: How the former Santos starlet went from sex motels to Marcelo Bielsa's Lille

One of the more intriguing sides to watch in the coming season will be Lille, now under the stewardship of Marcelo 'El Loco' Bielsa, one of the game's true visionaries.

Les Dogues started their summer transfer drive by adding Luiz Araújo and Thiago Mendes from São Paulo, and followed it up last week with the capture of Thiago Maia.

The midfielder, who came through the ranks at Santos and was part of Brazil's successful 2016 Olympic squad, had long been tipped for the top and will now hope to progress to the next level under Bielsa's watch. It's all a far cry from his days living in a sex motel when he first moved away from home.

Read more about Thiago Maia in my latest Unibet scouting report.

Friday 7 July 2017

The story of Pelé's first Brazil goal, 60 years on

"Let's give this little bunny rabbit a go!"

So it was (at least according to the player himself) that Sylvio Pirillo, the Brazil coach back in 1957, decided to give a debut to a 16-year-old bundle of fluff with wide eyes and thunder thighs. He went by the name of Pelé. Perhaps you have heard of him.

It was both the start of a beautiful story and the culmination of a series of unlikely events. For while the striker had made his senior debut for Santos some ten months earlier, it was in another team's jersey that he had caught Pirillo's eye.

Here's the story of that day, 60 years on, for The Independent.

Thursday 6 July 2017

Jean scouting report: meet the elastic young Bahia goalkeeper who plays like David De Gea

He watches videos of Manuel Neuer and Gianluigi Donnarumma, but his game most resembles that of David De Gea. That is quite the endorsement, of course, but Bahia youngster Jean is quite a goalkeeper.

"He gets more mature every day," his former coach has said. "His quality is indisputable. Every time he goes between the posts, he gives everything he has, body and soul."

That commitment was in evidence at the weekend, when Jean's heroics earned his side a point in the Salvador derby against Vitória. It was a performance to make scouts take notice.

Read my profile of the young stopper on the Unibet blog.

Wednesday 5 July 2017

How Jô got his groove back: once a Premier League flop, the striker is older, wiser and targeting a Brazil recall

"Since he arrived, he has been a positive influence in the day-to-day life of the squad. He supports the younger players and is a really hard worker. He's getting the reward for that."

That description does not readily tally with the commonly held view of Jô, the striker whose talent was more than matched by his penchant for partying during his time in the Premier League with Manchester City and Everton.

Now, though, at the age of 30, Jô is older, wiser and having a fantastic season for Série A pace-setters Corinthians. He even has one eye on a Brazil recall for next summer's World Cup in Brazil.

Read my piece on the, erm, reJôvenation (sorry) on the ESPN website.

Wednesday 28 June 2017

Yerry Mina scouting report: Why the Barcelona-bound dance master could be the next great centre-back

He's got moves, you cannot deny that.

Yerry Mina, the Colombian defender who is starring for Palmeiras in Brazil, celebrates goals with moves that would make Fred Astaire green with envy – and is partial to a jig in his spare time, too.

That would be neither here nor there were Mina not also a very promising footballer, but he's got that covered too. Powerful in the air and capable with the ball at his feet, he has been the most impressive centre-back in Brazil over the last year, and a deal is already in place for him to move to Barcelona.

Find out all about the 22-year-old in my latest scouting report for Unibet.

Thursday 22 June 2017

Wendel scouting report: Meet the ice-cool Fluminense midfielder who has Barcelona and Milan scouts swooning

At times, it's tempting to think of football as a complicated beast. Then someone comes along and reminds you of the simplicity. at its core You get the ball, you pass it, you put it in the net.

He may only be four months into his senior career, but already Wendel is one of those players who makes everything look easy. The 19-year-old has taken to the Fluminense starting XI like a duck to water, belying his tender years with displays of real class and confidence.

It's little wonder European scouts are already queueing up to get first dibs. Barcelona and Milan have already made enquiries, while Sporting Lisbon are also rumoured to be keen on his services.

But just who is Wendel and what would he offer a team on this side of the Atlantic? Find out in my latest Unibet scouting piece.

Wednesday 21 June 2017

Barcelona tipped to sign Lucas Lima, the Santos star with "something of Rivellino or Gérson" about him

Those who have had even half an eye on the Brazilian domestic game over the last three of four years will be well acquainted with the talent of Santos playmaker Lucas Lima.

The 26-year-old has long been one of the country's best players, laying on countless assists and breaking into the Brazil team despite resisting the lure of Europe.

Well, resisting until now, at least. For reports suggest that Lucas will soon be on his way to the old continent, with Barcelona tipped to sign him on a free transfer when his Santos deal expires at the end of the year.

In my latest for The Independent, I look at that move and explain why, for all Lucas' talent, it would be something of a gamble for all parties.

Thursday 15 June 2017

Rodrigo Caio scouting report: São Paulo's Mr Versatile ready for Europe after putting injury woes behind him

Some people in Brazil call him a Mauricinho – a daddy's boy – because he's got nice hair and choses his words carefully. But while Rodrigo Caio might not be your typical street footballer, there's a proper player there.

The São Paulo man has been tipped for the top for some time, but his progress was slowed by a serious knee injury in 2014. Now, though, having established himself as one of the most cultured defenders in Série A and broken into the Brazil squad, his star looks to be in the ascendency again.

I profile the Tricolor's Mr Versatile in my latest Brazilian scouting report on the Unibet blog. You can read it here.

Friday 9 June 2017

Guilherme Arana scouting report: Why Corinthians' nutmeg master could be the next great Brazilian full-back

Next up in my summer series of Brazilian scouting reports for Unibet is one Guilherme Arana.

The Corinthians full-back, already a Football Manager legend in some quarters, has had an excellent few months for his club, impressing with his lightning-quick forays down the left and fine delivery.

The 20-year-old has already been linked with Manchester United, Sevilla, Ajax, Internazionale and Schalke, but admits his dream is to play for Barcelona or Real Madrid.

Find out more about him here.

Monday 5 June 2017

Luan scouting report: Liverpool target has enchanted Grêmio fans and can do the same in Europe

Ding, ding ding!

Hear that? That's the big silver bell that signals the start of transfer silly season in Europe. No football for the next few months, amigos, just that old cocktail of myth, conjecture and soda. Always water it down with sod

Most deals will be done between sides in the Old Continent. But chances are there will be a few Brazilians knocking about on the radar of the big clubs, who will be keen to snaffle the new Gabriel Jesus, or perhaps the new Vinícius Júnior before he's even out of nappies.

To that end, I have started a summer series of scouting reports on the best prospects in the Brasileirão for Unibet. First up, naturally, is Luan of Grêmio, who has been linked with Liverpool.

Friday 2 June 2017

'A full-back is everybody's friend' – on Dani Alves and Marcelo, Brazil's Chuckle Brothers

There are other attacking full-backs, but few near their level and none who make more compelling demands for your attention. 53 trophies between them, most of them in Europe's toughest competitions, tell some of the story, but their true greatness is to be located in the heart. To watch Marcelo and Dani Alves play is to remember why you fell in love with football in the first place.

There is a wide-eyed, forward-facing innocence to their play. It is there in every foray down the flank, every daft bit of skill, every laser-guided cross. Every celebration and off-field interaction, too: Alves is what Brazilians would call brincalhão – a joker, a goofball – and Marcelo is no shrinking violet. They are serious competitors and seriously good at their jobs, but neither fact quells the feelgood factor. Nor should it, either.

Read my pre-Champions League final piece on the two players who, more than any others, make full-back fun on the Eurosport website.

Thursday 25 May 2017

David Luiz 2.0: still fun, a bit less maddening & now with the chance to win over Brazil fans like he did Chelsea's

Last week, David Luiz was named in the Brazil squad for the June friendlies against Argentina and Australia.

That might not immediately strike you as remarkable. But it was Luiz's first call-up in over a year, and his first under Tite, the master navigator who has guided the Seleção into calmer waters after the stormy misery of the second Dunga era.

It would be a push to describe his 14-month absence from the squad as an exile, but it might have felt like one. Now, he has the chance to win over Brazil's fans in the same way he has Chelsea's over the last year.

Read my piece on David Luiz's career renaissance on the Football.London website.

Wednesday 24 May 2017

Farewell to Maxwell, the decade's most underrated player and the man who made PSG cool

The Paris Saint-Germain players came out onto the Parc des Princes pitch wearing t-shirts bearing his name, then gave him a guard of honour. All of the mascots donned his trademark No.17 jersey. Unai Emery handed him the captain's armband on his 213th and final appearance for the club. A video message recorded by Zlatan Ibrahimovic was played on the big screens.

It was an all-singing, all-dancing send-off, and it came as little surprise when a couple of tears escaped down the recipient's cheek at full-time. Rarely, even in a career spanning over 17 years and taking in countless adventures, can Maxwell have felt so much love.

Only the delusional, of course, would claim that the Brazilian belongs to the same elite club as Alonso, Totti et al. Nor does he have one-team loyalty credentials or a drawer bursting with international caps. But there's a good argument to be made that Maxwell, the Little Full-Back That Could, has been among global football's most underrated players over the last decade or so.

Read my piece on Maxwell's farewell on the Unibet website.

Wednesday 17 May 2017

Sultan of stepovers: Remembering Denílson, Brazil and São Paulo's rubber-legged Pied Piper

There he goes, steaming down the flank with a gaggle of would-be markers in tow, doing one, two, three [*fast forward to save time]... nine stepovers and whipping the ball into the box.

Yep, it's Denílson, the rubber-legged wing whippet and self-described social "tsumani", solely responsible for 70% of playground grazes sustained in the summer of 1998.

The former São Paulo, Flamengo, Palmeiras and Seleção winger is the subject of my latest South American Cult Heroes column for Unibet.

You can read it here.

Thursday 13 April 2017

Release clause: Controversy as convicted murder Bruno resumes playing career in Brazil

On 8 March, Cruzeiro – one of Brazilian football's traditional 'big 12' – took to the field for a cup match against Murici-AL wearing a special kit. The jerseys were royal blue, as ever, but did not carry the names of the players. Instead, to mark International Women's Day, the squad numbers spelt out statistics highlighting the challenges faced by women in Brazil.

"Salaries 30% lower," read the shirt belonging to midfielder Thiago Neves. Others were even more shocking: "A rape every 11 minutes"; "A woman killed every 2 hours". The club earnt plentiful praise, both at home and abroad, for drawing attention to such a worthy cause. In a country as patriarchal as Brazil, such gestures make waves.

Other clubs essayed their own initiatives, but if the sport was hoping to present a united front on the issue of women's rights, the waters would soon be muddied in spectacularly galling fashion. Just two days later, second-division Boa Esporte Clube – Minas Gerais neighbours of Cruzeiro –announced the signing of Bruno Fernandes de Souza, a player who, four years prior, had been convicted of the brutal murder of the mother of his child.

You can read my piece on Bruno's controversial return to football in the latest issue of When Saturday Comes magazine – available at newsagents and to order/read online.

Wednesday 15 March 2017

Animal instincts: Remembering Edmundo, Brazilian football's original bad boy

Edmundo wasn't blessed with blistering pace or enormous power. He wasn't a supermodel-in-waiting or a deep thinker. He wasn't naturally charming and wasn't very popular among his colleagues.

He was, however, a brilliantly compelling footballer, a lit fuse of a player who was liable to explode at a moment's notice. At his best, he was a menace to defenders, snapping at their ankles and making them pay when they took the bait. At his worst... well, he was just a menace.

The man known in Brazil as 'The Animal' is the subject of the first piece in a new series on South American cult heroes for the lovely people at Unibet. There should be plenty of Brazilian entries, which will all be posted here in due course.

Have a read of Part 1 here.

Monday 20 February 2017

Gabriel Jesus' breathtaking ascent to the top – told by those who helped make it happen at Palmeiras

He faces a couple of months on the sidelines, but that won't stop Gabriel Jesus. The Brazilian teenager has been on a mission since the start of his teens, cruising over every obstacle placed in his way with that trademark brand of serenity and flair.

After his lightning start to life at Manchester City – three goals and two assists in his first three starts – I got in contact with some of those who knew him best during his time at Palmeiras, where he blossomed from a coltish upstart into a genuine star.

I spoke to his former coach, Cuca, who told me why he's best played through the centre. Fernando Prass, the captain of the São Paulo outfit, recalled Gabriel practising his finishing after training until he could shoot with both feet. Matheus Sales and Agustín Allione shared their experiences of seeing the forward at close quarters.

You can have a read of what they all had to say in this piece for The Independent.

Monday 13 February 2017

Brazil swoons over Gabriel Jesus, the thoroughbred export making a mockery of country's "mongrel complex"

Anyone who has spent time in Brazil will probably have heard the phrase "complexo de vira-lata". It translates as "mongrel complex" and refers to a self-imposed feeling of national inferiority. "Brazilians are upside-down narcissists who spit on their own image," Rodrigues wrote.

One of the symptoms of the affliction – and we are of course generalising here – is that Brazil cares what others think. This can be seen in everyday language and, most significantly, in the media, where outlets frequently carry stories about how local events are being covered around the world.

The recent spate of violence in Brazilian prisons, for instance, hit the headlines around the world and those headlines were pumped back into the echo chamber. Stories about outrageously outmoded beauty contests and governmental corruption follow a similar pattern. Often, this is done with cringe implied; at the embarrassment Olympics, Brazil always sees itself as a medal contender.

Now and then, though, the mongrel complex is turned on its head by events that prompt a swell of pride. At which point, enter Gabriel Jesus: instant Premier League idol and Brazil's new leading export.

Read the rest of this piece on the Mirror website.

Wednesday 1 February 2017

Ronaldinho's sugar-rush genius in 11 moments

This month's FourFourTwo magazine is a South American special, featuring interviews with Robinho, Arturo Vidal, Solomon Rondon and plenty more besides.

The cover star is Ronaldinho, who reflects on his career, talks about Brazil's emerging generation and swoons over Dele Alli.

To coincide with the issue, I picked out 11 of the most memorable moments of Ronaldinho's career, including that goal against England, his stunning toe poke at Stamford Bridge and – hopefully – a couple of stunning bits of skill that you've never seen before.

Have a read here.

Thursday 26 January 2017

Brazil and Colombia honour Chapecoense victims in Rio, but half-empty stadium provides pointed contrast

It was always going to be emotional. Two months after the tragic plane crash that robbed 71 people of their lives and a football club of its happy anonymity, Brazil welcomed Colombia to Rio de Janeiro for a meeting that was not about the match.

The marketing men had dubbed it 'The Game of Friendship', but the feelings ran deeper than that. In the first instance, it was a chance to pay tribute to the fallen – to the players, officials and journalists who boarded LaMia Flight 2933 and never returned home.

Beyond that, this was also an opportunity for Brazil to say thank you to Colombia. Footballing relations between the two countries have not always been the warmest, but the humanity with which the Colombian people reacted to November's devastating events struck a real chord among their south-eastern neighbours.

Yet for all the heartening brotherhood on display, it was hard to deny that there was something a touch unsatisfying about the occasion. Find out why by reading my ESPN FC piece.

Thursday 19 January 2017

Brazil's 2002 World Cup winners: Where are they now?

The three Rs, Cafu, Roberto Carlos... Brazil's squad for the 2002 World Cup was certainly not lacking in star power or quality. Under Luiz Felipe Scolari, the Seleção made amends for the disappointment of 1998 by taking their fifth title, seeing off Germany in the final.

You'll know what happened to quite a few of the players in the years following that success. But which member of the squad appeared in a reality show? Who is still playing in India? And who has a zoo animal named in his honour?

I've taken a look at the 2002 heroes for the latest instalment in FourFourTwo's Where are they Now? series.

Tuesday 17 January 2017

Porto Alegre giants Internacional facing up to life in the second flight after year to forget on and off the pitch

2006 was a high watermark in the history of Sport Club Internacional. The side from Porto Alegre won the Copa Libertadores for the first time and, just before Christmas, came to global attention by beating Barcelona in the final of the Club World Cup.

Under normal circumstances, the tenth anniversary of that golden year would have prompted a fresh wave of celebration; Brazilian clubs rarely need an excuse to hark back to past glories, after all.

But few fans had much time for the commemorative medals and sticker books that hit the market in 2016, for Inter endured an annus horribilis both on and off the pitch.

You can read about their plight in the February edition of When Saturday Comes magazine, which is available in newsagents and on their website.

Monday 16 January 2017

The new Rivellino, the ultimate utility man, 'Jorge Alba' and more Brazilians YOUR club should be trying to sign

After a five-month wait, Gabriel Jesus could make his debut for Manchester City this weekend.

The Brazilian, who joined the Blues in a £27million deal before being loaned back to Palmeiras, is hoping to be in Pep Guardiola's squad for the visit of Tottenham.

Of course, England has not always been a fruitful stomping ground for Brazilian players. For every Juninho, there has been an Afonso Alves; for every Gilberto Silva, a Paulinho. Yet the success stories are becoming more and more frequent: Willian, David Luiz, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Fernandinho have all thrived in the last few seasons.

Those players, admittedly, did not come directly from Brazil, but via other European clubs. But if Gabriel Jesus can settle and live up to his colossal potential, other clubs will be tempted to dip into the Brazilian market in search of rough diamonds.

I picked out five that should be your club's radar, for Mirror Football.