Brazilian football expert Roberticus runs the rule on Arsenal’s potential new recruit, Juventude’s Zezinho.
When approached by The Arsenal Column to give a profile of new Arsenal youth recruit, Wellington and the potential transfer Zezinho, I was aware that my insight would be hindered by that common gripe of domestic Brazilian supporters; namely that the players, like 17-year old Wellington, simply leave the country before fans have had a chance to enjoy their performances for the club. This is a trend which is intensifying: Grêmio fans once marvelled at Ronaldinho’s contributions until he was 20-year old and moved to Paris Saint Germain, but he did so having featured in a Copa America, the Sydney Olympics and on the back of at least two seasons’ competitive league football. Anderson, later of Porto and now at Manchester United, managed put in a solid season with the club and will remain in the gremistas’ memory as the player who led them to promotion in 2005 as an 18-year old. But most Fluminense fans have probably never heard of Wellington, nor indeed the Da Silva twins who are now at Old Trafford. In that sense at least, such teenage players will emerge effectively as genuine products of rain-soaked English soil as opposed to sun-kissed Brazil.
We are also faced with the likelihood that these two players might pass through London Colney and emerge markedly different to the style which they presently exude. After all, when Denilson Neves was at Sao Paulo he played in a more advanced role, as tends to happen with most skilful Brazilian ball players; the central midfield roles being the preserve of dogged and destructive holders. However, Wenger and his staff appear to have helped Denilson reach a happy medium at which he can comfortably perform. Somewhere between an auxiliary central midfielder and a left-of-centre all-rounder, he can easily slot into the 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 variants employed by the Gunners.
18-year old Zezinho is different somewhat, playing even further forward either as a No.10 or sometimes as a second-striker. He doesn’t have the physique, stamina nor positional discipline to play in a midfield two. Perhaps he could cut it as the more creative element in a three after undergoing a few years’ physical and tactical development, but again there is little in his game to evoke a budding Aaron Ramsey; Zezinho, being more impulsive and ephemeral, doesn’t exhibit what Arsene Wenger referred to as “ a science to his game” that Cesc Fàbregas did at a similar age. In some respects, of the current Arsenal crop perhaps he most resembles Jack Wilshere at least positionally and in terms of movement. In his penultimate game for Juventude in Brazil’s Serie B, I watched his coach Ivo Wortmann slightly alter the shape by beefing up the midfield and relocating Zezinho almost to a secondary-striker role alongside the No.9. Apart from one or two flashes, the guri (‘lad’ in gaucho dialect) from Santa Rosa was visibly uncomfortable at having to play so close to the defenders and also at having to run into channels and create space for his teammates. Nimble without electric pace, yet neither molded in the dépêche elegance of a Riquelme, a more tangible comparison would be with Diego of Juventus or Pablo Aimar. In other words, he was born to fill the classic No.10 shirt. The problem facing Zezinho, of course, is that Arsenal do not indulge such a free role. Many people have observed that these are challenging times for No.10s of all descriptions. Modern football dictates, understandably, that they adapt their game by taking up new positions or else fall by the wayside; hopefully without losing their creative essence. Suffice to say, there will be a steep learning curve ahead for this exciting young prospect.
As for Wellington, I can only go on previous performances such as in the Manchester United Premier Cup where his burst of acceleration and exquisite finishing caught the plaudits. Again, physiologically he will need to develop no matter where he plays; shudder the thought of him suffering constant niggles à la Theo Walcott and other slight-framed players. He should thrive in either a mobile second striker in a 4-4-2, a position he will be accustomed to from Brazil, but his attributes could also serve him well as an outside forward in the 4-3-3.
It’s a long road ahead, but let’s wish both these lads the best of luck in their respective careers safe in the knowledge that they will be surrounded by the finest environment for youth development, both in terms of illustrious staff and peers.
When not leading the troops of the Novus Invicta Legion, Roberticus muses on the finer tactical details of the beautiful game.