Top 10 Players to Watch in Brazil's Campeonato Paulista
The Paulista championship (i.e. Sao Paulo state) is without doubt the strongest of all Brazil's state championship. Not only does it boast four giant clubs of the Brazilian game but also several mid-level sides with great histories of their own.
Neymar (pictured) is the obvious star of the tournament but there are plenty of others. The likes of Luis Fabiano, Alexandre Pato, Paulinho, Arouca and Ganso have all recently been in the Brazil squad, while there are several others who could potentially reach that level.
This article, though, will not focus on the likes of Neymar. Instead, it is better to look at some of the players with something to prove over the course of the Paulistao. This is where major talking points lie.
So, without further ado, let's take a look at 10 players to watch in the remaining weeks of the Paulista championship.
10. Joao Schmidt
A star of the Sao Paulo side at the recent Copa Sao Paulo youth tournament, Joao Schmidt is one of the most highly rated young midfielders in Brazil.
A wonderful passer of the ball, Schmidt has proven that he can orchestrate the midfield at youth level and is now looking to make the leap upward to first-team standards.
Left-footed, 19-year-old Schmidt is one of the more elegant midfielders of his age group. While many rely on speed or strength, the Sao Paulo youngster allows his game intelligence and technical ability to take the fore.
He has been on the fringes of the first team squad for some time now, making a handful of appearances to date. He will hope, though, for greater opportunities as the Paulista campaign races onwards in the coming weeks.
Santos striker Givanildo, or simply Giva, joined the club after impressing at the 2012 edition of the Copa Sao Paulo youth tournament for North Eastern side Vitoria.
The 20-year-old enjoyed a good season at youth level after joining the Paulista giants, culminating in title success in this year's edition of the Copa Sao Paulo in January.
Fast and agile, Giva has been called upon to play for the first-team in recent games with the absences of the suspended Neymar and injured Miralles an issue for coach Muricy Ramalho.
Thus far, the young striker has been steady rather than spectacular but there is a growing feeling that he could go on to enjoy great success at first-team level.
This Paulista championship should be treated as a learning experience for him, but there is the potential for him to star against some lesser opponents.
Sao Paulo striker Ademilson shot to wider prominence as the centre-forward of Brazil's Under-17 national team at the World Cup in 2011.
Now 19 years old, the powerful young forward is still taking his first steps at first-team level but has been afforded regular appearances by his club over the past 12 months.
Quick and strong, the young goalscorer has long been discussed as a potential future Brazil No. 9 but is yet to fully come to terms with the challenges of football at senior level.
A wonderful finisher when confident, talent will not be an issue. Whether Ademilson is mentally able to assert himself at the highest level remains to be seen.
With Sao Paulo in the Copa Libertadores, he should be afforded plenty of opportunities for the remainder of the Paulista championship.
The career of 19-year-old Leandro has been a topsy-turvy affair thus far, with spells of good form interspersed with periods of consistently abject performances.
Whatever the reason, the young second-striker is clearly talented and could make a fine career for himself if he can become more consistent.
Leandro burst onto the scene in the 2011 Gaucho state championship, earning comparisons with Neymar for his speed and trickery. Of course, at that point, they had matching mohawk hairstyles to add to the ease of comparison.
The Grêmio player, though, failed to kick on and, despite a good run of goalscoring form in 2012, has been loaned to Palmeiras to get experience playing for the club in Serie B this campaign.
It may be make or break for Leandro's chances of playing at the very highest level. It is now that he must prove that he is more than just another talented youngster who will fall short at senior level.
6. Rene Junior
Former Mogi Mirim and Ponte Preta midfielder Rene Junior has worked his way up through the ranks of several smaller clubs to join Paulista giants Santos, where he will hope to make a significant impact this season.
Thus far, results have been mixed for the 23-year-old, but there have been enough impressive moments to suggest that joining Santos could be just the beginning for the powerful midfielder.
With the experienced Marcos Assuncao and Arouca for competition, the relative youngster faces a challenge to ensure that he remains first choice this season. Succeed, though, and he will be set for a career at the top of the Brazilian game.
A strong tackler and disciplined presence at the base of the midfield, Rene Junior is a player who has much to gain in the Paulista championship and, thus, it is worth keeping an eye on his progress.
Former Werder Bremen midfielder Wesley arrived at Palmeiras last year as the man to end their midfield woes.
Instead, though, a knee injury would see him limited to just 400 minutes of action in his first season, following a hefty €6 million transfer.
Back in action and slowly regaining his match sharpness, though, the midfielder has begun to show his quality with three assists in Palmeiras' 10 state championship fixtures to date.
Palmeiras will expect an immediate return to Serie A football this season, and they will need Wesley to contribute to do so.
With his ability in the Brazilian top flight already well-known, it is up to the former Santos midfielder to show that he is not suffering any ill-effects from his injury trouble.
Sao Paulo's outstanding player this season, with the possible exception of former Shakhtar midfielder Jadson, Osvaldo has set about proving that he is more than just a good player at a small club.
Osvaldo arrived at Sao Paulo in early 2012 from Ceara and was afforded few opportunities in his early months at the club. The arrival of coach Ney Franco mid-season, though, saw his career at the club swiftly revived.
Originally a centre-forward, Osvaldo has shown under his new manager that there is much more to his game. Playing predominantly from the left flank, he is now a creative force as well as goalscoring threat.
If Brazilian football had a prize for Breakthrough of the Year or Most Improved Player, Osvaldo would be the leading candidate.
Twelve months ago he was a recently signed squad player, while now he is surely a prime candidate for selection when Brazil take on Chile in a home-based international.
3. Renato Augusto
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One man who is receiving special attention during the current Paulistao campaign is former Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Renato Augusto, freshly returned to Brazil with Corinthians.
After an injury-hit end to his time in Germany, Renato is back in Brazil with the aim of forcing his way back into the national team setup. (Goal) At Corinthians, he is also part of what is probably Brazil's best side.
Readjusting to the Brazilian game is not easy, though. Both Deco and Jadson before him were criticised in their early days of re-adaptation and Renato has certainly not found life easy thus far.
He is, though, too talented to fail. At his best he should be one of the best attacking midfielders Brazil has to offer, but needs to regain the form and confidence that saw him shine in Germany.
It will be interesting to see how long it takes for him to reach the levels of performance that Corinthians have come to expect from their leading lights. It may take longer than expected.
2. Alexandre Pato
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The return of Alexandre Pato to Brazilian football this January was the biggest news story that the South American game has seen in quite some time.
That a Brazilian club was able to spend €15 million on any player is exceptional, but a return to the country of one of their biggest talents at the age of just 23 was simply incredible. (Guardian)
Quite simply, Neymar aside, he should be the best player in the league. Whether he can stay consistently fit enough to prove that fact remains to be seen.
Corinthians, though, are perfectly set up for him to be a success and in Paolo Guerrero, he has the ideal strike partner alongside him.
With three goals in 10 appearances, several of which have been from the substitutes bench, he has started reasonably well. Both he and his supporters, though, will expect an explosion of goals at some point in the near future.
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What does the future hold for Ganso? Once spoken about as one of a duo with Neymar, it is now open for debate as to whether the playmaker even merits a place in the starting lineup of club side Sao Paulo.
Ganso joined the Tricolor late last summer after a contractual dispute with previous owners Santos. Injured at the time, the expectation was that he would quickly slot into Ney Franco's side once fit.
That has not been the case as Sao Paulo have struck what appears to be a good balance with the talents of Jadson installed as playmaker. To drop Jadson now would be grossly unfair.
So, for now it is a waiting game for the 23-year-old Brazil international. He must, though, do more with the opportunities he is handed than he is currently doing. His attitude has been the subject of much debate.
Ney Franco has always insisted that Ganso is considered a first-teamer but must wait for his chance. At the moment, though, it appears he may be waiting for a while. An interesting storyline that is bubbling away at the Morumbi.