Around the turn of this year, Girondins de Bordeaux had fallen on tough times. They had earned just a single victory from 14 games in the run-up to Ligue 1’s winter break and in January were knocked out of the Coupe de France by lowly Granville, a semi-professional outfit from the fourth division.
As is always the case in modern football, the coach, Jocelyn Gourvennec, was ousted and into the empty hotseat came ex-Sunderland manager Gus Poyet.
Bordeaux needed a win from somewhere to stop the rot but the Uruguayan’s first game in charge was a tough prospect against high-flying Lyon. To take the three points, they would have to be at their very best and would need inspiration from the only man in their squad capable of providing it. Fortunately for Poyet and les Girondins, he delivered.
Malcom, the flying Brazilian winger now on the radar of some of Europe’s top clubs, put in a barnstorming display. A driving 45-yard run set up Bordeaux’s first before he won and converted a penalty to bag the second. His side went on to win 3-1 and have now taken 20 points from the last 33 available, cementing their place in mid-table.
The player, who is named after American political activist Malcolm X, was rumoured to be very close to the exit door in January, but Bordeaux’s fans will be thanking their lucky stars he stayed. Without his presence, their season could have gone very differently indeed.
This summer, however, it looks certain that his time in south west France will come to an end. On Thursday, Bordeaux’s major shareholder Nicolas de Tavernost told a general shareholder’s meeting that, “There is a major player from Brazil who you know wants to leave the club and we will do that in all of our interests. It is the reason we bought this player in the first place, to eventually sell him in between seasons.”
Malcom arrived at Bordeaux in January 2016 for just €5 million, so the sale, for a reported fee of €50 million, will represent an excellent bit of business for the club.
Arsenal, Tottenham, and Liverpool were all known to be keen on the 21-year-old in January and have now reportedly been joined in the race by PSG and Bayern Munich, the latter seeing him as a like-for-like replacement for Arjen Robben.
Malcom is not afraid to add fuel to the flames and recently told beIN Sports that it would be a “dream” to play for the Paris outfit, alongside his compatriot and idol Neymar. This will surely not deter the English clubs who are chasing his signature, however, as they will be able to tempt him with the offer of far more first-team action.
In his time at Bordeaux, he has developed into one of Europe’s foremost attacking talents and so far this season has nine goals and six assists in 27 starts. He has also completed 2.5 key passes (a pass that results in a team-mate shooting) per game, the most of any player aged 21 or under in Europe’s top-five leagues and more than David Silva or Toni Kroos.
Before excelling in Ligue 1, Malcom had already built a sparkling reputation in his homeland with Corinthians as they romped to the Brazilian title in 2015. Now better-known for starting from the right and cutting in, in 2015 he played an instrumental role on the left of Corinthians’ 4-1-4-1 formation and scored some vital goals to help his side to the trophy.
Rodrigo Vessoni, a journalist for the Meu Timão website who has followed Malcom’s progress from his first steps in Corinthians’ academy, recalled the attacking midfielder’s capacity to step up to the plate when his team needs him the most.
He was, Vessoni recounted, the best player on the pitch in both of Corinthians’ games against main title rivals Atlético Mineiro in 2015, two wins that effectively sealed the league title. “In the first game, [Corinthians] won 1-0, took the lead [in the table] and didn’t let go of it. In the second, they won 3-0 and Malcom scored the first goal. At that moment, he showed his personality.”
Vessoni also believes that Malcom has the mental fortitude necessary to deal with the pressures of playing for a European giant. “He’s going to be in [the Premier League], where it is technically more difficult for him to play,” Vessoni said, “But in terms of stress, I doubt that any club in the world comes with more pressure than playing for Corinthians, because of what they represent here in Brazil.”
The Sao Paulo-based side boasts 30 million fans across South America’s biggest country and the scrutiny their players perform under is correspondingly gargantuan. As well as that, it is a team that has a very specific identity, having always been associated with the working class and the downtrodden.
That image was something with which Malcom was able to identify, having grown up in the poor eastern suburbs of Sao Paulo, where the club itself is based.
Last year, the young Brazilian even flew tattoo artist Bruno Henrique Lopes to France to indel a new image onto his left calf, making sure he carries his roots with him wherever he goes. The tattoo shows a young boy, barefoot with a ball in his right hand, standing on a football pitch looking up at a collection of makeshift houses perched on a hill.
Tattooist Lopes, speaking to GiveMeSport, said that the scene “represents Malcom’s infancy. A boy holding a ball and dreaming of becoming a professional footballer. He grew up in a favela in Sao Paulo. He always wanted to be a footballer and did [the tattoo] thinking about that.”
When Malcom won the Brazilian league title in 2015 it was under the stewardship of current Brazil coach Tite and it was widely reported that the two shared an emotional moment in the manager’s office when the player announced his decision to move to France.
It would not be at all surprising to see the pair reunited soon if, after his inevitable move to the big time, the young winger keeps progressing at the rate he has so far. Only this time, it will be with Malcom making his debut in the famous yellow jersey of Brazil.