Geracao '97: The New Crop of Young Stars Set to Reboot Brazil

Marcus AlvesFeatured Columnist ISeptember 7, 2018


Former Brazil youth football coordinator Erasmo Damiani was hanging out in the Sheraton hotel lobby in Quito, Ecuador, when he got a phone call late one evening in early 2017. It was Lucca Bertolucci, son of Giuliano Bertolucci, Brazil's most influential football agent and an associate of the controversial Kia Joorabchian.

The South American U20 Championship was being held in Ecuador in early 2017 and had attracted scouts from everywhere.

Bertolucci had Ajax representatives with him and wanted to check whether they could speak to Brazil's wing wizard Richarlison. Damiani was reluctant.

"As much as we tried to avoid these situations, it's up to the athlete in the end," Damiani explains to Bleacher Report. "We handle it the best way, but it's complicated. The transfer window was about to close, there's always so much pressure."

It wasn't the only call like that he received during the tournament.

Ajax knew there would be competition for Richarlison and placed a €9 million offer to try to secure the then-19-year-old.

The bid was knocked back, and Richarlison eventually joined Watford a few months later. But the Dutch giants didn't leave empty-handed and instead signed another Brazilian rising star, David Neres.

Other Europe clubs left with Brazilian goodies too. Gabriel Magalhaes, a solid centre-back, penned a deal with Lille in France. His defensive partner, Lyanco, picked Torino over Juventus, Atletico Madrid and Wolfsburg.

Despite Brazil's disappointing fifth-placed finish and failure to qualify for the FIFA U-20 World Cup that year, the squad was highly rated back home.

Richarlison is close to winning his first full cap
Richarlison is close to winning his first full capLaurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The four coveted stars are members of the so-called "Geracao '97" (generation '97)—a crop of promising youngsters born in 1997 who have been making waves and who hope to reboot Brazil.

You could even build a formidable starting XI of Brazilian players just born in 1997.  

Daniel Fuzato (AS Roma); Murilo (Cruzeiro), Luiz Felipe (Lazio), Lyanco (Torino), Guilherme Arana (Sevilla); Thiago Maia (Lille), Lucas Paqueta (Flamengo); Malcom (Barcelona), Richarlison (Everton), Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City), Pedro (Fluminense).

And that's leaving out names such as Maycon (Shakhtar Donetsk), Wendel (Sporting CP), Gerson (Fiorentina), David Neres (Ajax) and Felipe Vizeu (Udinese).

There are also those who are almost the same age and would certainly fight for a place in the lineup—Barcelona's Arthur, Manchester United's Andreas Pereira and Gremio's Everton were all born in 1996. Talents such as FC Porto's Eder Militao and Manchester City's Douglas Luiz (who is currently on loan at Girona after being denied a work permit), were born in 1998.

For the Selecao, the future looks brighter than it has in some time.

Brazil boss Tite has reacted by adding some fresh faces to the squad for the upcoming friendlies against the United States and El Salvador with Paqueta, Richarlison, Arthur, Pereira, Everton and Militao all included.

The new generation is here.

Tite revealed that after Brazil's elimination in Russia he struggled to sleep for 15 consecutive nights. An early riser, he went for his daily walk along the Rio de Janeiro beach around six in the morning to avoid meeting what he thought would be angry fans.

However, despite their quarter-final elimination to Belgium, he soon realised that he still had the backing of most of the nation's supporters.

World Cup elimination usually spells doom for Brazil's coaches, but the 57-year-old is the first man to remain in the post after a World Cup since Claudio Coutinho in 1978.

Tite has held onto his job despite Brazil's World Cup exit
Tite has held onto his job despite Brazil's World Cup exitCARL DE SOUZA/Getty Images

Despite the continued support, one of the country's wisest voices, Tostao, said the canonization of Tite has finally been suspended and a new, more grounded, cycle has begun

"Away goes the guru, the messiah, as Tite was treated, and in comes the coach," the 1970 World Cup winner and former forward wrote in his Folha de S. Paulo newspaper column.

There have been some concerns as to whether Tite is the right man to lead Brazil's rebuilding process because he sometimes struggled to get the best out of young players when coach of Corinthians

Barcelona's Malcom and PSG's Marquinhos are often cited as examples. The duo found it difficult to break into the first team and get much playing time at first under his guidance.

Marquinhos' brother, Luan Aoas Correa, has not been shy with such criticism.

Correa caused some controversy when he celebrated France beating Belgium to reach the World Cup final with an Instagram story (h/t UOL) that appeared to be an attack on Tite and his over-reliance on experienced players.

"Allez Les Blues! Just young players, no experienced ones to bother [the others]. The team plays fast and loose." Correa wrote. "... A coach [Didier Deschamps] firm with his choices, really coherent. … [France] may not win the World Cup, but it's the best team!"

Correa appeared to be angry with Tite's decision to remove Marquinhos from Brazil's starting lineup and replace him with Thiago Silva just a few weeks before Brazil's first game in Russia.

Thiago remains in the Brazil squad but Marquinhos, still only 24, is expected to re-emerge as a key figure. Is Tite ready to change? 

One member of the Geracao '97 that has already piqued Tite's interest is Fluminense striker Pedro.

The Brazil coach and his assistant Cleber Xavier watched Fluminense take on Internacional last month. He could not contain himself as Pedro collected the ball with his back-to-goal, left the defender on the floor and almost scored.

"Joga muito, joga muito [a mantra he repeats whenever he watches someone playing very well]," Tite said from a box at Maracana stadium.

The 21-year-old has established himself as the most exciting centre-forward in domestic football and seems to be the target man Brazil have been searching for. He became a regular this season but is unlikely to stick around much longer—Fluminense have already reportedly turned down a €15 million offer for him, per SporTV (h/t Globo Esporte).

Pedro was initially called up for the two games in America but had to pull out injured. However, that has not stopped being linked with a move to Real Madrid in Friday's edition of AS

SB @Realmadridplace

AS cover: “Operation Brazil” - After Vinicius and Rodrygo, Real Madrid are interested in another Brazilian promise - Fluminese’ forward, Pedro Guilherme (21 and 1.85cm), who will cost around 20-25M euros. https://t.co/xBUjM9tNwO

With Brazilian talent moving abroad earlier than ever, the fortunes of the new-look Brazil rest in Europe.

A former scout for Manchester United in South America, Marcelo Teixeira believes the high fees paid for these teenagers is something that distinguishes this new breed from previous generations—Richarlison, the most expensive, cost Everton a reported £40 million alone when they signed him from Watford in the summer, per the Guardian.

"I have no doubt that generation '97 is one of the most promising we have around," says Teixeira, who is currently in charge of Fluminense's famed academy Xerem.

"You can come to this conclusion based on the number of players sold to foreign clubs for huge amounts. That had never happened with previous generations. It's safe to say that they are responsible for the best deals we had ever seen at such early age."

"But I doubt they will reach the generation '92 level. It looks like there isn't a Neymar in this class. Maybe, we can find a Phillipe Coutinho and a Casemiro between them. An extra-terrestrial like Neymar, though? We surely won't see."

Besides that trio, the class of 1992 also had Liverpool's new goalkeeper Alisson Becker involved in the last World Cup.

As Damiani points out, they may be world-class players now, but except for Neymar, that was not the situation five seasons ago. Gabriel Jesus, Malcom and Co. appear way ahead of them at this stage of their careers.

"The generation '92 is amazing, however, when you rewind five years, where were they back then? Alisson was still a substitute at Internacional, Casemiro had Sao Paulo fans asking the club to get rid of him, while Coutinho was fighting for some minutes at Inter Milan. Neymar was the exception," he argues.

"There are no limits for the generation '97."

Perhaps the only missing piece in the exciting crop of youngsters is a right-back. Many expected it to be former Gremio starlet Raul Cardoso, but he has not lived up to the hype and currently plays in Brazil's second tier with Figueirense.

Apart from that, Brazil have almost absurd strength in depth with this age group.

"It's probably more complete than the class of 1992", says Pedro Venancio, a youth football specialist for Brazilian outlet Globo Esporte. "The generation '92 had to bring footballers from '91 to complement it—Danilo, Alex Sandro, Oscar, Roberto Firmino and others."

As the new era begins, Brazil have to deal with the sort of problems that other teams can only dream of. Tite has more wide forwards at his disposal than he could ever use. He faces a dilemma on how to introduce superb new prospects such as Malcom, Richarlison and Neres, while also keeping an eye on even younger talents like Real Madrid's prodigy Vinicius Junior (born in 2000) and Santos' wonderkid Rodrygo (2001).

Not an easy job when you consider the likes of Neymar, Douglas Costa and Willian are still around. 

What has been harder to find is what Tite calls a "ritmista" (rhythm maker), the type of player who can dictate the tempo of the game from midfield. What Tostao described in his football column, as Brazil's answer to Kevin De Bruyne, "a true star midfielder, who plays from one box to the other."

For a while, Tite thought Flamengo's veteran Diego Ribas could be that man. His team-mate Everton Ribeiro was also considered for the role. But another, younger option has emerged out of the Geracao '97 in the shape of Lucas Paqueta. A tall and elegant left-footer who can be found all over the pitch, the Flamengo star's ability to operate in different positions has also helped him stand out.

There is hope Flamengo's Lucas Paqueta could become "Brazil's Kevin de Bruyne"
There is hope Flamengo's Lucas Paqueta could become "Brazil's Kevin de Bruyne"Buda Mendes/Getty Images

The 21-year-old even made Brazil's back-up list for Russia and will now have much to offer over the rebuilding process.

"[Philippe] Coutinho and Paqueta are two footballers—one already established, and the other breaking throughat can fill the same space [on the pitch], although with different attributes", Cleber Xavier said in an interview with SporTV.

Globo Esporte recently created a poll asking fans who would be their first pick on the team for 2022. Paqueta finished third among the contenders, ending up behind only Coutinho and Arthur.

Some in Brazil argued that Tite should have taken one of these inexperienced starlets to the last World Cup—Paqueta, Arthur and Vinicius Junior being the favorite names touted by the media.

Other coaches like Carlos Alberto Parreira and Luiz Felipe Scolari had done the same in the past with Ronaldo, then a 17-year-old, and Kaka, 20, in 1994 and 2002, respectively. Tite, however, rejected the idea.

"In the World Cup, there is no room for an intern," the coach answered in a press conference.

Concerns over Tite conservatism remain, and despite the fresh faces in the squad, he is expected to stick with his more experienced players in the main, until at least next summer's Copa America. 

However, planning for the next World Cup has already begun for Brazil too and the Geracao '97 "interns" will hope to be full-time starters by the time Qatar comes around.   

Whether any of them can come close to reaching the heights of the likes of Ronaldo, Kaka and Neymar, though, remains to be seen.


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