Why Robert Is the Best Brazilian Player You've Not Yet Heard of
Brazil is a country with a fine tradition of producing footballing talent and, at present, it doesn't look like the conveyor belt is showing any signs of slowing up.
In these modern times, with the Internet having changed the way supporters can access football worldwide beyond recognition, it is now virtually impossible to introduce a totally unknown player to a wider audience.
With that in mind, for the purpose of this article, we will use those who have yet to make first-team level as the basis for making our selection and, indeed, there are plenty of players in the country's youth ranks who are tipped for bright futures.
The recent Copa São Paulo youth tournament, an Under-19 event that brought together teams from across the country showcased a number of such talents—many of whom will make their first-team debuts in the coming twelve months.
The likes of Santos forward Neilton, São Paulo midfielder João Schmidt and Desportivo Brasil striker Bruno Gomes all shone at the event and are all tipped for big things in coming years.
However, there was one 16-year-old on show who once more demonstrated just why he is so highly rated in his homeland. Fluminense attacking midfielder Robert.
For some background information on Robert, I turned to Football Manager's head researcher in Brazil, Paulo Freitas, for an introduction.
"Robert is a very talented midfielder, with good technical skills," the researcher and Sky Sports correspondent informed me. "He is also creative, making chances for others with his excellent passing abilities.
"He has been shining at youth level since he was in the Under-15s, when he first got called up for Brazil's youth national teams. Since then, he has also shone for Fluminense in big competitions such as the recent Al-Kass tournament."
The video below gives a brief example of just how Robert has impressed:
Born in the interior of Rio de Janeiro state on September 28, 1996, Robert Gonçalves Santos began his path to becoming a footballer by playing futsal.
Indeed, according to an interview given to Brazilian football website Olheiros, it was only at the age of 10 that Robert first played a proper game of football, having been invited to Fluminense after impressing in the indoor game.
Two years later, aged 12, the young talent was already being represented by giant player agency Traffic and, by the age of 14, he was included in the Brazil Under-15 squad for the Mediterranean Cup.
The following year, the No. 10 was starring at the 2011 Under-15 South American championship—where his performances began to garner national attention. Less than a year later, on his 16th birthday, he signed a first professional contract, which Globo Esporte report could contain a release fee of €50 million.
Remarkable progress, indeed.
At the time there had been interest from a series of European clubs, reportedly including Inter Milan and Juventus, but the youngster insists that it is better to continue his career in Brazil for the time being.
Now a member of Brazil's Under-17 squad, the creative playmaker who insisted to Globo that he "hopes to be better than Neymar" is busy working on earning a first-team place with his club. That and improving his left foot, as he admits in the interview.
Despite his desire to improve, his left-foot has really not proved to be a glaring weakness. While renowned for his close control and ability to beat an opponent, Robert has also shown while moving to higher age levels that he has the maturity to alter his approach against better opponents.
Rather than falling into the trap of relying on his ability to beat opposition one-on-one, Robert has shown a balance to his game that sees him vary his approach and utilise his passing and playmaking abilities to unlock defences.
He has also become renowned for arriving late in the box to capitalise upon scoring opportunities.
Fluminense Under-17 coach Caio Couto certainly believes that he has the ability to go far in the game, telling Globo in a separate interview last year: “Robert is a phenomenon. He is capable of winning games by himself and is physically strong.
“Of course you can't predict the future because of injuries and other problems, but if nothing unusual happens, he could play for the first-team in 2013.”
The coach also revealed that it was the player himself who had asked to move up the age ranks: "He lacked motivation at Under-15 level, it was no longer a challenge to him. That's when Robert came to me and asked to move up. He started as a substitute but soon took the No. 10 shirt.
"Robert has the ability to be a top level player in the future, like Neymar. He has ability and a close family, they push him a lot."
Those who have worked with the youngster for both club and country offer nothing but optimism for his future and the persistent comparisons with Neymar are a clear indication of the esteem in which he is held.
There is a long developmental road ahead for the young star, with adaptation to first-team football always a difficult challenge for young players however talented.
When it comes to Robert, though, there are already a host of experienced judges of Brazilian youth talent who are willing to stake their reputation on his success. He's a potential star.
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