Real Madrid target Igor Gomes: why he's tagged 'the new Kaká'
The similarities to Kaká in Igor Gomes' play are striking, and the Sao Paulo midfielder has been tipped to continue his upward trajectory.
'Next Generation' is a series focusing on the young players tipped to establish themselves as the elite in the 2020s.
Igor Gomes: the next new Kaká
It's fair to say being labelled the "new Kaká" doesn't always work out well for youth products cultivated at Sao Paulo. Just ask Mirray, Sergio Mota and Lucas Piazon.
Oscar, Lucas Paqueta and Reinier have also had to cope with comparisons to the 2007 Ballon d'Or winner, though it would be unfair to judge whether the latter duo have lived up to that billing yet.
Now it's the turn of Brazil Under-20 international Igor Gomes.
Spotted as an eight-year-old playing football in Rio Preto, he was registered by Sao Paulo two years later and moved into their Cotia academy in 2012.
With his lithe frame, exquisite close control and a determined, powerful running style from central midfield, it's easy to see where the Kaká comparisons come from, even if he doesn't have quite the same burst of pace.
Gomes won six titles during his time in Sao Paulo's youth ranks but found the move up to the U17 level difficult to negotiate at first.
"I blamed myself, I blamed myself too much, when I made an error, I was very sad, I couldn't just move on. It hurt me a lot in games because I couldn't develop my football. I had to work on this issue," he told Globo Esporte.
He showed his character to swiftly overcame that hurdle in 2016, though, winning the U17 state championship before moving up to the U20s and tasting Copa do Brasil success.
By the following year Rogerio Ceni, the former Sao Paulo goalkeeper who scored over 100 goals for the club and had an unsuccessful stint as head coach in 2017, had him training with the first team.
Gomes was a key part of Sao Paulo's run to the final of the Copa Sao Paulo – Brazil's most prestigious youth tournament – at the start of 2018. There was cause for excitement among Tricolor fans given it was the club's first appearance in the showpiece since a side featuring Lucas Moura and Casemiro lifted the trophy in 2010.
Although the Copinha ended with a disappointing 1-0 defeat to Flamengo, U20 coach Andre Jardine was appointed interim boss of the first team following the sacking of Diego Aguirre in November of that year.
Gomes was one of a number of youth players he showed faith in, handing him his senior debut in a 0-0 draw against Sport Recife in November 2018.
Jardine was replaced in February 2019 by Vagner Mancini and a double in a 2-1 Campeonato Paulista quarter-final first leg victory over Ituano, the first of which was a delightful scissor kick, showed he could play an important role in the senior set-up.
However, Mancini was only keeping the seat warm before Cuca took over in April, and game time was much harder to come by under the man who had played an important role in Gabriel Jesus' development at Palmeiras.
Gomes opted against a loan move to Spain that agent Wagner Ribeiro presented to Sao Paulo in July and it wasn't until the arrival of Fernando Diniz last September that his fortunes turned around – he made just two starts and 12 substitute appearances in five months under Cuca.
From the Tricolor to Los Blancos?
An increase in minutes under Diniz led to an increase in his production and reports of interest from Real Madrid soon emerged.
It is hoped the 21-year-old will command a record fee of £45million for Sao Paulo, whose previous biggest sale was the £33.5m deal that sent Lucas to Paris Saint-Germain in 2013, and he certainly fits with a recent trend at the Santiago Bernabeu.
After missing out on Neymar to arch-rivals Barcelona, Madrid president Florentino Perez has splashed the cash to ensure his team do not miss out on the next big thing to come out of Brazil.
Since 2017, Los Blancos have shelled out in excess of £100m to bring teenage prodigies Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo and Reinier to the club.
Could Gomes be the next name in the chain? Diniz believes he has the talent for it and acknowledged Sao Paulo's precarious financial position makes a transfer highly likely.
"It's difficult to stay [at Sao Paulo] because of his age and quality. Clubs, and Sao Paulo cannot escape this, almost none do, they need to sell players to honour their financial commitments," Diniz told Radio Transamerica.
"If it arrives at a certain moment, with the size of the proposal, the club is almost obliged to sell. As long as we have the model that is there … we will continue to be a supplier of raw materials. And he is a great raw material.
"Due to the evolution he is experiencing, he is a player on an exponential growth curve. He plays better and better, he identifies with the club and the way the team plays. His improvement was almost instant after I arrived. There is a very clear tendency for Igor to play better and better."
Diniz unlocks potential
It is clear why Diniz thinks that. Of Gomes' 27 appearances in the 2019 Campeonato Brasileiro, 15 came in the space of two months after he took over as head coach, and his two goals and assists came during that run.
He had the fifth most passes completed in the league among players aged under 22, with his accuracy rate a respectable 83.7 per cent.
Gomes is particularly capable of doing damage high up the pitch. He has an eye for an incisive pass and the technical ability to be able to pull off an intricate throughball.
Sao Paulo team-mates Luan Santos (404) and Antony (749) – who respectively played 257 and 1,037 minutes more than him – were the only players under 22 to complete more passes in the opposition half than his 400 in last year's Brasileirao.
It's no wonder he was handed a pay rise in March, though his contract is set to expire in 2023, and Diniz has no doubt Gomes is destined for big things.
"With his age it is always going to be difficult for the team to keep him. If I say what I want, it is that he could stay as long as possible," said the coach.
"He is a player of very rare quality in Brazilian football, perhaps worldwide, and the way he plays is very important."