Exciting youngster Zezinho still has a steep learning curve ahead

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.


Scouting Report: Alan Dzagoev, CSKA Moscow

Alan Dzagoev showed exactly why he is Russia’s brightest new hope with a masterful display on how to use operational space.

I was first alerted to the dazzling talents of Alan Dzagoev during a 1-1 draw against Aston Villa in last year’s Europa Cup campaign and it is noticeable to see just how far he has come since then. Still only 19 but Dzagoev plays with an ice cool head and seems to relish the creative responsibilities given to him by new coach Leonid Slutsky.

It was only February since that game at Villa and CSKA Moscow have since moved on to their third coach – Slutsky given quite a baptism of fire at Old Trafford. And indeed, things have also changed for Dzagoev as his then partner in crime, Vagner Love, has departed on loan which is a great shame as their telepathic understanding mirrored that of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.

But one could still see remnants of that understanding with new striker partner Tomáš Necid in the 3-3 draw against Manchester United as the Czech constantly looked to get into the spaces he hoped Dzagoev will find. The Russian’s ability to thread an eye of the needle passes is particularly impressive but it can at times be his downfall as this can see him ignore the simpler option.

However it’s this recognition of operational space that sets him apart and his movement and passes into such areas caused the Manchester United defence problems no end. Always on the move and looking for spaces to exploit he was the first man on the ball to initiate attacks while his tracking back also had a lot to admire. Making sure he stationed himself in the area where the deep-lying playmaker, in this case Paul Scholes would operate, stopping the United midfielder exerting much influence on the game and ready to pounce on the ball once it became loose.

And for his goal and CSKA’s first, he combined both power and pace to match his ingenuity and skill on the ball. Dropping deep to get the ball, Dzagoev dragged Wes Brown out of position which created the space for Necid to  fantastically weighted a chested pass into his path. His first touch looked to have taken him too far to the left but his close control and quick change of pace meant Jonny Evans was always unsure of the next action. And as quick as a flash, Dzagoev thrashed in a vicious left-footed shot which left Van Der Sar with no chance from the acutest of angles.

The warning signs were clear of Dzagoev’s danger but United continued to give the Russian much room. There was lessons to be learnt for rivals from watching this game as it highlighted the amount of space one can exploit due to Manchester United’s expansive style. And Dzagoev was at it again, as he gradually dragged Evans out of position for CSKA’s second, dummying the ball for Necid to play in the ever-troublesome Krasic and the Serb finished off a flowing move. At times he was reminiscent of Dennis Bergkamp, his awareness and anticipation only paralleled on the pitch by Micheal Own surprisingly enough and his dummy especially bringing into mind the fantastic goal scored by Bergkamp against Newcastle, knowing the only free area was behind him to his right before flicking the ball past Nikolas Dabizas.

His understanding of danger areas wasn’t just limited to a creative sense as he also made sure to position himself for rebounds and in one instance his positioning was so perfect, he nearly blocked a shot from his own team-mate.

Dzagoev’s night came to a premature end on seventy-two minutes, being replaced by Daniel Carvalho but it wasn’t before he was involved in the third. His devilishly whipped free-kick found Vasili Berezutski unmarked at the back post and the defender obliged with a strong header to put CSKA 3-1 up. The Russian’s certainly missed Dzagoev’s opportunism as they failed to handle United’s late pressure and in the end succumbed to a draw.

It was also interesting to note the tactical context of Alan Dzagoev’s substitution for Carvalho. His previous manager Zico, was reluctant to play him behind the main striker for balance sake, preferring instead the  Brazilian midfielder in an attempt to achieve the self-conscious symmetry that the 4-2-3-1 gives. He has been linked to Real Madrid and Pelligrini’s insistence on playing two forwards will ensure he will fit in well for the neo-galacticos but he has previously admitted to being a fan of Chelsea. But seeing as the Blues are currently in a transfer embargo, Dzagoev’s best bet would be to remain at CSKA and hone his skills as a world-class striker he so promises to become before moving to Western Europe.

Scout Report Card:
Age 19
Position Second Striker
Height 1.79 m (5 ft 10+12 in)
Weight 11st 9lbs (74 kg)

Heading ­7
Passing 9
Shooting 8
Vision and Awareness 10
Team ­responsibility 9

Value £15m

Scouting Report: Brede Hangeland, Fulham

Fulham’s Brede Hangeland is a towering defender but there are question marks about his pace, something he answered with his intelligent positioning.

FK Vetra were never going to be the most demanding of oppositions for Fulham and therefore probably not the most appropriate opponent whereby to do a  scouting report of defender Brede Hangeland. However there was a logical reason for it (apart from the appropriately timed conformation of interest from Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger).

It was a tie in which Fulham were always going to be in control of and for them to effectively play a possession game it meant the defenders would have to push up. The thinking here was that the higher line will create a similar situation to one which Arsenal’s defenders face every game. And also with the heavy rainfall on the Craven Cottage pitch, the slick surface will provide Hangeland a stern test of his pace and mobility but alas that opportunity never arrived.

Vetra were expectedly out of their depth and therefore never really tested Hangeland and Hughes in the centre of defence. And in moments where it seemed Hangeland may be tested, the Norwegian came out comfortably on top. In one such instance, left back Paul Konchesky vacated his flank meaning Hangeland would have to cover both positions and he did so with relative ease. On another occasion, he was faced with a one-one with the Vetra winger but as the opponent knocked the ball past him, he expertly put his body in the way to stop the run.

However what was most interesting when comparing the two Fulham centre back’s were their positioning. When the ball was hoofed high up in the air both were very comfortable although more so Hangeland who attacked the ball aggressively. On the deck however, Hangeland usually took a step back from the defensive line and surveyed the action before astutely nipping in.

It seemed the Norwegian does have some reservations about his pace but time and time again, not just in this match but others also, his positioning and reading of the game were so fantastic that this supposed weakness is far harder to expose. It should be noted that Hangeland is by no means a slouch and is deceptively mobile and can pass the ball well.

Much kudos to Fulham’s defensive steel should also go to Roy Hodgson who has his team very organised and disciplined, pressing the opponents well to deny space. Danny Murphy and Dickson Etuhu were once again formidable defensive shields to the centre backs. Against Aston Villa last campaign, the side’s organisation meant the only way Villa were going to get through Fulham was from wide. And when the crosses did come in Hangeland was always in the way.

His aerial prowess was on show again but it’s his commanding of set-pieces that has really impressed me. Hodgson has given him, along with ‘keeper Schwarzer full control of the player’s positioning from dead balls. Hangeland attacks the ball and makes sure he is the one in the best position to get to the ball first. As a result Fulham conceded fewer goals from headers and set-pieces than any other team last year.

It seems with Brede Hangeland, pace is always going to be a concern especially if you are the coach of an expansive football team like Arsenal who need to play a high line. With all respect to Fulham, Craven Cottage may be too small a pitch to fully test that while we probably won’t get a definite answer to whether he can cope without him playing week-in-week-out in a more demanding team.

But while it’s easy to see Hangeland being beaten for pace in a similar situation as Gallas did against Agbonlahor last season, it’s also easy to see Hangeland making sure he is in the right place to stop that from happening.

Scout Report Card:
Age 28
Position Central Defence
Height 6ft 5in

Heading 10
Passing 6
Tackling 8
Positioning 9
Pace 6

Value £9m

Scouting Report: Felipe Melo, Brazil

Fiorentina’s midfielder Felipe Melo is tidy and uncomplicated, just like another certain Brazilian at Arsenal although it’s his power which has turned many heads.

They say it takes a player three years to come through the Arsenal world-wide scouting system but it seems highly unlikely Melo would have been on Arsenal’s radar for that long. For many fans, a couple of Youtube videos have convinced them that the midfielder is the real deal however his matches for Brazil leave a lot to be desired.

Since 2001, Felipe Melo has turned out for seven different clubs and after a strong season with Almeria of Spain resulting in a move to Fiorentina, he seems to have found his true calling. The increasingly globalised and homogenised game, has found a place for a player like Melo in Brazil whereas ten years ago he may have struggled. Alongside Gilberto Silva in a 4-2-3-1, the purists may hate it but there is no doubt the pair provide a solid base.

The two play contrasting roles for Brazil; Gilberto likes to mark from distance, always keeping an eye for the attacking and then getting close to the man. Melo on the other hand likes to get to the ball quickly, preferring to play with what’s in front of him.

Against Egypt, the duo found it difficult to get to grips with the the African champion’s movement and passing, especially of Abo Terika in particular. Full backs Dani Alves and Kleber were made the scapegoats by Dunga after conceding three goals as he dropped the two for the next game although the weak cover in front of the defence exposed the centre backs meaning the full backs always had to make the space. Egypt’s superior possession count showed there must be improvements in awareness and positional play from Melo and Silva.

USA was less of a test as the opposition looked uninspired and never really posed a threat. Melo got his goal; a powerful header and it is his height that could bring balance to a team. In possession he was tidy and uncomplicated, keeping the ball moving however his unwillingness to take the ball off the centre backs was concerning. A couple of times, he almost hid behind a USA player rather than asking for the ball. It was Gilberto Silva who made their  bigger presence felt but in truth both had average games.

Next came Italy, which was thought to be the sternest test however Felipe Melo came out unscathed. Italy’s uninspired performance failed to show both the bright side and also the weaknesses of Dunga’s central midfield. This time Melo was more demanding of the ball though not a huge leap. He certainly can pass the ball and in the second half, initiated a few attacks. His power with the ball also showed, making some telling bursts although power does not mean his tackling is all that strong.

A good interception was followed by a challenge which had him nearly falling backwards from the impact. Pirlo skipped easily away from Melo on a couple of occasions and the Brazilian looked ambling at times. Tracking back, he knows the danger areas of pitch as he took his place at the edge of the area when the opposition broke forward but the problem against USA was that he had no-one to mark. Against Italy, he repeated the same trick; one time it lead to a headed clearance, another nothing but at least he knows the danger areas. However against Spain he could be found marking space rather than a man and could get punished.

Gilberto Silva had the main man-marking duties therefore there wasn’t much to tell about Melo’s pros and cons in this department although he did follow his man a few times. He certainly prefers to mark what’s in front of him and then get to the ball quickly. He performed this very well but the best defensive midfielders constantly look over their shoulders and Melo failed to do so.

He is mobile and athletic and that lends it self well but I would have some reservations about him without someone like Gilberto alongside. At Fiorentina, the club play a three man midfield therefore displacing some of the risks on him and he still ended the season with 17 yellow cards and three red cards. Could he perform as solidly at Arsenal where the mantle will be greater covering for Fabregas and the full backs who look to push forward? What about the high line? He needs to be positionally very aware and on his toes something Denilson is just ahead of. However his power is what teams desire and in that regard he is stronger therefore pushing his value up.

Overall, it would be understandable if one was to feel slightly underwhelmed by Felipe Melo. He has talent and you feel that he could offer more but modern football is all about individuals like Kaka and Robinho balanced by specialists like….well, Gilberto and Melo. And you can’t help but feel that the Brazilian is happy playing in this way.

Scout Report Card:
Age 25
Position Defensive Midfielder
Height 6ft
Weight 11st 7lbs (73 kg)

Heading ­8
Passing 6
Tackling 7
Vision and Awareness 6
Team ­responsibility 8

Value £10m

Other posts in this series:
Scouting Report: Miguel Veloso
Arsenal’s Scouting Network

Scout Report: Miguel Veloso

Miguel Veloso has been linked to Arsenal for as little as £6million because of Sporting Lisbon’s apparent economic crisis. Arsenal Column looks to run the rule on the 22 year old Portugal international.

Agent talk or not the central midfielder has been linked with the Gunners for the best part of a year and also to a host of other top clubs including AC Milan and Man Utd.

Last year Sporting were beaten to the top of the table by 14 points to biggest rivals FC Porto, losing times. Being versatile, Veloso played a number of positions including centre back and left back to go with his preferred position of defensive midfielder. The signing of Fabio Rochemback has limited his chances this season but is seen as a potentially great player nonetheless.

Veloso has been given extra responsibility from set plays this season and whether shooting or crossing is a great threat. He has scored some great goals from such situations and is equally adept in shooting from open play. Seen as a creative defensive midfield player last season he was criticised for his marking abilities in tracking runners and being in position while also said to be not quick enough.

The Portuguese midfielder is said to be improving these sides of his game and to better his center of gravity and coordination. Veloso has a great technigue and the potential creativity of a more advanced player but with such an ability his passing range could be better. There is a lot of potential in the player and with someone with a strong mentality as his, the improvements will come over games and adversity.

Not the finished article as of yet and coming to the Premiership will probably require further adjusting but if all goes well can become one of the best players in his position.

Full name Miguel Luís Pinto Veloso
Date of birth May 11, 1986 (age 22)
Place of birth Coimbra, Portugal
Height 1.80 m (5 ft 11 in)
Position(s) Defensive Midfielder (midfielder centre, left/centre back)

Current Ability

Shooting 8 out of 10
Passing: 6 out of 10
Tackling: 6 out of 10
Heading: 6 out of 10
Creativity: 7 out of 10
Marking: 5 out of 10

Potential Value: £15million

Arsenal’s Scouting Network

Having stunned the football world once again by beating Wigan, the Arsenal youngsters have been the talk of the town but how did Arsenal get them?. Some have signed from abroad and others groomed from the academy. Chief Scout Steve Rowley told Arsenal Annual Members Magazine the process of identifying and bringing in such talents.

What’s the process for finding players? Do you tell them where to be or do they follow their own leads?

Well these scouts are all responsible for their own countries, they have built up a big network of contacts over the years. They have met players, coaches, other scouts, so they all get tip offs, they then go and watch, and then report to me via our database.

If the report sounds interesting then I will tell them to watch a couple more times, then I will send another scout to look at the player, to get a fresh perspective. If they come back positive too, I will go. But there is no set number of times we watch a player.

For Fabregas for example, you watch him once or twice and that’s enough. Other players though may play in a poor league, so you need to watch them more when they come up against a good team. So there is no set rule, basically I trust my scouts and if they say “Steve, stop messing about” then I’m there.

After I’ve watched the player I will compile a dossier for the manager, and also a video which contains the player’s good and bad points. The manager is so, so good at assessing a player that he can say straight away whether he likes what he sees or not. Then he will get onto his own contacts around the world to find out more about the player’s background, so it’s not just down to playing ability. When he’s made the decision, we move quickly to seal the deal.

Arsene Wenger has a reputation of signing lesser known names, so do you tell your scouts to focus more on those type of players?

Well we know about the bigger names too of course, we knew about Messi when we knew about Cesc obviously because they were in the same team, but we couldn’t do anything about it because he is Argentine. Generally though, yes the prices are more competitive when they are relatively unknown. I think the gaffer likes the fact that they are not going to cost millions and millions, but I also think that what’s important to him is that it gives him more scope to develop the player through his own coaching methods. At the same time if we bring a 16-year-old in through our scouts, I fully expect him to be able to train with the first team and not look out of place. They have to be of a very, very high standard.

What was it that made Cesc Fabregas stand out for example, when you first saw him play?

It’s a combination of things. The boss loves intelligent players, physically they also have to be of a certain level. Midfielders have to have great stamina and with Cesc, even at 15, you could see he would run all day. He had the basic requirements, added to great intelligence and great technique, just as every player we bring in has. We also look for that winning attitude. People like Cesc, Denilson – all of them in fact – they have the right mentality. There are also players we scout who are undoubtedly very talented, but you know that for whatever reason, they will not be a success in England. Can they adapt to this league? It’s a big question..

Read more to find out about the scouts at Arsenal. Continue reading “Arsenal’s Scouting Network”