football

Gabigol's resurrection – Inter troubles, Flamengo success and £40m West Ham link



In South America, there is almost a clamour for their new teenage football stars fresh off the production line to follow in the footsteps of previous legends.

It is partly the reason why there are at least 20 starlet dubbed the “new Lionel Messi” emerging from Argentina every year, or the “next Neymar” in Brazil.

But for Gabriel Barbosa, or ‘Gabigol’ as he was more commonly known, there was a realistic chance he could make it.

Like Neymar, the young forward had been fast-tracked from Santos’ academy to the first-team at the age of just 16 and had already put pen to paper on a professional contract which contained a buyout clause of €50million (£42.7m).








Gabriel Barbosa began his career at Santos at the age of just 16
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Image:

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In the summer of 2013, Neymar departed for Barcelona in a deal worth £71m — making him the most expensive footballer in Brazilian history. But Santos were resigned to losing him, knowing they had a star in the making in Gabigol.

He soon caught the attention of Europe’s elite after scoring 42 goals over the space of two seasons for the Serie A side, helping them win two league championships.

Barbosa wanted to follow in Neymar’s footsteps by heading to Europe and despite interest from Manchester United, it was Inter Milan who stumped up the cash with a £26m deal in the summer of 2016, shortly after he made his debut for Brazil.





“It is every player’s dream to go to Europe,” Barbosa told The Sun in a wide-ranging interview. “They have the best leagues in world football.”

The striker was only 19 at the time and it was clear he would need an adjusting period. But Inter did little to ease the burden on his young shoulders.

They had chosen to unveil the striker with an announcement video shot in front of the Christ The Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro — identical to how they announced the signing of Ronaldo Nazario in 1997.

There were some similarities in their play, but Barbosa needed time — something that he wasn’t afforded as he struggled to adjust to life in Italy.








Gabriel Barbosa endured a torrid time at Inter Milan and made only nine appearances for the club
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In the eyes of the fans, he was just another big-money flop who had the world at his feet, only to kick it away like a discarded Coke can.

He would only manage to find the net once for Inter during the 2016-17 season, coming off the bench in February 2017 to score the winner in a 1-0 victory over Bologna. It was clear that his two managers during that first season were not keen on him, especially Frank de Boer.

The Dutchman endured an ill-fated spell at the San Siro, lasting only four months, and De Boer revealed how his nickname was mocked by the players and staff at the club.

“[Internazionale] bought him for €35 million. I didn’t know much about him, but they told me he was a fantastic player,” De Boer told Fox Sport NL. “He thought he could do everything while standing still, playing indoor football.

“They called him Gabigol, but we called him ‘Gabi-no-gol.’ He joined us with two personal social media editors and a bodyguard but didn’t do anything.”








Gabriel Barbosa made his Brazil debut in 2016
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It was arranged by Inter that Barbosa would head to Benfica on loan, the Portuguese club where South American players tended to settle quickly and shine.

But he was hardly given an opportunity, making only four appearances during his time in Portugal. His dream move to Europe was quickly turning into an unsalvageable nightmare for the Brazilian; every decision he made felt like the wrong move.

“Until today I didn’t really understand why I had so few opportunities. There were so many questions in my head,” he said.




“But I discovered over time that I needed a lot more than talent to play at the club.

“My bad experiences with Inter Milan and Benfica have made me stronger. It is in these moments that we grow up.”

With his options in Europe limited and Barbosa desperately short on confidence, it was decided that he would return to Brazil with Santos to regain his goalscoring touch.

As it turned out, what he needed all along was regular football. Barbosa scored 27 goals in 53 appearances for his former club, but despite their desire to bring him back on a permanent basis, he opted to join Flamengo on another loan.








Gabriel Barbosa won the Copa Libertadores and Brasileirao Serie A trophy with Flamengo in 2019
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AFP via Getty Images)



It was there where his form truly lifted off, netting 43 times in all competitions in 2019, helping Brazil’s most-supported club clinch the Brasileirao and Copa Libertadores under Jorge Jesus.

His performances had attracted attention from Europe once again, with Chelsea and Manchester City reportedly showing interest. But it was a complicated agreement, with Barbosa still belonging to Inter.




Besides, he had enamoured himself with the Flamengo supporters. They would chant around the Maracana: “Hoje tem gol do Gabigol”, which translates from Portuguese as: “Today Gabigol will score”.

Gabigol had lived up to his adopted name. After looking lost for three years, he had finally found his home.

Fast forward two years and Barbosa remains hot property, having joined Flamengo on a permanent basis in January 2020 for £15m. It is difficult to imagine how this striker, with 88 goals in 119 games for the club, struggled so badly in his 18 months in Europe.








Gabriel ‘Gabigol’ Barbosa has scored 88 goals for Flamengo since joining in 2019
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2020 Getty Images)



Looking back, Barbosa admits he has some regrets about his time in Milan and showed some anger that his time on the continent was so short-lived.

“I played my role, I dedicated myself to the maximum in training, my Italian course, my adaptation, nutrition,” he said.

“Today, a few years later, I know I could have done some different things. My experience in Europe was a very quick story, I still feel frustrated.”





But that frustration could be short-lived, with Barbosa appearing back on the radar of Premier League clubs such as Everton and West Ham.

It is understood a fee of around £40m could be enough to tempt Flamengo into selling, highlighting how quickly the Brazil star has bounced back.

The 24-year-old has fuelled the fire by praising how David Moyes’ side fared in the 2020-21 season, achieving their highest-ever points total and qualifying for the Europa League.







David Moyes is reportedly keen on signing Gabriel Barbosa from Flamengo



He added: “I really enjoyed the West Ham season. I’m a big fan of Premier League football.”

Barbosa has also touted his services to Liverpool in the hope of reuniting with his compatriot Roberto Firmino having spoken of his admiration of the Reds.

But with Firmino, Diogo Jota and Mohamed Salah all prominent members of the frontline, an enticing move to Anfield looks unlikely.








Gabriel Barbosa has dreams of linking up with Roberto Firmino at Liverpool
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For now, Barbosa will just be glad he turned things around and at such a young age still, he has his whole career ahead of him.

If he does return to Europe or even arrive in the Premier League, those jitters that caused his form to nosedive may return — but at least this time, he possesses the maturity and experience to deal with the expectation.









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