Flamengo’s record-breaker Gabriel Barbosa missed out on Premier League move but could prove himself with Brazil – The Sun
ON Saturday star Flamengo striker Gabriel ‘Gabigol’ Barbosa hit a hat trick to become the top scorer in the Maracana stadium since the giant Rio de Janeiro venue was rebuilt and reopened in 2013.
The first goal in the new Maracana, incidentally, was conceded by Joe Hart when Brazil centre forward Fred hooked past him in the 2013 friendly that marked the stadium’s reopening.
And Fred held the record for most goals scored there – until Saturday.
For all his domestic achievements Fred, of course, is mainly remembered for failing to impress on home turf in the 2014 World Cup.
Might Gabriel be destined for better things? He has certainly had a wonderful time for Flamengo.
The two-goal hero of November’s dramatic Copa Libertadores final, he scored 43 goals in 59 games last year, and already has nine in seven in 2020.
With his trademark goal celebrations and his connection with the fans he is currently the biggest star in domestic Brazilian football.
But can he be more? It is a question that is tantalisingly tough to answer.
He is certainly open to the charge of being a rabbit killer, a flat track bully. Saturday’s game was in the Rio State Championship against Cabofriense, a tiny team with a handful of supporters.
All three goals came in the last half hour, against opponents who were already out on their feet.
STRUGGLES AT A HIGHER LEVEL
Every time Gabriel has been asked to step up, the results have not been convincing. As a raw youngster in 2016 he was given the chance to be Brazil’s centre forward – but did little.
He then went to Europe, where his time with Inter Milan and on loan to Benfica could only be described as a huge disappointment.
And, though he is far from alone in this, when Flamengo faced Liverpool in the final of the Club World Cup he was unable to trouble Virgil van Dijk.
Is he good enough to become a genuine world-class player? For a top-class striker he is very one footed, largely restricted to his left.
He also falls between positions; something of a mix between a centre forward and a winger, he is best suited to operating as a mobile second striker in a 4-4-2, a formation used much less these days.
And there is his temperament. Always a petulant figure, even in times of triumph he is picking up almost as many cards as goals, and shows an alarming lack of emotional control. The doubters, then, have their motives.
And they still do not have their answers. He might have made the return to Europe in January. Inter Milan, who still owned him, were looking to make the sale.
Gabriel hung on for a bid from a big hitter. None came, and he ended up staying with Flamengo, who had enough money to be able to buy him outright.
COULD HE BE A PREM HIT?
It is possible that he may have made a mistake. The line from his camp was that he was not interested in joining a team that was battling against relegation, which scotched the rumours of interest from West Ham.
It is difficult to imagine Gabriel getting on well with David Moyes, but it is not easy to see how he could do much better.
He is already 23 and unproven at the highest level. A real giant was unlikely to make a move.
But if he were to show his value in the Premier League, like Richarlison has at Watford and now at Everton, then the main contenders would be much more interested.
As it is, the best chance that Gabriel has of proving himself at a higher level might come with the national team.
South America’s World Cup qualifiers are the most competitive on the planet, and the 2022 campaign gets underway later this month.
Brazil name their squad on Friday, and Gabriel is making a strong case for a recall.
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