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Five Promising Brasileiro Defensive Midfielders Destined for European Transfers

Pablo Maia Sao Paulo

With the summer transfer window around the corner, Nathan Joyes recommends five potential Brasileiro transfers which clubs should be considering to bolster their midfield.

São Paulo - Pablo Maia

São Paulo’s Pablo Maia has received plenty of plaudits this season as the 21-year-old continues to impress in his defensive midfield role. Having worked his way up through their academy, Pablo Maia is now in his second full season for the club and appears to be going from strength to strength. The young midfielder plays with no fear when on the ball, who enjoys bulldozing his way higher up the pitch to help drive his team forward. Due to his adventerous runs and forward thinking, Maia can often be found lurking around the 18-year box, which is why he's been able to add goals to his game this season.

Two successful strikes from range against Internacional and Goias have shown he’s capable of contributing when called upon and clearly confident in his own ability.

One of Maia’s key attributes is his ability to win the ball in high positions. He’s not one to sit back and invite pressure, yet rarely goes to ground in these positions, allowing him to track back without losing vital yards.

There’s nothing too fancy about his style of play, more often or not he’s found using his strength to pave his way through opponents, but his approach works and there’s no wonder European scouts have been taking a closer look, including several Premier League clubs including West Ham, Newcastle and Nottingham Forest.

São Paulo have made it known they want to keep hold of their young asset, but with so much interest, a move out of Brazil looks firmly on the cards.

Internacional - Johnny

Although Johnny chose to represent the USA over Brazil, the midfielder’s parents are both Brazilian and opted to leave America to return to their homeland just three months after he was born. Joao Lucas de Souza Cardoso, “Johnny”, joined Internacional’s youth academy and hasn’t looked back, devoting himself to the club which took him in, which is evident to see every time he takes to the pitch. Having made his debut in a 3-1 Brasileiro victory over Atletico Mineiro back in September 2019, Johnny has since made over 100 appearances for the club in all competitions. A little over a year later, Johnny made his international debut for the USA, featuring against Wales in a friendly in November 2020.

The Internacional player is a natural in his position in front of the defence, knowing when to win clever free kicks after regaining the ball to relieve the pressure, as well as being known for lifting the ball over opposing players heads to begin counter attacks, rather than the usual method of keeping the ball on the floor. Once he’s passed his opponent, Johnny enjoys progressing up the pitch both with the ball or after releasing it to play in a teammate higher up the pitch. He knows his defensive duties well, but the 21-year-old will gladly join the attack when the opportunity arises.

Take note of his aerial threat, too, as the US international likes to make menacing runs to the near post from corners and power home his headers before defenders have the chance to react.

However, this doesn’t mean he abandons his main duties. In fact, Johnny is very much an “in your face” kind of player, hounding opposing attackers, limiting their options and being so touch tight they have little choice but to return the ball home or have it nicked from them. His natural ability to read the game and the way in which he thrives off his defensive duties is mightily impressive for his age. With so many first team appearances to his name and across multiple competitions, it would be no surprise if European clubs were monitoring his situation.

Palmeiras - Gabriel Menino

After Danilo’s departure to Nottingham Forest, Gabriel Menino has been offered the chance to really step up and impress Abel Ferreira - so far, so good for the Brazilian. The 22-year-old played alongside Danilo during the 2022 campaign but is now firmly in the spotlight. With Danilo now gone, Menino put any Palmerias’ fans worries to bed after a brace against Flamengo in the Supercopa Brasil final in 2023’s curtain raiser - including a stunning strike from range to put Palmeiras ahead. He’s since added three more goals to his name, including another brace against Agua Santa in the Campeonato Paulista final. For a defensive midfielder, he’s often found in attacking positions in the opponent's box when his team are on top, chipping in however he can to help his team win - but rest assured, he knows his defensive duties, too.

Similar to Danilo, Gabriel Menino’s strength and ability to skillfully turnover possession into Palmeiras’ favour is a standout quality he possesses. Not only can he overturn possession, but he looks to move the ball quickly up the field, playing to his team's strengths, rather than holding onto the ball or moving it sideways.

His composure on the ball, even when his opponents are giving him no time, is up there with the best in the Brasileiro. He’s not one to panic and has full trust in his own ability, making it appear what he does look extremely easy, when it definitely is not. He can be rash when sliding in for a tackle, which is a part of his game he needs to improve on, but that will come in time and something Ferreira will no doubt be in his ear about.

Palmeiras sold Danilo to Nottingham Forest on a six-year deal for around £18m and they’ll know if anyone comes calling about Gabriel Menino they’ll be able to demand a decent figure due to his age and his ex-teammates success in the Premier League.

Fluminense - Andre

Fluminense's Andre

Fluminense’s midfield pair have caught the attention for the way in which they protect their team’s backline as well as offer their attacking services. Andre has rightly stolen the show having been called up to the Brazilian national team. After being trusted in a midfield three under previous manager Marcao, he became a regular in the Fluminense midfield signing off 2022 with 34 Brasileiro appearances - although 10 yellow cards was a concerning statistic and one which has carried on into 2023. However, playing in the role he does, cards are part and parcel of the role but his other statistics when it came to his passing, dribbling and defensive work almost paint over his inability to not be in the refs book by the end of the match. With Fernando Diniz now at the helm, Andre’s game has gone up another level, as the coach has managed to implement a unique style of play the whole team appears to have bought into.

As well as his defence qualities, Fluminense’s number seven showcases plenty of natural technical ability and creative qualities which is why he stands out in his central midfield role.

Similar to Internacional’s Johnny, you will rarely see Andre sliding to win back possession. His pace allows him to be in the right position when called upon, an attribute required in his role, especially as Diniz likes his side to play with a high tempo and pin back the opposition. Now receiving his first international call up, there’s no doubt plenty wll have noticed, and Andre may have more options available to him than most. Will he leave before the end of the season?

It’s highly unlikely due to the way in which he’s an integral part of Diniz’s side, and with Fluminense having a real chance of winning the Libertadores, too. However, if Andre is to continue his progression, 2024 will no doubt be the year we see him make the move to Europe.

Fluminense - Martinelli

His defensive partner, Martinelli, has missed large parts of the season due to injury. However, he’s since returned to the starting XI in recent weeks as he looks to kick on and show why he’s also a huge asset to Fluminense. Martinelli possesses a lovely way in which he carries the ball. Not only does he caress the ball and take good care of it, he’s more than capable of spotting an instinctive pass down the channel or through the middle to often set German Cano on his way. His calmness in possession and ability to turn out of trouble is almost worth tuning in for alone, often appearing to be a step or two ahead of his opponents closing in on him. Similar to Andre, he’s rarely seen sliding in or going to ground to win the ball back. The 22-year-old is more often thinking about winning the ball in a way in which he can claim back possession and set his team back on the attack, rather than simply putting the ball out of play and letting his teammates regroup defensively.

When receiving the ball from his defenders, Martinelli’s clever in the way he drops a shoulder in order to give him more options further up the field. Although Diniz prefers to play him alongside Andre, he’s far from limited to a defensive role and there’s scope for Martinelli to play in a more advanced role. All the attention at present is on Andre, and rightly so, but Martinelli’s return to fitness may see the young Brazilian play a pivotal role as Fluminense look to win their first ever Libertadores title.


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