As Brazilian football begins its rebuilding process after the humiliation of that World Cup semi-final defeat to Germany two years ago, the onus on the development of youth has become all the more important.
Fluminense appear to be leading the way in the development of young talent, with Chelsea’s Kenedy joined by Barcelona-bound pair Robert and Malcolm, midfielder Gustavo Scarpa and striker Richarlison as some of the hottest prospects to have graduated from the club’s Laranjeiras training ground in the heart of Rio de Janeiro.
However, the brightest talent could well be attacking midfielder Gerson, who last year agreed a deal to move to Roma, having turned down Barcelona and Juventus.
Gerson has drawn comparisons to Kaka with his pace on the ball, but a more accurate comparison might be a player the Brazilian could have lined up alongside had he opted for Juventus last summer; Paul Pogba.
With his sparkling left foot and energetic style of play, it is easy to see why Gerson has been labelled “Pogba Brasileiro”. The player has looked to distance himself from such comparisons, but his lean frame and ability to cover every blade of grass in such commanding style does resemble the French superstar, now of Manchester United.
The story so far
As is often the case with Brazilian wonderkids, Gerson honed his skills as a child on the streets and Futsal courts against opponents far older and more physically developed. His talent was there for all to see, so much so that his father quit his job to devote his entire focus to his son’s burgeoning career. It is little wonder Marcão claimed his son was “a present from God.”
Having been an ever-present for Brazil U-20’s at the 2015 South American Youth Football Championship before he’d even made his senior club debut, Gerson has seemed pre-destined to reach the pinnacle of the game. Indeed, he was an unused squad member of Fluminense’s Copa Sudamerica campaign in 2014, despite only being 16.
His breakthrough campaign came in 2015 after his long-awaited debut in the Tricolor shirt. Making his first appearance in Flu’s Carioca State clash against bitter rivals Vasco da Gama, Gerson went on to make a further 11 appearances in the tournament before making a first team spot his own in the Brazilian league championship, featuring 29 times.
A series of fine performances that showcased his powerful running and wonderful dribbling ability soon had some of Europe’s top clubs drooling, but it was perennial Serie A runners-up Roma who staved off interest from Barcelona and Juventus to snap him up.
A return to Brazil may aid him in the long-run
With the Giallorossi exceeding their limit of non-EU players this season, Gerson returned to Fluminense until the end of the European season and set about showing why he is sure to light up the Stadio Olimpico if he gets a chance this term.
The departure of the vastly experienced Diego Souza, who returned to Sport Recife after struggling to adapt to life in Rio, has seen the shackles lifted for Gerson. A starter since mid-February, a central midfield role saw the teenager find arguably his best form of an admittedly young career.
Instead of having to try to make an impact from the bench, Gerson was able to find and indeed dictate the rhythm of play. Fluminense were rewarded with increasingly mature displays and an upturn in form before his departure.
Often found roaming in the centre of the pitch, Gerson has a knack of finding space for himself and turning up at the right place at the right time to collect the ball. Indeed, his goal against Criciuma in March was indicative of the youngster’s ability.
Appearing almost out of nowhere, Gerson pounced on a loose pass to knock the ball away from the goalkeeper before slotting home. It was a strike full of the anticipation and timing of a seasoned striker.
Pace is perhaps his stand out asset however. Gliding across the field of play, Gerson injected velocity into a somewhat lethargic Fluminense central midfield and showed himself adept at playing off a target man in the shape of Fred.
With two wingers either side of him, Gerson has been given the license to stretch his long legs and leave defenders trailing in his wake. It bodes well for a Roma side keen to employ a 4-3-3 formation and the new signing could well slot in with ease.
Gerson’s decision-making has often left much to be desired, with the wrong pass breaking up a rapid Fluminense counter-attack or an ill-conceived attempt at a piece of skill frustrating those around him.
Nonetheless, it is a weakness that will surely be smoothed out with the maturity and experience that the move to Europe ought to bring. With less than two full seasons under his belt, such naivety can be forgiven.
Perhaps more concerning is the youngster’s temperament. After his transfer to Roma was finalised in July 2015, Gerson went off the boil in dramatic fashion and went missing for the remainder of Fluminense’s Brasileirao campaign.
Indeed, the Tricolor went from Copa Libertadores qualification hopefuls to facing a relegation dogfight at one stage. Gerson was nowhere to be seen. It posed a serious question; had the transfer gone to his head and was it a sign that he was far from ready for the rigours of Italian football?
Thankfully, this has been allayed somewhat by his more mature performances and after being reintroduced to the fold, Gerson proved himself to be one of coach Levir Culpi’s most important players.
The support of the club’s icons
Former Roma captain Giuseppe Giannini gave his blessing to the move, admitting “I am looking forward to seeing him play at the Stadio Olimpico. He is a very good player.”
Gerson’s compatriot Paulo Roberto Falcao, a midfield star at the Giallorossi himself, also spoke highly of the youngster. “From what I have seen, he is an excellent player. Roma have done very well to sign him.” As an inspirational figure in Roma’s second ever Scudetto, in 1983, it is high praise indeed.
What happens next?
Gerson enjoyed a somewhat relaxed return to Fluminense in the first half of this year, with only a handful of Brasileirao matches and the Carioca State Championship to contend with, in addition to the removal of any pressure with a transfer secured.
The real test will come in forcing his way into Roma’s first team plans. The Giallorossi are not short of talented midfielders and with a whole host of loanees also set to return in attacking roles, including Leandro Paredes, Gerson will do well to cement his place in Luciano Spalletti’s thoughts.
This is a man who has seemed pre-destined to make it big however and it is surely a challenge he will relish. Gerson has every chance of being one of the hottest prospects in European football over the coming years and may well eventually wind up playing alongside former teammate Kenedy at Stamford Bridge one day.