Brazil's Bruno Guimaraes shows promise, poise at U-23 tournament
Captaining the side, Bruno Guimaraes bestrode the field like a colossus on Sunday night as Brazil's got their campaign underway in the South American Under-23 championships with a 1-0 win over Peru.
In theory he was the most defensive of Brazil's central midfielders. But against opponents who, especially in the first half, were extremely cautious, Bruno Guimaraes was everywhere. Strong on the ball, strong of personality, he was linking up with and running beyond the strikers, setting moves in motion with his crisp diagonal passing, popping up in the penalty box and testing the keeper with fierce shooting. The only goal of the game, just before half time, was his doing; he slid a perfectly weighted ball for Paulinho to cut in from the left wing and beat the keeper from a narrow angle. The match was an indication of why he has been so important to Athletico Paranaense over the past two and a half years -- and of why the 22-year-old is attracting so much attention from Europe.
There is plenty of speculation that he might leave in this month's transfer window. Atletico Madrid are believed to have expressed an interest, Arsenal are very keen but the current position is that French club Lyon are in pole position.
It is certainly possible to imagine Bruno Guimaraes succeeding in top class European football. But there is a 'however.'
Brazil, of course, produces quality footballers by the bucketload. But over the last few years many of the country's much hyped central midfielders have struggled to find their feet on the other side of the Atlantic. Lucas Silva, for example, was a key man in Cruzeiro's Brazilian title triumph, and was snapped up by Real Madrid in the hope that they had found another Xabi Alonso. He did nothing in Europe, has been let go and will try to rebuild his career with Gremio. Similarly, Thiago Maia was sold as a future phenomenon, but is heading back to Brazil after failing to meet expectations in France. Walace, his colleague from the 2016 Olympic squad, has not made the impact expected when he moved to Germany, and then on to Italy.
A possible explanation is easy to put forward. Football in Brazil is mainly very spaced out, with huge distances between the sectors of the team. The top class game in Europe is much more compact -- meaning that the midfielders have to play at a much quicker tempo. It helps, then, if the midfielder knows what he is going to do with the ball before he receives it -- and it helps all the more if he is sufficiently proficient in both feet to accept and distribute the ball as it comes to him, without the need to drag it on to his stronger foot.
The amount of space on the field in Brazilian football allows players to get by and shine on one foot alone -- and there is something of this in Bruno Guimaraes. For all his strength, poise and versatility, he is largely restricted to the right foot. In tight space, opponents who get to know him will close him down and reduce his effectiveness by forcing him on to his weaker side.
Coming up with a response to this challenge could be the measure of the success or failure of the coming European adventure of Brazil's Under-23 captain. Bruno Guimaraes has much to offer -- but he might have to develop a little bit more to make it at the next level.