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Friday, July 19, 2024

ANGELO GABRIEL: WHY CHELSEA ARE SPENDING £13M ON THE SANTOS WONDERKID

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The Santos talent factory is showing no signs of running out of steam. The latest prodigious starlet to step off the conveyor belt? Eighteen-year-old Angelo Gabriel – already an established first-team regular with the Peixe.

A precocious winger, Angelo is well ahead of schedule having risen swiftly through the ranks at Santos – although he hasn’t always found the going easy. But with his first-team debut already three years since, he feels ready to follow in the footsteps of the likes of famed Santos products Neymar, Rodrygo and Alex Sandro by crossing the Atlantic to forge a career in Europe.

Though Barcelona had the option to sign him, GOAL has confirmed that a move to Chelsea beckons, with the Blues committing to spend €15 million (£13m/$16m) to secure his services and add him to their burgeoning ranks of talented youngsters, following the captures of Kendry Paez, Andrey Santos and Cesare Casadei in recent times – to name but a few.

As Angelo prepares to move to Stamford Bridge, here is everything you need to know about his career to date…

Where it all began

Born in the capital Brasilia in 2004, Angelo grew up in the suburban town of Samambaia, which his father Elismar has previously likened to a ‘favela’. His exceptional dribbling ability and speed in possession were noted at an early age, and he was enrolled into the Santos-affiliated Meninos da Vila school in his hometown, before eventually joining the club’s academy, despite interest from other leading Brazilian clubs, with his parents able to move with him to the city of Santos 1,112km away.

“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.”

The big break

Angelo made swift progress through Santos’ youth ranks and was deemed to be ready for first-team action well ahead of schedule – making his bow on Brazilian football’s biggest stage. In October 2020, aged just 15 years and 308 days, the attacker was handed his debut away at Fluminense at Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Maracana Stadium.

Coming off the bench for the final 30 minutes, he became the youngest player in the history of the national championship, surpassing the record set by Santos and footballing icon Pele. For context, Neymar hadn’t made his Santos debut until after his 17th birthday.

How it’s going

Angelo would break another record in April 2021, becoming the youngest goalscorer in the history of the Copa Libertadores aged 16 years and 105 days, courtesy of a tap-in against San Lorenzo.

Now, still only 18 years of age, Angelo has made 129 appearances for Santos and represented Brazil up to Under-20 level, although things haven’t necessarily gone to plan. That is reflected in his stats: in those 129 appearances he has made a modest contribution of five goals and 10 assists – although, of course, statistics do not tell the whole story.

A poor run of form and a lengthy goal drought saw him draw the ire of some sections of Santos’ support back in April, and although he has found the net since, Angelo is struggling to hold down a starting place.

Speaking recently, Santos boss Odair Hellmann said: “He’s a promising, talented player, that’s undeniable, but he’s suffering from this pressure. He is 18 years old… We worship because a 16-year-old boy comes out, we put him on a pedestal, but later on, we start to visualise the difficulties, the situations that we need to evolve. And now is not the time to step on his head. It is time for us to visualise the difficulty he is having.”

Biggest strengths

The youngster’s success to date has been built upon his dazzling dribbling ability and pace, and it’s not difficult to understand why when you see him in action. Angelo has an elastic touch when he is moving at speed, with the ball never quite slipping from his control, and he adds to that all the typical flair you would expect of an exuberant Brazilian attacker.

He is no shrinking violet, either, with his solid 5’9 frame meaning he is prepared for the physical battle despite his tender years. Indeed, he already has more than 125 appearances under his belt in Brazil, where the defending can be agricultural to say the least.

Room for improvement

What’s evident in Angelo’s case is that comparisons to Neymar and Pele probably aren’t helpful at this stage, and patience will be required for him to reach his full potential. As touched upon already, as an attacking player, his end product is a glaring area for improvement.

He recently endured a goal drought of more than 50 games which he only ended in May as he netted in back-to-back league matches. That led his manager Hellmann to urge him to keep shooting on the training ground “until his legs swelled”.

Although Angelo laid on eight goals last season, his assists have also dried up this term as he has often chosen to carry on dribbling rather than pick a pass in the attacking third. Hellmann has stated publicly that he needs to improve his end product.

“Does he have a part of his aspect to evolve, the finishing part, to finish the play? Yes, just as many other players do,” the coach said. “But he is a young man who is in search of this evolution, he is training and working for this, he is doing specific work to evolve in this aspect.”

The next… Angel Di Maria?

Although he idolises his predecessor Neymar, Angelo is arguably most reminiscent of a young Angel Di Maria when it comes to current stars; both are left-footed and thrive on the right wing, cutting inside and seeking to wreak havoc.

Although it’s not something you necessarily associate with him in the twilight of his career, Di Maria was adept at dribbling at pace during his time at Benfica and Real Madrid – the hallmarks of Angelo’s budding career. The young Brazilian has some way to go if he wants to emulate Di Maria’s level of productivity, but if he can add that to his game, he will be devastating.

What comes next?

Angelo is now destined for the Premier League, with Chelsea closing in on a €15m (£12.9m/$16.3m) deal for the teenager as the club continues to build on its ranks of talented youngsters. He is expected in England imminently to complete a medical.

Things could have been very different, though, as Barcelona had first refusal on his signing having secured a first-option clause with Santos – a result of their settlement with the Brazilian club in the dispute over Gabigol’s transfer to Inter in 2016. However, given their financial predicament and continued struggle to register players, the Blaugrana declined to involve themselves, opening the door for Chelsea.

Angelo is expected to sign a six-year deal at Stamford Bridge, although it seems he is more likely to go out on loan – perhaps to Strasbourg in Ligue 1, who were recently acquired by Chelsea’s owners – than make a first-team breakthrough immediately.

His current coach believes there will be more to come: “Sometimes in life and in his career, only praise comes, only good things come, only the cool moment comes. But there are also moments that we go through in the career, of doubt and then we need to strengthen ourselves, we strengthen him and he also strengthens himself with his personality and moves forward with an open chest, strong, but seeking this evolution. And he has all the trust from me, from the group and he will evolve.” Source: goal.com

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