Gabriel Barbosa Almeida known as Gabigol or simply Gabriel, has been consistently linked to top clubs around Europe; Arsenal, Barcelona, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Juventus, Manchester United et al have all been reported to be in contact with this Brazilian wonderkid by the media which as a result make so many football fans around the world query his abilities and wonder if he is really good or it is just the media hype.
Gabigol made his debut for Santos in Neymar’s final game for the club and was discovered by the same scout, Zito, a double World Cup winner and captain of Pele’s side. The youngster caught the eye of the former midfielder in a youth futsal game between Santos — the club of Pele, Robinho and Neymar — and São Paulo. He eventually signed for Santos in 2004 at the age of 8 and thrived within their youth teams, earning himself the nickname that is already becoming known around the world as news of his talent spreads.
Due to his style of play and talent, he has been dubbed the “next Neymar” by the media; the next Zidane, the next Ronaldo, the next Pele, the next Messi, the next Henry, the next Cristiano Ronaldo – we have heard it all. A comparison with the greatest in the game in order to increase the hype and value of the player is nothing new in modern football. Sometimes generated by clubs, looking to cash in on their prized asset – sometimes through agents, trying to do the best for their client – comparison is a part and parcel of football and it is extremely unnecessary.
Despite the comparisons with Neymar, it is no surprise that both players are hardly alike. Perhaps the comparison is in terms of their natural ability and a remarkably bright future, in which case it makes sense. In eight seasons in the youth leagues he scored over 600 goals. At age 16, in 2013, he made his first-team debut against Flamengo. It also just happened to be Neymar’s farewell game before his departure for Barcelona. In a clever marketing ploy, Santos let the two play side by side for 20-odd minutes, thereby implicitly presenting Gabigol as the next Neymar.
His career hasn’t gone continuously uphill since. He is only 5-foot-9, still has a teenager’s physique, and under previous Santos coaches sometimes found himself on the bench. But there have never been many doubts about his potential. Gabigol has something of Neymar’s light-footed speed, an eye for the assist as well as for goal, and a versatility that allows him to play as winger, No. 10, or a slightly withdrawn centre-forward. However, he needs to improve his heading ability if he is to become a truly complete player. This problem is compounded by the fact he is not tall, which does not help him dealing with taller defenders which could be a problem if he moves to a more physical league.
Given that he’s still only a teenager, Gabigol’s scoring stats are very impressive, and it’s easy to see why European top coaches might think he’s already good enough to lead the line for a top club. He has 56 goals in total for Santos, coming in 152 games, so at a rate of 0.37 per game. For Brazil, he’s made a flying start with two goals in just four senior caps.Of course, scoring in the Brazilian league and scoring in Europe’s top flight are two very different things, but this early prolific form highlights his tremendous potential and natural ability at finding the back of the net.
For now, the national team is his most pressing concern. His presence in the Under 23 squad means he is in a good position to move to the senior side, especially if he succeeds at the Olympics (Rio2016) — the only international tournament that Brazil are yet to won, and which will be played on home soil in 2015. Such a long-awaited victory, so soon after the heartbreak of the 2014 World Cup, would grant him instant immortality yet with or without Olympic glory, Gabigol has what it takes to be a future star of the Seleção and another Santos legend in his own right.