Real Madrid’s youthful revolution continues to gather pace, as the club’s relentless desire to hoover up the world’s top young talent shows no signs of abating.
Martin Ødegaard’s arrival from Strømsgodset as a 16-year-old was the first hint of Real’s changing priorities back in 2015. Things have progressed significantly since then. Over the past few years, Los Blancos have recruited an ever increasing list of hot prospects, primarily from Brazil, at considerable expense.
Reinier (also from Flamengo) completed Real’s trio of teenage Brazilian talents after signing for £26million last January, but all indications are that he won’t be the last South American prodigy making his way to the Spanish capital.
A matter of weeks ago there were some suggestions that the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu could be set for a new era of Galácticos, with Kylian Mbappé, Sadio Mané and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang all linked with a move to LaLiga’s most decorated club.
That may still prove to be the case. But it seems likely any such policy will run in tandem with the club’s more youth-focused recruitment strategy already in place.
The latest name reportedly on Madrid’s hit list is Igor Gomes, a 21-year-old midfielder plying his trade at São Paulo.
It’s incredible to think that 21 could be considered relatively old for a player to move to Europe, but any impending deal would undoubtedly buck the trend of teenage transfers seen in recent years.
If we rewind the clock, previous generations of Brazilian stars were often given time to hone their craft before making the jump to play for one of the game’s global giants. Ronaldinho was 21 when he moved from Grêmio to Paris Saint-Germain, as was Kaká when he left São Paulo for Milan.
The intense battle for today’s young stars means that clubs can rarely afford to wait that long anymore. But Real may benefit from extending their scope to include a player who has been something of a late bloomer at O Clube da Fé.
Gomes now has 44 appearances under his belt in all competitions for São Paulo and the Brazil Under-20 team, playing in a variety of roles from up front to central midfield and out on the flanks. That opportunity to try out a series of positions will surely have broadened his skillset, though Gomes has predominantly played as an attacking midfielder and looks most comfortable in the centre of the park.
It’s no surprise Gomes has settled there. Despite being adept at taking on his man on occasion, his game is primarily about passing. He only scored two goals and registered two assists in the most recent 2019 Série A season. But, in many ways, his biggest contribution is often in the earlier stages of São Paulo’s attacking moves.
If we look at third assists for example – the pass played two passes before an assist – then his 0.12 per 90 minutes played is the sixth-best return in Brazil’s top flight.
Gomes uses the ball intelligently and consistently helps to create chances further down the chain, by progressing play into areas where his side’s more advanced players can do damage. This is again borne out in the statistics. His 1.61 smart passes per 90 and 1.55 deep completions (passes into the area 20m or less from the opposition goal) are both inside the division’s top 25 performers, highlighting his determination to carve out an opportunity whenever possible.
He’s something of a silent assassin, breaking down defences without necessarily getting showered with the praise that comes alongside racking up goals and assists on a regular basis.
Gomes will want to add more end product to his game, but Europe’s elite have clearly been impressed enough to take notice of his performance in Brazil.
“What we can say is that (Gomes) is a player that is attracting the interest of European clubs. But there has been no official contact. It is a reality that he is igniting interest,” São Paulo’s executive director of football Raí confirmed to Globo Esporte earlier this week.
With an insatiable thirst for the next big thing to come out of South America, Real Madrid will surely be at the front of the queue when the midfield maestro decides that he’s ready to make the step up to European football.
With his vision and technical ability he should fit right in at the Bernabéu.