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Friday, May 24, 2024

MATHEUS FRANCA: THE £21M FLAMENGO TALENT FOLLOWING IN VINICIUS JR’S FOOTSTEPS WHO COULD BECOME CHELSEA’S NEXT WONDERKID

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Following the captures of Andrey Santos, Kendry Paez and Cesare Casadei, among plenty of others, Matheus Franca is the latest young talent to move across Chelsea’s radar. Like Vinicius Junior before him, the 19-year-old enjoyed a meteoric rise through Flamengo’s youth ranks, and although he still isn’t even a guaranteed starter for the Rio de Janeiro-based side, a move across the Atlantic beckons.

A bustling attacking midfielder who has all the attributes to become a creative force between the lines, Franca has caught the eye of the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester City since making his first-team bow aged just 17.

However, while a number of Premier League clubs are sniffing around, it is once again Chelsea who appear primed to snap up one of the brightest young talents to come out of Brazil in recent times, with a deal for Santos’ Angelo Gabriel also close.

A bustling attacking midfielder who has all the attributes to become a creative force between the lines, Franca has caught the eye of the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester City since making his first-team bow aged just 17.

However, while a number of Premier League clubs are sniffing around, it is once again Chelsea who appear primed to snap up one of the brightest young talents to come out of Brazil in recent times, with a deal for Santos’ Angelo Gabriel also close.

Where it all began

Just like former Flamengo and current Real Madrid superstar Vinicius Jr, Franca was born and raised in the Sao Goncalo area of Rio de Janeiro. He cut his teeth across Guanabara Bay at Olaria before joining Flamengo’s famed academy at the age of 13.

From there he would make meteoric progress, winning countless titles as he rose through the youth ranks. The pinnacle was captaining his side to the prestigious Brasileiro and Copa do Brasil Under-17 titles in 2021.

The big break

Franca averaged a goal or assist every 45 minutes for Flamengo’s U17 and U20 teams from attacking midfield, scoring 19 times in 18 appearances and creating plenty of opportunities for his team-mates. That trophy-laden 2021 campaign inevitably led to a first-team breakthrough.

Although he was handed his debut under Jorge Jesus in December 2021 aged just 17, it was the following season that he truly began to make a name for himself. He scored his first goal in the rout of Bangu in the Taca Guanabara and contributed five more strikes in fewer than 1,000 first-team minutes in Brazil’s 2022 season.

How it’s going

Franca has had to contend with a flurry of managerial changes in his budding career, already playing under his seventh head coach in his brief time in the Flamengo first team in the form of the volatile Jorge Sampaoli.

Nevertheless, he’s kept his head down and kept working – earning a new five-year contract in January 2022 that contains the biggest release clause in Flamengo history: €100 million (£83m/$114m). He extended that by a further 12 months in February this year, but he now seems destined for a big move.

Still just 19, he is by no means a guaranteed starter, though he had begun to stake a claim before a niggling injury with the 2023 Brazilian Serie A season just two months old. Interestingly, Sampaoli has regularly opted to deploy him in a more advanced role as a centre-forward or second striker.

Franca is also a Brazil U-20 international, although he did not participate in the recent U-20 South American Championship triumph as Flamengo wanted him to be available for the Club World Cup.

Biggest strengths

A bustling attacking midfielder who uses his 5’9 frame to his advantage, Franca’s footballing brain is perhaps his biggest asset. Although he is technically gifted, he is by no means the polished article on the ball – instead using his intelligence to make runs, find space and pick passes. He is always determined to progress the play, either through driving runs or incisive forward balls.

“He has many important aspects to his game,” Flamengo U20s coach, Fabio Matias, has previously told GloboEsporte. “In addition to technical and tactical ability, he has a very good understanding of the game.

“That makes him stand out because he interprets spaces well. The most talented players have an understanding of space and how to manage that. He also has the ability to be decisive in front of goal and is a great finisher.”

Indeed, in his brief career to date, Franca has come up clutch multiple times for the Mengao, with four of his goals helping the club to take five points.

Room for improvement

Though he is clearly not the finished article, there are no glaring areas for improvement in Franca’s game, other than attacking output in the first team.

The game cannot, of course, be broken down into mere statistics, but Franca’s numbers reflect that – inevitably – he has not been as productive in the first team as his contributions in the academy might have foreshadowed.

He has three goals and no assists in 29 appearances thus far in 2023, which follows a return of six goals and no assists in 2022. Franca’s shooting could certainly be improved, and he will hope to become more of a creative force as his first-team opportunities increase.

The next… Gabriel Jesus?

Although he idolises Cristiano Ronaldo, Franca is a very different player.

It’s difficult to make a direct comparison to an established modern-day star, but perhaps the man to draw parallels with is his compatriot Gabriel Jesus.

Both are versatile attacking players with high levels of footballing intelligence who enjoy operating between the lines, and both are confident in using their bodies, and dribbling ability, to get them out of trouble, without necessarily having technique that is particularly eye-catching.

In many ways those attributes make them the perfect modern players; strong, fast and fit enough to also contribute out of possession with tireless pressing.

What comes next?

It seems a move away from the Maracana already beckons for Franca, even though it may be premature for a player with limited first-team experience.

Suggestions of a move to an elite European club have become muted over the past year, with Manchester City and Real Madrid’s interest seemingly cooling. Instead, the 19-year-old has found himself linked with the likes of Newcastle, Crystal Palace and West Ham – perhaps a reflection of his slow progress in making a breakthrough and subsequent doubts over just how high his ceiling is.

However, Chelsea could provide him a big opportunity in Europe. The Blues are believed to be pondering a move for the teenager as they look to add to their already burgeoning ranks of talented young players. It has been reported that the Premier League giants have been quoted a fee of £21m ($27m) for his services, with talks underway.

It has even been suggested that he is being signed for the first team, rather than the development squad or an immediate loan away. Regardless, his progress will certainly be intriguing to watch. GOAL.COM

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Smart News Liberia is an online news outlet and a product of Smart Media Group Inc. Our website, smartnewsliberia.com, covers a broad spectrum of news content. For inquiries or information, you can reach us at 0777425285 or 0886946925, or email us at smartnewsliberia@gmail.com or info@smartnewsliberia.com.

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