Once again Nottingham Forest continue to pursue players plying their trade in South America. Santos and Brazilian U20 star Marcos Leonardo is the latest player to be linked, with Forest reportedly interested in his signature this summer.
It’s no secret Santos are one of the best clubs in South America when it comes to producing young, promising talent through their academy. Neymar is perhaps the most obvious player which springs to mind, but Angelo’s recent move to Chelsea has looked to be smart business in the early stages of pre-season - a player Forest themselves kept tabs on only back in January.
For those Reds fans who haven’t watched Leonardo and are looking for some reassurance from the potential transfer, those names mentioned above should provide some level of comfort from a highly proven academy.
The 20-year-old is far from merely a Football Manager sensation, which is why there’s no real surprise to see several European clubs keeping tabs on his situation. Yet with Angelo moving to Chelsea for £15m, a similar price should be enough to secure a deal - and at that price, clubs are unsurprisingly interested.
Leonardo’s standout attributes
Leonardo is the ultimate poacher. However, that doesn’t mean he’s relying on balls into the box in order to finish. His movement in order to stretch the opponent’s backline is simply a joy to watch, and he has no issues carrying the ball into dangerous areas using his sublime dribbling ability.
If Leonardo has the opportunity to get in a one on one situation with either a full back or centre half, you can see how much he relishes it. Whether he’s opting to drop a shoulder, faint which way he’s going, or simply outpace his opponent, no one is safe when the Brazilian is in possession.
What’s most pleasing about Leonardo is his range of finishing. His calmness in the box and ability to read the game, knowing when and when not to take an extra touch are key factors as to why he’s thriving this season.
Left foot, right foot, or his head, Leonardo trusts himself to finish. Whether there’s little to no time in the box to react or feeding off a defender's mistake, he’s never too far away from steering the ball home.
His footballing brain is a step ahead of his opponents; a reason as to why he’s had so much success on a personal level for both Santos and the U20 Brazilian national team.
The 2023 U20 World Cup
More attention than ever was on Leonardo at the recent U20 World Cup. Brazil were expected to compete for the title, but were unexpectedly knocked out by Israel in the quarter-finals in extra time.
However, Leonardo was a shining light for the Brazilians. Back in his own age category, it was clear to see he was a level above his opponents.
Five goals saw him finish second for the golden boot, only two behind Chelsea’s Cesare Casadei - who reached the final with Italy, featuring in two more matches than Santos’ striker.
Italy defeated Brazil 3-2 in the first group match, but Leonardo showed his qualities scoring both for Brazil. Goals followed against Dominican Republic, Tunisia and Israel.
Previously linked target for Forest, Botafogo’s Matheus Nascimento, also scored in the quarter-final match against Israel. He remains at Botafogo and looks likely to stay with them gunning for Serie A glory.
The Serie A sensation this season
In recent weeks, despite Santos’ struggles, Leonardo has continued to prove why he is a step above his current club. A brace against Goias in Santos’ 4-3 win helped the club achieve their first victory in 13 matches - it’s worth noting Leonardo didn’t feature in five of those due to the World Cup and decisions to rest him in cup competitions.
His brace was backed up with a consolation penalty away to Sao Paulo before another brace only last weekend - this time against runaway league leaders Botafogo.
It’s fair to say the 20-year-old has been feeding off scraps this season, but scraps is all he needs, scoring both his only chances in the 2-2 draw. The first saw intelligent play to beat the offside flag, timing his run to perfection against Botafogo’s high line, before carrying the ball into the box, sitting the defender down when fainting a shot, before slotting the ball home.
The second came from a Botafogo error, but as soon as Santos’ Lucas Lima picked the ball up out wide, Leonardo peeled away from the last man in the box and was able to prod the ball home from close range. His intelligent play against the league leaders took his Serie A tally to six from just 11 appearances.
Prior to this match, Botafogo hadn’t conceded in their last six Serie A matches - and had only conceded seven in 15.
Leonardo also scored three from three in the Copa do Brasil this season, which asks the question: what can he achieve in a far superior team?
His numbers would arguably be frightening if he was leading the line for the likes of Flamengo, Palmeiras or Botafogo this season.
Why Forest should look to lure in Leonardo
Nottingham Forest have made it very clear they want to pursue the South American market - and why not? Danilo has already become a fan favourite in his short stint on the banks of the Trent and there’s a real sense Forest fans want the club to continue exploring the market.
Lazio were previously linked with Leonardo, with the rumoured fee to be in the region of 15-20 million euros. With Forest having signed Chris Wood from Newcastle for a similar fee on much higher wages, the club may feel the need to carry on searching across South America since their Premier League status was secured.
If Leonardo is to be secured for the rumoured fee, it could prove to be a real steal for the club. The ability is there for all to see, he’s come from a promising academy and he’s continuing to score regularly in a poor Santos side.
There's no doubt plenty of clubs will be monitoring his situation, which is why whoever wins the battle for his signature will need to impress. It would be a real coup to secure one of Brazil’s best young forwards who has yet to make their way to Europe.
A potential Peruvian on the move
Elsewhere, Universitario’s 21-year-old Piero Quispe is another player who is on Forest’s radar. The East Midlands club aren't alone with their interest, as Brighton are also rumoured to be keen on the midfielder.
The 21-year-old Peruvian has a similar style of play to once linked Matheus Nascimento - the club clearly keen on a certain type of player from the continent this window.
Quispe is an attacking midfielder, who’s nimble footwork has caught the eye over in Europe. The Peruvian is direct, confident and has raw ability.
With his low sense of gravity, the attacking midfielder enjoys pivoting when defenders swarm him, often keen to receive the ball with his back to goal. Then, he looks to menacingly deceive opponents in order to turn towards goal, before playing direct balls through the middle.
It doesn’t always work, and it’s an area which he will need to improve on if he is to elevate his career, but his persistence often pays off. If the pass isn’t on, Quispe doesn’t need a second invitation to drive at opponents and into dangerous areas, luring defenders in and forcing them into mistakes.
His recent Copa Sudamericana appearance against Corinthians in Brazil was a fine example of his willingness to try and make something happen, showing tremendous belief in his own ability.
He could have tried to play it safe or froze in a hostile environment, but instead looked to prove his creativity and eye for goal against one of the best teams left in the competition.
A weakness to his game is he’s heavily reliant on his right-foot, choosing to always play the ball with either his in-step or flicking the ball with the outside of his boot - if he is to take his game to the next level, he can’t remain this one dimensional.
However, this confident, energetic player has the potential to progress. It’s not difficult to see why Forest are keeping tabs on the 21-year-old, and it’ll be interesting to see if a bid is put forward.