Some say lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice. But they’ve clearly never been to the Vila Belmiro.
The rickety old stadium – home to famous Brazilian club Santos – has made a habit of giving rise to some of the world’s finest footballers. Santos is the club that produced Pele, Neymar and Robinho, and they may be on the verge of repeating the trick.
Rodrygo Goes, the 17-year-old attacker who is the latest off the production line in the port city of 1million people, is reported to be close to joining Real Madrid for somewhere in the region of €50million.
Despite his tender age, Rodrygo has already been singled out as one to keep an eye on for some time. When he was just 11 years old, he signed a contract with Nike, becoming the youngest Brazilian to do so, beating the previous record of 13.
That record, of course, had belonged to Neymar.
The comparisons between the two, given their backgrounds, are inevitable. But they are something Rodrygo wants to avoid. In 2017, when the similarities were put to him by Brazilian journalists, he retorted, “I want to be the new Rodrygo and do things that only I can do.”
So far, he has gone about that task in the right way. In the Santos youth teams, he averaged almost two goals per game and won plaudits from all who saw him touch the ball.
After an U15 tournament in 2016 – in which he was voted best player – Brazil legend Zico told ESPN Brasil that, “Rodrygo has a lot of technique, ability and plays for the team. He was massively important in their victory and has a beautiful future ahead of him.”
The young forward, as you may be able to tell from the last four words of Zico’s first sentence, has a personality and playing style distinct from that of his predecessor in the role of Santos wonder-kid.
Off the pitch, he is reported to be quiet, focused and unblinkingly dedicated to his profession, even though he still has to combine football with his school work.
Also, unlike his older compatriot, Rodrygo will most likely end up as a central attacker, despite presently being deployed out wide. Several of his goals for Santos have come from runs in behind the last man or close-range tap-ins, whereas the current PSG star prefers to receive the ball in deeper areas.
That is not to say that Rodrygo is unable to use his speed and quick feet to glide past defenders, however.
In March this year, with his team down to 10 men in a tough Copa Libertadores tie against Nacional of Uruguay, he picked up the ball on the half-way line before skipping down the left wing, outrunning two defenders and slipping the ball under the onrushing ‘keeper.
With the strike, he made what could have been a horrible game for Santos into a comfortable victory, showing personality beyond his years and becoming the youngest Brazilian to ever score in South America’s premier club competition.
In late May, he once more drew the world’s attention as he bagged a hat-trick in a league game against Vitoria. The goals, all coming in differing manners, showed that he has the necessary array of skills required to make it to the top.
The first was a poacher’s effort, reacting fastest to a parried header. The second was a brilliant piece of dexterity, jinking this way and that before slotting it past the goalie. And the last of the three showed his pace and strength as he ran on to a through-ball and held off a defender to give himself a simple finish.
There is no doubt that the newest ‘Menino da Vila’, as Santos’ academy products are known, has all the necessary talent to thrive in Spain.
Talent alone, though, is no sure-fire precursor of success. The years between 18 and 21 are vital in any player’s development and Rodrygo would not be guaranteed immediate first-team minutes were he to move, possibly inhibiting his progress.
Spending that sort of money on one so young, therefore, remains a huge risk on the part of the buying club.
Rodrygo’s current team-mate Gabriel Barbosa can attest to that. He moved to Inter Milan for €30million in 2016, but after just nine disappointing appearances in Italy and a short spell on loan at Benfica, he has returned to his boyhood club in an attempt to rebuild his confidence.
To make Real’s mooted move for Rodrygo even more incredible, it would be the second time in little over a year that the club has splashed such an outlandish fee on a raw Brazilian teenage attacker.
In May 2017, Los Merengues parted with €46million to secure the services of Vinicius Jr, who will be traveling to join up with his new team-mates as soon as he turns 18 in July. Rodrygo, if he does move, will only be able to join Vinicius in January 2019.
The pair will face similar challenges if they do end up together in Madrid and both have a long way to go before they can be considered amongst the best footballers in the world – a pre-requisite for anyone who wants to prosper at the Santiago Bernabeu.
With these transfers, it seems that Real are trying to make up for the fact that they missed out on Neymar in 2013, when he chose to move to arch-rivals Barcelona. The difference with Neymar, however, is the age at which he joined one of the world’s biggest clubs.
It is understandable that Los Blancos would want Vinicius and Rodrygo to move as soon as possible. They are, after all, huge financial investments that require protection. But the time they will inevitably spend in the youth and reserve teams at Real would surely be more beneficial were it to be used playing first-team games in South America.
For the sake of Brazilian football, we can only hope the latest bolt of lightning to strike the Vila Belmiro continues to shine if he does make the move to the Spanish capital. Nobody can predict with certainty, however, whether Real’s gambles will pay off.