What Makes Arsenal Transfer Target Gabriel Magalhaes so Special?

Dean Jones@DeanJonesBRFootball Insider at Bleacher ReportAugust 20, 2020

Chelsea's Tammy Abraham, left, fights for the ball with Lille's Gabriel during the group H Champions League soccer match between Lille and Chelsea at the Stade Pierre Mauroy - Villeneuve d'Ascq stadium in Lille, France, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)

Gabriel Magalhaes has become one of the most talked about names of the summer transfer window—yet most of us know little about him.

The 22-year-old Lille central defender is the subject of a three-way tussle between Everton, Arsenal and Napoli, and club president Gerard Lopez has given the green light to his departure, per BBC World Service (h/t Metro). 

The process of getting his move this summer has been pretty complicated.

Back in April, Chelsea and Manchester United were alerted to him, but Everton became favourites to complete a deal and were confident of an agreement.

By the end of May, insiders told Bleacher Report that the situation had changed, and he was expected to join Napoli.

Three months on, and he is being heavily linked with a £27 million move to Arsenal.

It is believed that, along the way, there has been a dispute between agents, and while his official representative is Fernando Garcia, others have been trying to have a say in his future. It is thought one of these figures was Kia Joorabchian, who has heavy involvement at both Everton and Arsenal in terms of influencing transfers.

The current situation is that Lille know he is going to leave—and the Brazilian player is leaning towards a switch to north London, despite the fact he could earn more at Napoli.

Given his rise at Lille has been pretty rapid, most fans of the Gunners will be wondering what all the fuss is about, so we have been speaking to people with good knowledge of the player to find out more.

Sam Wilmott is an Arsenal fan who lives in Lille and has better understanding than most of how he might fit in at the Emirates Stadium.

He told B/R: "What's very clear is that [Arsenal manager Mikel] Arteta wanted another left-footed centre-back after getting Pablo Mari in January. For me, Gabriel is basically a better and younger version of Mari.

"I've seen him play in the flesh several times as I go to matches at Lille regularly. He's always looked very powerful to me and has a physical presence that makes you notice him immediately. He's a dominant centre-back, doesn't give much space to the striker. He has a good left foot, decent vision, loves to play long balls like David Luiz, which Arteta will like. He is quite clever when it comes to passing the ball out of defence.

"He only has one season and a half of top-flight football behind him, which means he can make mistakes—even though he rarely does. Arsenal fans would need to be patient with him. He's played nearly every game alongside Jose Fonte, a very experienced centre-back, which probably helped him a lot. Hopefully David Luiz can have a similar role with him."

Gabriel arrived at Lille in January 2017 but was sent out on loan to Troyes in Ligue 2 and Croatian side Dinamo Zagreb to gain experience and confidence. 

The early signs were not great, and Twitter user @Statilosc—who has been a close follower of his time in Lille but preferred us not to use his real name—admits his sudden rise to where he is today was unexpected.

"The loan moves were failures," he explained to B/R. "Very few fans believed in him. In summer 2018, he started as the fifth central defender. Taking advantage of several injuries he had his chance in January 2019 and has hardly left the team since. I think that Fonte and the good spiral of results were important in the confidence he gained. He played very simply and was effective.

"His main strengths are aerial duels, tackles and concentration. He is able to break lines with his passes and can also play in the middle, in front of defence. 

"He was very consistent in Ligue 1, including against PSG. But in the Champions League, Lille conceded a lot of goals, many coming from the wings, or from free-kicks. Gabi will have to be seen again in matches under pressure. But at the centre left of defence, in Naples or at Arsenal, he will succeed."

If Gabriel lands in the Premier League, he will not be the first to make the jump across the English Channel from Lille. High profile former players include Eden Hazard and Pepe.

Adam White, Co-Chief Features Writer at Get French Football News, told B/R that there is still a sense of the unknown in how Gabriel would adapt—but there are positive signs.

"There’s a certain duality to Gabriel’s preparedness for Premier League football," he explained. "Firstly, in terms of skill-set, as a physical, aerially dominant, technically gifted and often serenely calm centre back he is readymade for Arsenal and their traditional style of play.

"His performances have proven consistent in Ligue 1 over the last 18 months and quietly promising in the Champions League. However, some element of risk is added by the fact that he had less than 40 senior games in a competitive European league at the age of 22. Pepe, meanwhile, had experience in the lower French divisions and at Angers before two full years at Lille, all of which encompassed over 100 Ligue 1 outings and around 150 across France.

"There was a sense with the Ivorian forward that his performances and potential were building, that year on year he blossomed that little bit more. In essence, Gabriel has one, admittedly excellent, season upon which much of this interest is based.

"As a result he may be technically capable to play at a higher level but whether he is able to handle the defensive responsibility in a more fluid and pacey division or more the obvious more general pressure at a club like Arsenal remains a major unknown and he will need significant guidance from both coach and the right defensive partner. A factor that, via the nurturing of Lille defender Jose Fonte, the player admits has already been crucial to his rise."

Michel Spingler/Associated Press

Meanwhile Rayan Bja, a Lille supporter, makes an exciting comparison when speaking of Gabriel.

"I would say that his ability to be very powerful in one versus one [situations] is the quality that impresses me the most about him," he said. "His long and aerial playing reminds me of Virgil van Dijk."

Expectation is building but only time will tell how he adapts to the next step.

Gabriel was at Lille for training on Wednesday as the club continue preparations towards a new season, which gets under way at the weekend.

But his team-mates know he is not going to be sticking around. He has been asking for advice from senior players about his next move—and is expected to have announced his next club by the end of this week.