The next generation of young stars heading to Europe’s top leagues

Arsenal are taking a gamble on Sao Paulo teenager Marquinhos, a teenage left-footed winger with almost a year’s first team experience in Brazil.

Brighton are doing something similar with 18-year-old Paraguayan Julio Enciso, considered as something special for a while back home, but another mobile winger or striker who is being signed more on potential than on achievements.

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Real Betis are bringing in Luiz Henrique, a strong left-footed Brazilian winger who is a bit further down the line, with a solid and impressive 18 months in the Fluminense first team.

And Manchester City, of course, have signed perhaps the biggest name in domestic South American football, striker Julian Alvarez, who River Plate have nurtured lovingly over the last five years and who now crosses the Atlantic as an established star at the age of 22.

In recent times that age has more or less been the cut off point for big European clubs to acquire players from South American clubs. The European market wants youngsters. Behind this is the idea that they can be signed cheaper, and that the earlier they come the easier it will be to adapt to the life and the football — which also gives them a higher transfer value in later years. Major European clubs are not usually interested in South American-based players who have reached their mid-20s.

But there could be an exception, based on personal relations. Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus has just taken over at Turkish giants Fenerbahce. He had a golden time with Flamengo of Rio in 2019, and has apparently requested the signing of striker Gabriel “Gabigol” Barbosa, who was the cutting edge of his team in Brazil.

Gabigol is approaching 26, and was perhaps too young for his first trip to Europe, when he made no impact with Inter Milan and Benfica. Is he too dependent on his left foot and too temperamental to make the transition? Jorge Jesus thinks not, and a key question now is whether the player will be interested in a move to a club from outside one of the big western European leagues.

On a recent trip to Brazil, Jorge Jesus was apparently also taken with little winger Igor Paixao, 22 next week, who has started the season very well with newly promoted Coritiba, cutting in from the left onto his stronger right foot.

Another striker enjoying an excellent year is Facundo Farias, 20 in August, from Colon in Argentina. Talented and intelligent, Farias has been in splendid form as a support striker, especially in the club’s Copa Libertadores campaign and he is on the radar of Porto in Portugal.

And there is plenty of speculation around Marcos Leonardo of Santos, a squat little 19-year-old centre forward in the mould of Romario — especially after he scored four goals last week for Brazil‘s under-20s against Uruguay.

Also seen as something special is his club mate Angelo, a 17-year-old winger who cuts in from the right who is being linked with Newcastle — though suitors would have to wait until the end of the year, when he turns 18, to take him over the Atlantic.

It is invariably strikers who make the biggest splash in the transfer market, but South America also has an interesting crop of midfielders.

Enzo Fernandez, 21, of River Plate is a central midfielder who already has considerable first-team experience — he was on loan at Defensa y Justicia when they won the Copa Sudamericana, and has since become a key man in the River line up.

Classy and versatile, he is involved in all phases of play — winning the ball, setting up the moves and finishing — and is on the shortlist of a number of European teams, with Benfica reportedly the most interested.

Also 21, Danilo of Palmeiras has made extraordinary strides in the last three years. He may even be the most effective player in Brazilian football, dominating from box to box with his dynamism. Palmeiras have no plans to transfer the player, but it might not be easy to hang on to him for much longer. He has already won the Copa Libertadores twice, and after being called up for the senior Brazil squad and training alongside world class talent earlier this month, he could well be hungry for more.

A couple of years younger, Carlos Alcaraz of Racing has been the revelation of domestic Argentine football this year, breaking forward into the penalty area with real thrust.

In a more defensive midfield role, Alan Varela of Boca Juniors is starting to flourish. Also worth noting are a trio of 21-year-olds from Brazil — Hercules of Fortaleza, who is strong box to box, and Vinicius Zanocelo of Santos, who can direct play from deep like a quarterback, while the combative Joao Gomes of Flamengo is gaining attention.

A year older at 22, Marcelino Nunez of Universidad Catolica is one of the few bright lights on the horizon for Chile, and would seem to have the dynamism to hold his own in Europe. That may not apply to Yerson Chacon, 19, of Deportivo Tachira in Venezuela, but his skill and vision are worthy of a wider audience.

Defenders probably mature later, and one who is attracting attention at the age of 26 is Leo Ortiz of Red Bull Bragantino, who has been linked with West Ham. Ortiz is calm and classy, and is able to operate in a high defensive line, which has earned him some recent call ups to the Brazil squad.

Another centre-back with impressive pace is Nicolas Marichal (21) of Nacional in Uruguay. He has been linked with a move to Brazil, but it is perhaps surprising that European clubs have not shown more interest.

And one centre-back who will surely be on radars is 18-year-old Joel Ordonez from Ecuador’s Independiente del Valle, a club with a remarkable recent record of developing talent. Ordonez is their latest cab off the rank, a composed and athletic defender who has taken wonderfully well to promotion to the first team, looking full of promise in a number of positions across the defensive line. He is unlikely to be in Ecuador for long.