20 Best Brazilian Under-20 Talents to Watch
Brazilian football has a remarkable ability to regenerate itself consistently, managing to recover year on year from the departure of its best players to European football.
Since last summer, the core of Brazil's younger generation has moved on. Bernard, Oscar Neymar, Fernando and Lucas Moura are all regulars with the national team—but all now play in Europe.
The result has been a 2013 Brasileirao deprived of many of its star players and the overall standard has suffered as a consequence. Encouragingly, though, this year has once again seen the emergence of several new potential stars of both Brazilian and world football.
Let's then take a look at 20 of the best Under-20 players that Brazilian football currently has to offer.
Powerful central defender Doria was one of the revelations of the 2012 Brasileirao season, coming into the Botafogo starting lineup at the age of 17 and quickly making himself central to the Alvinegro plans.
Brazilian media outlet UOL (Portuguese) reported in August that Chelsea, Benfica, Juventus and Barcelona have all made approaches for the player's signature, but he has thus far been retained by the Carioca club.
A left-footer who is comfortable on the ball and is an excellent reader of the game, Doria looks to be in the company of PSG's Marquinhos as Brazil's great defensive prospects for the future.
As captain of Brazil's Under-20 side at the 2013 Toulon Tournament, he is already well established within the national team setup and made his senior debut in a 4-0 victory over Bolivia.
Once hailed as "Gremio's Neymar," 20-year-old Leandro has come of age over the last 12 months to make himself an effective player at first-team level following initial struggles.
Everything came too quickly for his own good at the beginning of his career. Having arrived at Gremio in 2010 as a complete unknown, he found himself declared one of Brazil's great hopes just months later.
A good 2011 state championship, though, was to be the start of a decline that would last over a year, with off-field problems also hindering his development.
Now settled at Palmeiras, playing regularly and scoring goals, he is beginning to show the dribbling ability and goalscoring prowess that made him stand out early on in his career.
Leandro also won his first Brazil cap against Bolivia, scoring in the process.
Rodrigo Caio (Sao Paulo)
Sao Paulo defensive midfielder Rodrigo Caio is the only Tricolor player to have played every minute of their 21 league fixtures thus far, starting games in a number of positions including right-back, centre-back and his favoured midfield role.
An elegant figure at the base of midfield, Caio is an expert tackler and also a good distributor of the ball.
While last season's standout pair of Wellington and Denilson have not hit form this campaign, it is testament to the belief the club have in Caio that he has made a first-team role his own.
It has been a difficult season for Sao Paulo, who only this past weekend moved out of the relegation zone following a win over Vasco in which the midfielder scored a headed goal from a corner.
In amongst the club's travails, however, Caio's performances have been a ray of hope.
Promoted from the club's youth team at the start of the season, Cruzeiro right-back Mayke has been an important player for A Raposa on their rise to the top of the Brasileirao table.
The young right-back has provided an extra attacking threat from deep for his side, pushing forward to support his side's forward options and providing a goal and three assists thus far this season.
Defensively he has also proven solid and, while the experienced Ceara is still considered first-choice when fit, it will not be long until Mayke takes that mantle on a permanent basis should his form continue.
He has come from nowhere in the past 12 months to be seen as one of the standouts in his position this season. Now he must simply prove that he can maintain such form long-term.
Gustavo Henrique (Santos)
Santos defender Gustavo Henrique is another player to have progressed to senior football only this season and, thus far, the 20-year-old has not disappointed.
Gustavo will be a familiar face to anybody who has watched youth tournaments, having been part of a solid central defensive pair with Jubal at the past two Copa Sao Paulo events.
The pair became famed for their ability to score goals, with Gustavo Henrique even taking the side's penalties.
A tall, gangly defender yet to fill out into his sizeable frame, the Santos youngster combines his ability in the air with impressive technique on the ball and distribution skills. So far in his short career, Santos have a considerably-improved record in matches in which he has featured.
Lucas Silva (Cruzeiro)
Defensive midfielder Lucas Silva has recently made himself a regular feature in the Cruzeiro starting 11 after intermittent appearances over the past 18 months.
Lucas' strength is in his technical ability, with a range of passing that separates him from many of the limited defensive midfielders that Brazil have seen in recent years.
As shown in the video above, he is also a consistent threat from long shots.
There is still work to be done on the defensive side of his game, but he is a keen worker and will learn to position himself better as time goes on.
He should be able to improve considerably in that respect at Cruzeiro, with excellent role models to learn from in Leandro Guerrero, Nilton, Henrique and Souza.
Victor Andrade (Santos)
After a bright start to life at first-team level—having come into the squad aged 16 in 2012—Santos youngster Victor Andrade has been consigned to youth-team level this year after a series of disagreements with the club and former manager Muricy Ramalho.
With Neymar having been such a success, the club have been happy to allow the hype around Victor Andrade to follow suit.
However, as the youngster began accepting more and more media interviews, his manager expressed concerns at his off-field demands.
Matters came to a head when Andrade visited Barcelona's training facilities with his agent in December, per Globo Esporte, after which he was dropped from the first-team setup at Santos.
Despite barely featuring on the first-team team radar this season, Lance! report that he is one of three players to have a first-option agreement with Barcelona as part of Neymar's transfer, per ESPNFC.
The standing of Flamengo's Adryan has dropped somewhat over the last 18 months, having been the star player of Brazil's Under-17 side that won the 2011 South American championship—a team that also included Lucas Piazon, Wallace and Marquinhos.
Adryan, however, opted to remain at Flamengo.
The slight attacking midfielder quickly ascended to the Rubro-Negro first-team but found life tough at a club that was going through a somewhat tumultuous period—despite a bright start to his senior career.
There is still great hope that the wonderfully-talented 18-year-old can come good on his promise, but just one league start this campaign is a disappointing return.
Ademilson (Sao Paulo)
Another of the 2011 Under-17 generation who was tipped for greatness, Ademilson has also struggled to carry over his immense promise to senior level to date.
Now 19, the fast and powerful forward was a fine goalscorer at youth level for both club and country, including five goals at the 2011 Under-17 World Cup.
In 42 senior appearances, though, he has found the net just five times, albeit with many of those outings from the substitutes' bench.
There is no obvious reason, however, why Ademilson cannot transfer his abilities to senior level. He was always reliant on excellent finishing ability and intelligent movement rather than any outstanding physical advantage over his peers.
Perhaps, though, the physicality of senior defences has been an issue.
There is still plenty of time for Ademilson to make amends for his slow start and, with a sustained run of first-team games, he should eventually be able to find his feet and prove his ability at senior level.
A standout performer in Brazil's successful 2013 Under-17 South American championship campaign, Fluminense teenager Kenedy has made a positive start to his senior career this season.
With the exit of Wellington Nem to Shakhtar earlier this summer, the forward was called to the senior squad and has been a regular presence—largely from the substitutes' bench.
A very complete player for his age, Kenedy's combination of speed, strength and technical ability makes him a real threat from his preferred second striker position. An extrovert on and off the pitch, he has the potential to be one of Brazil's leading lights in the coming years.
Selected as part of Brazil's Under-17 squad to play the World Cup next month, he will once more be the centre of attention in the UAE.
A leading light for Cruzeiro in their youth side's title success in the Brazilian Under-20 championship in 2012, playmaker Alisson was loaned to Vasco at the start of the 2013 season.
However, with opportunities limited, he has returned to Belo Horizonte to continue his path to regular first-team football.
Since his return, the No. 10 has largely been used as a substitute with Cruzeiro well-stocked in his position. There have, however, already been brief glimpses of the quality he can offer.
A strong dribbler, the youngster has scored some spectacular goals at youth level and is also adept at providing for others with delicate through balls.
He must ensure that he gets regular playing time to continue his development, but the 20-year-old undoubtedly has the skills to be a very good player in the coming years.
Bruno Gomes (Desportivo Brasil)
The name of Bruno Gomes is one that will be familiar to Manchester United fans in particular, with the 17-year-old striker just one of several players that the Red Devils have first option on in the Desportivo Brasil academy, per Globo Esporte (Portuguese).
However, "Project Manchester" does not appear to be going quite as planned, with Lancenet (Portuguese) confirming that negotiations are open between the player's rights holder, Traffic, and Sao Paulo after a failure to reach agreement with the English side.
Bruno Gomes has been a scoring sensation in Brazil, earning the crown of top scorer in the Sao Paulo Under-15 and Under-17 state championship in consecutive years in 2011 and 2012.
This year, he already looks set to claim the 2013 Under-17 top-scorer crown, with 25 goals in the competition—nine clear of his nearest rival.
Incredibly, despite his tremendous scoring record, Bruno has been consistently overlooked by Brazil at youth level and thus will not participate at this year's Under-17 World Cup.
Still just 16 years old, Fluminense playmaker Robert is the youngest player on this list and is undoubtedly one of the biggest talents in South American football at present.
While he is yet to follow youth team colleague Kenedy into the first-team setup, it is just a matter of time before the wonderfully-talented attacking midfielder also makes the step up.
Robert is a very talented midfielder, with good technical skills. 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.
Having been surprisingly omitted from Brazil's squad for the Under-17 World Cup, Robert's next big chance to shine could be the 2014 Copa Sao Paulo in January—a tournament with a reputation for propelling youngsters into first-team football.
Internacional forward Otavio has enjoyed an outstanding start to his career at first-team level this season, scoring three times and adding an assist in just 11 Brasileirao appearances to date.
Another attacking midfielder or second striker, depending on the team's setup, the diminutive Otavio has thus far displayed excellent finishing and dribbling abilities, as well as incredible acceleration.
Now 18, his arrival at first-team level has been long anticipated. So big has been his impact that he was almost immediately summoned to Brazil's Under-20 squad. Inter, though, asked for his release due to his first-team involvement.
Regularly praised by manager Dunga this campaign, Otavinho has been a regular starter in recent weeks and looks to have well and truly seized upon the opportunity presented by Fred's departure to join Shakhtar Donetsk this summer.
Vinicius Araujo (Cruzeiro)
Another youngster being given his opportunity at table-topping Cruzeiro this season is striker Vinicius Araujo, top scorer in last season's Brasileirao Under-20 and Under-20 Copa do Brasil tournaments.
With five goals in his first nine starts in the top flight, he will be content with his start to life at senior level, having risen above more experienced candidates to earn his place as a regular back-up to first-choice striker Borges.
Vinicius continued his fantastic scoring run by claiming the top-scorer prize at the prestigious Toulon Tournament in the colours of Brazil's Under-20 side and has thus far scored five goals in 11 Brasileirao games.
He has come from obscurity over the past 12 months to become recognised as Brazil's leading youth No. 9.
Gabriel Barbosa, also known as Gabigol, has made an immediate impact at first-team level for Santos, scoring once and adding three assists in just 300 minutes of football.
The youngster only turned 17 at the beginning of the month, but having been one of Santos' biggest hopes for many years, he already looks to be coming good on his early promise.
A solidly-built second striker, Gabriel came to wider attention within the football community in 2011 when he was the outstanding player in Santos' Copa Brasil Under-15 winning side.
With a €50 million release clause on his head since his 16th birthday, per Estadao (Portuguese), Santos have not been shy in building up the hype around their next big thing.
Gabigol is another of the three players that Lancenet report to have first-option agreements with Barcelona, per ESPNFC, and will almost certainly feature at the Under-17 World Cup next month.
The rise of Neilton to first-team football at Santos this year has been an intriguing one—he had almost become the forgotten man prior to the 2013 Copa Sao Paulo youth tournament.
Having begun that competition as a reserve, Neilton came to prominence in the knockout rounds and earned a place in the starting lineup from the semifinal stage onwards.
In that match, against Palmeiras, he went on to score a hat-trick before adding a fourth goal for the tournament in the final.
Since then, the hype around Neilton—who bears a resemblance to Neymar from a distance—has consistently increased and when he quickly scored goals in the Brasileirao, there was even talk of a big European move to Tottenham, per Sky Sports.
While his impact has since lessened, with question marks over his game intelligence, there is something very likeable about Neilton.
It is too early to say whether he will go on to be a real star, even at 19, but he is certainly capable of causing havoc with his pace and dribbling abilities.
It will be interesting to watch his development over time, with his career capable of heading in either direction.
Abner signed a first professional contract with Coritiba last summer at the age of 16 and is tipped to feature for the first team in the coming days, having only made the bench on one occasion so far this season.
A part of the Brazil setup since Under-15 level, Abner made the step up to the Under-20 squad for the Toulon tournament earlier this summer but will drop down once more next month to feature at the Under-17 World Cup.
A tall figure for a Brazilian full-back, Abner has great power to his running from defence and is also a good dribbler on the ball. Having stood out well above his own age group, there is great hope that he will be a national team regular in the future.
Fluminense attacking midfielder Eduardo came to prominence in the 2012 Copa Sao Paulo, helping his side to the final just months after his arrival from Fortaleza where he had already made his first-team debut.
He would be forced to wait until 2013 for his first steps at first-team level for the Tricolor Carioca but has already made a promising start, including a goal against Sao Paulo a fortnight ago.
Eduardo is a typical Brazilian No. 10, looking to sit behind the forward line and create chances with his excellent passing ability off his preferred left foot.
Earlier this year, the 20-year-old was also rewarded with a call-up to the Brazil Under-20 side for the Copa Mediterraneo, having missed out on a place in January's South American championship.
The final member of Santos' Barcelona-linked trio is striker Givanildo, signed from Vitoria late last year and flung into the first-team reckoning with impressive performances at the Copa Sao Paulo in January.
As part of what is a very young Santos forward line, Giva has performed admirably when charged with spearheading the attack.
Quick and slight, he still needs to fill out to succeed as a No. 9 but has the finishing ability and height (6'1") to excel in the role.
Given the arrival of the experienced Thiago Ribeiro this summer, Giva has been consigned to a substitute's role for the time being but will without doubt be handed further opportunities before too long.
Santos' lack of experience in attacking areas saw Giva presented with an unenviable task earlier this year, but he did enough to suggest he has a bright future ahead of him.
For now, though, he must continue to learn from those around him and hone the technical talents that have brought him to this point in his career.