The most bonkers transfer window I can remember slammed shut a couple of weeks ago, and now it’s time to pick up the pieces. Since this is the Brazil World Cup Blog, I will, naturally, examine the most interesting moves for Brazilian players. Yes, our very own BrazilStats already wrote a far timelier list, but our metrics of what constitutes a top transfer are pretty different—not to mention that I’ve also included a second, equally consequential set of players: the biggest non-transfers of the window.
Without any further ado:
(Getty Images / goal.com)
What else could possibly be #1? Neymar shocked everybody—especially Barcelona, it seems—by accepting Paris Saint-Germain’s offer to become the most expensive player of all time. Naturally, given the absurd amount of money he stands to gain, people have said that he just moved to chase after more sweet, sweet Euros and/or live in Gerard Depardieu’s old house. But this move was about more than that. At Barcelona, he always played second fiddle to Lionel Messi, and presumably would continue to do so for as long as Messi remained at the club, even as the Argentine aged and became less influential. No matter how well Neymar played—and, for long stretches last season, he was Barcelona’s best (sometimes, only good) player—as long as he played alongside Messi, Messi was the guy getting on the end of Neymar’s hard work, scoring the goals, getting the credit. PSG offered him the chance to get away from all that, to be the main man on a team like he is for Brazil.
Barça : We offer you to be with Messi
PSG: we offer you to be Messi.
— Angela Roemelt (@Angelaroemelt) July 23, 2017
When you consider that they also offered him a shitload more money than Barça could, it’s no wonder Neymar made the switch. Will it pay off in the long term? That depends on many things, not least whether PSG will be able to comply with Financial Fair Play in the wake of the deal, especially since they’ll likely still need to sign more players to address their deficiencies in holding midfield and in goal. For now, though, it’s been a pleasure to watch Neymar rule over a club like he did at Santos.
2. The Paulinho
(There still aren’t many good un-doctored photos of The Paulinho in a Barcelona shirt yet, so this one from goal.com will have to do)
The Paulinho, our lord and savior, has finally deigned to spread his blessings once more among the ungrateful rabble of Europe, moving to Barcelona from Guangzhou Evergrande for a cool €40 million. Laugh all you will, but this is actually great move for pretty much every party involved! The player gets a dream move to Barcelona; his old club gets a princely sum; coach Ernesto Valverde gets the physical midfielder he wants; and we Brazil fans will benefit either from his improving his passing and movement, or from him being exposed in a way he could never be in China. Barcelona, meanwhile, may be the only party to come out badly: the move has not been received well by the fans, and the fact that they couldn’t negotiate a cheaper sum for the player speaks badly of the board. Even so, they will spend years basking in the all-encompassing glory—nay, the blinding, overwhelming radiance—of The Paulinho.
In all seriousness, there is one scenario where this doesn’t work out for us: if The Paulinho flops or otherwise falls out of favor at Barcelona, he may well be so thoroughly secure in his starting spot for Brazil that even a huge loss of form and confidence wouldn’t be enough to drop him. Remember, that happened in 2013, when he struggled at Tottenham and lost his form for Brazil. Then again, it’s taken The Paulinho only 70 minutes of playing time to pass Luis Suárez on the scoring charts, so maybe we don’t need to be too worried.
3. Vinicius Júnior
(CBF / Esporte Fera)
It’s still way too early to tell whether Vinicius Júnior can live up to his enormous hype, and because of that, Real Madrid’s €45 million move for him seemed initially to be quite the gamble. As prices rose into the stratosphere over the rest of the summer, though, it became clear that Real might have just pulled off a really shrewd piece of business. Sure, maybe he flops and they lose out on their investment, but they’re undeniably capable of absorbing that and moving on. If he lives up to his potential, on the other hand, Madrid have landed their star for the next decade, or a nine-figure paycheck when another club comes calling. Seeing as VJ will spend at least another year at Flamengo and then potentially a season or two on loan in Europe as well, he should get the playing time he needs to develop into a player ready to start for Real. Given their record developing young Brazilians—Fabinho, Casemiro, and Willian Jose are recent graduates from their youth system—I think the kid is in good hands.
Reports say Manchester City stepped in at the last minute and hijacked Danilo’s move to Chelsea. Can’t really blame Danilo for seizing the chance to work with Pep Guardiola, but it might have been better for Brazil if he’d gone to Chelsea. See, Danilo is a very talented attacking player, but he’s never been all that good at the “back” part of “right-back”. In other words, Chelsea’s 3-5-2 would have played right into his hands: he would have had the defensive cover necessary to maraud forward as a wing-back—and his main competition would be Victor Moses, who was forced into the position by necessity next term. At City, meanwhile, he doesn’t have the luxury of that defensive cover, and more pertinently, he joined shortly after they’d made Kyle Walker the most expensive right-back in history. Because of that, he’s played more as a left-back than a right-back, which doesn’t help his Brazil cause at all. At left-back, he’s at absolute best sixth on the depth chart by Tite’s own admission, probably worse. At right-back, the extent of his competition seems to be Dani Alves and Fagner.1
Still, I’m glad to see Danilo leave Real Madrid, who used him in a way—on the rare occasions he was used at all—that seemed to minimize his strengths and maximize his shortcomings. And at City, he seems to have found an alternate way to reach the Seleção: Guardiola is making the most of his versatility. In addition to featuring on both flanks, he’s played in midfield as he often did for Santos and the 2012 Olympic team. Even without playing much at right-back, that ability to play multiple roles has earned him plenty of game time and boosted his confidence, and with so little competition at right-back, that was enough to earn him the chance to replace the suspended Dani Alves in our upcoming World Cup qualifier against Bolivia—his first callup to the Seleção in two years.
Speaking of Dani Alves…
5. Dani Alves
Getting Alves on a free transfer was a really shrewd piece of business by PSG. For nothing but his salary, they got an experienced player who can offer the veteran leadership they seemed to lack in their infamous capitulation to Barcelona, and he helped convince Neymar to join. It works out nicely for everybody else as well: Alves moves to another high-level club, this one more attack-minded than PSG, and in joining Marquinhos and Thiago Silva, three of Brazil’s best defenders2 will spend the year before the World Cup playing together at club level. And for all we know, playing alongside both Marquinhos and Alves at club level is the extra little boost Thiago Silva needs to finally displace Miranda as a starter for the national team.
(Getty Images / Manchester Evening News)
I know Brazil’s goalkeeping staff rates Alisson extremely highly, but personally, I think Ederson is our most talented goalkeeper:3 a great shot-stopper, skilled at moving out of his area to smother chances, and absolutely superb in his distribution. His move to Manchester City is match made in heaven. He brings a sweeper-keeper skillset ideal for the system Pep Guardiola (who thinks the world of him) wants to play, and so far he’s been far better about the crucial “stopping the ball from going into the net” thing than Claudio Bravo was last season. The open, swashbuckling English game and still-a-little-iffy City defense will give him some nice chances to show off his reflexes. Playing alongside Danilo, Fernandinho, and Gabriel Jesus will build his rapport with potential Brazil teammates. Even if he’s not likely to displace Alisson before the World Cup, he’s got everything at his disposal to stake his claim as Brazil’s No. 1 for many years to come.
(SL Benfica / sapo.pt)
Gabigol seems to have finally swallowed his pride and accepted a loan move away from Inter, where he struggled to so much as set foot on the field. At Benfica, he’ll be free of whatever backroom politics or coaching whims kept him on the bench in Milan. But if he flops—not that I expect him to, but this is a doubt that has lingered in my mind for a while—he’ll no longer have the cover of excuses. At Inter, he obviously dealt with coaches who didn’t care for him, but given the flashes of attitude he showed and his general lack of impact in his (extremely limited, so this is pretty unfair to even bring up) playing time, there’s a little part of me that wonders if, ultimately, he was the reason he didn’t play at Inter, if he’s simply not as good as he initially seemed to be. Again, even thinking that is kind of unfair to Gabigol. I hope his time at Benfica will prove me very, very wrong.
8. Diego Alves
So, a dirty little secret: I don’t actually watch the Brazilian league that often these days. So even though Diego has been at his new club longer than just about anybody else on his list, I haven’t actually had the chance to watch him and see how he’s been doing at Flamengo—and more to the point, whether his play has anything to do with him missing out on selection for the most recent round of World Cup qualifiers. In any case, and regardless of the specific reasons why, it’s ironic that he was called up for Brazil in June, joined Flamengo soon after out of a belief playing for one of Brazil’s largest clubs would all-but cement his place at next year’s World Cup, and then was left out of Brazil’s next two callups.
On a side note, his replacement at Valencia? Neto, who played4 in the Olympics in 2012 and then spent a few years as Gianluigi Buffon’s understudy at Juventus.
9. Douglas Costa
Including Douglas Costa’s loan move to Juventus on this list is something of a no-brainer, seeing as he’s featured regularly for Brazil for several years but needed a change of scenery at club level to return to his best, but despite that, I don’t actually have a whole lot to say about this move. He struggled with injuries last season at Bayern, lost his starting spot, and now is being loaned out—and so far at Juve, he’s only played more than 54 minutes once, in a game they lost handily. Hopefully that’ll improve, but right now, this is looking like it could be a lateral move in the worst sense. Given how badly he played the last time he featured for Brazil, he won’t return to the national team setup unless he turns it around for his new club first. We’ll have to see.
After new coach Roberto Mancini benched him at Zenit St. Petersburg, Giuliano moved to Fenerbahçe. For the player, not all that much changes. He moves from one major Eastern European club to another, presumably playing regularly against opposition somewhat below the standard of the biggest leagues. He won’t get the benefit of playing in the Europa League this year (Fener crashed out in the qualifying rounds), but he’s a favorite of Tite’s and, despite being excluded from the squad list for October’s World Cup qualifiers, presumably will continue to be called up on the regular.5
The interesting thing about this move is the price tag. Zenit let him Giuliano for less than 7 million Euros—as much as they paid for him originally, claims Transfermarkt. He combined for 30 goals and assists for Zenit last term, 14 of them in the Europa League. With those numbers, you’d think he would have attracted some interest from bigger leagues. Sure, he’s no Coutinho, but he’d be a fine addition for a mid-table club in, say, Spain or France, and an absolute steal in this year’s bonkers transfer market. Yet as far as I know, nobody showed any interest.6 He’s hardly the only player to whom this happened, but we’ll talk more about that later.
First, however, get ready, because it’s time for an…
INTERMISSION BONUS! What Do You Call A Bunch Of Brazilians In One Place?
Several clubs made concerted efforts this summer to bring in as many Brazilians as possible, in particular Marcelo Bielsa’s Lille and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. The result is that Brazilians are more concentrated at certain clubs in Europe, which is a good thing. We’ve long lamented how the likes of Germany and Spain can draw large portions of their national teams from a select few clubs in the local league, while Brazilians in Europe tend to be scattered across the continent. This summer was a step toward remedying that. Among the clubs in the top five European leagues that now have four or more Brazilians on the books:
Manchester City (4)
Napoli (4, if you still count Jorginho)
Additionally, there are a host of clubs with three or two Brazilians, primarily but not exclusively in France and Italy, including everything from major forces like Juventus and Olympique Lyon to unlikely aspirants like Nantes and Watford. Hopefully this trend continues over the coming years, so that Brazil is increasingly capable of calling upon a core of players who understand each other well from regular time together at club level.
Now, back to individual players. To wrap up this article, I want to talk about four players whose lack of a move this summer was enormously significant. And there’s only one guy who can lead off this list…
For a guy who ended up staying at Liverpool, Coutinho endured a remarkably fraught transfer window. Barcelona came calling early and often, ignoring Liverpool’s repeated insistence that he was absolutely not for sale with a series of increasingly colossal bids—up to €150 million—while the player refused to play for Liverpool in order to try and force a move.
The fallout from these events is not yet apparent. Not starting the Premier League season for Liverpool meant he started Brazil’s September World Cup qualifiers on the bench, and the team was decidedly blah in his absence. Liverpool say they’ll welcome him back into the fold with open arms, but the saga has definitely hurt his relationship with the fans, perhaps irreparably. Worse, Coutinho may not be motivated to give his best for Liverpool now, which could affect his form for the Seleção as well.
Now, having said all that, I’m glad he didn’t move to Barcelona. Frankly, I’m perplexed that he was so eager to move there now. The sun is setting on Barça’s dynasty, and while Coutinho might have served as the long-term replacement for Andrés Iniesta they’ve long sought, their problems run far deeper than just an aging midfielder, and given the dysfunctional board’s inability to replace their aging stars, they likely haven’t hit bottom. I didn’t mention this too much in Neymar’s entry, because it felt more pertinent here, but I think this was another big factor in his decision to leave Barcelona; he saw the writing on the wall. Coutinho apparently didn’t.
I’m writing this, of course, as Barcelona get off to a rip-roaring start to the season, while Liverpool look abject even now that Coutinho’s back in the team, but I’ll stand by it. I have tremendous doubts about whether Barça can sustain this incredible start once the fixtures begin to pile up; there’s no way Lionel Messi can continue to carry this team so completely on his back for an entire season, and Barça’s struggles to score in the Champions League knockout stages last season will only be made worse without Suárez and Neymar. Liverpool, of course, may yet fare worse, even with Coutinho, but with them he can function as the uncontested star and playmaker of the team, rather than be pigeonholed into something like Iniesta’s cautious, reserved supporting role at Barcelona, and he can do so without quite the same enormous weight of expectation crashing down upon him when his team struggles. Put another way: I see Liverpool’s problems as more easily fixable, and once they are fixed, Coutinho will be able to excel in Liverpool’s setup in ways he couldn’t in Barcelona’s.
Luan and Rodrigo Caio
(AFP / Globo Esporte)
I’m lumping these two together because they fit the same bill: they’re hugely talented, Brazil-based players who attracted surprisingly little interest despite being available for cheap—both €20 million or less. Considering the insane fees being bandied about in this transfer window, you’d think big clubs would have swarmed around these players, but no. Luan opted against a late transfer to Valencia after rumors of interest from the likes of Liverpool came to naught, while Caio was not, as far as I know, the target of offers by any club bigger than Zenit. As with Giuliano, these guys are good players, available for cheap, and yet received remarkably little interest. Hell, both Caio and Luan are on a whole different level from Giuliano! They could easily start for a top-five club in any of Europe’s big leagues!
Yet no one took them. Not even Liverpool, a club in desperate need of some more talented defenders, coached by a man who has a history of working well with Brazilians, made no move for Caio, but were apparently willing to shell out €70 million for Virgil Van Dijk, who hadn’t played since January. Something is rotten in the
state county of Denmark Merseyside.
(AFP / The Sun)
PSG have a problem. If they’re trying to balance the books by selling off a few of the many, many wingers and attacking midfielders who won’t get any playing time now that Neymar and Kylian Mbappé are all-but guaranteed to start, it sure as hell isn’t working. Lucas, Angel Di Maria, Hatem Ben Arfa, Javier Pastore, Julian Draxler, and Gonçalo Guedes all stayed at the club.
Only one of those names interests us, of course. I heard a rumor during Neymar’s transfer that Neymar insisted to the club’s management that Lucas stay, but it didn’t take long for contrary rumors to swirl that PSG were looking to offload him. For a while, it seemed it that Lucas would go to Monaco as a makeweight in the Mbappé/Fabinho deals, but ultimately Lucas decided to stay and fight for his place, apparently scuttling Fabinho’s move in the process.
Lucas Moura has decided to stay in PSG and fight for his place. He is gong nowhere in this transfer window. pic.twitter.com/4gUKbwhWEf
— Seleção Brasileira (@BrazilStat) August 31, 2017
Lucas has been a fringe player with Brazil for a while now; he’s only played 53 minutes of international football in the last four years. Even though he was extremely impressive the last time he got more than garbage minutes for the Seleção, and even though he put up the best numbers of his career last season, Tite has never called him. Going to Monaco would have guaranteed him a starting role and finally given him a chance to escape the more cautious, self-sacrificing role he had to play at PSG—to be more like the Lucas we had such high hopes for five years ago. Instead, he’s warming the bench at PSG, getting only occasional minutes as a substitute. Of course, what he’d have to do to carve out a regular role would also surely be enough to warrant him returning to the national-team fold. In that unlikely event, his renewed partnership with Neymar would surely be a valuable asset.
 Unfortunately, I don’t see Fabinho getting a look at RB unless he starts playing the position again for his club, which he hasn’t done for years now. And in any case, he needs to get called up to the Seleção in any capacity first.
 Say what you will about Alves, but there’s really nobody who can contest him at right-back unless Tite makes a surprise decision about Fabinho’s role or Danilo turns his career around under Pep Guardiola.
 In fairness to Alisson, I’ve watched him almost exclusively in his appearances for Brazil, where he routinely has, like, nothing to do. Gave a good show against Colombia, though.
 And flopped, but he’s improved a lot since then.
 Personally, I don’t think he’s really Seleção caliber, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a good player.
 I could be wrong, but I didn’t see any rumors about other clubs’ interest, and I don’t believe our friend BrazilStats shared any either.
 Not counting Thiago Motta, who was born in Brazil but played for Italy.
 Admittedly, Roma had five Brazilians going into the summer, though their other transfer dealings mean that some of their players, like Alisson, are now going to play more.
 Holy shit, we need to keep a closer eye on Rome!