Our resident Brazilian football expert John Milton (@Geordioca) gives us the lowdown on the latest Brazilian Wunderkind to be linked with United. Could Dan Ashworth being doing for us what he did for Brighton as they cornered the market in up-and-coming South American talent?
Another day dawns, and another future Brazilian superstar is in Dan Ashworth’s sights. I honestly think he must have coughed up for an Ipanema penthouse and set up shop in downtown Rio.
This time our focus is on the cross-city arch-rivals of Andrey Santos’ Vasco da Gama: the giant that is Flamengo.
The most famous recent product of the ‘Ninho do Urubu’ (‘The Vulture’s Nest’ – the vulture is Flamengo’s mascot so they call their academy its nest) is undoubtedly Vinícius Júnior, and the kid NUFC have reportedly entered negotiations over is causing similar waves as young Vini did.
Matheus França de Oliveira, better known as just Matheus França is, just like Andrey Santos, an 18 year old Rio de Janeiro native. Whereas Andrey plays in the deeper volante role, Matheus is an attacking midfielder. Known for his array of tricks and skills, he has already added a vital component to his CV that Andrey is yet to do: big match experience.
Let’s have a look at how Matheus found himself on Eddie’s Splashing-The-Cash-Properly Mags’ radar.
When it became obvious Matheus had the talent to have a shot as a pro footballer he had a decision to make: he already had his heart set on following in his fathers´s footsteps and joining the airforce (he took courses to help prepare him for the entry exams). Did he continue down that route or did he carve out a new path to follow? It would appear that he made the right choice.
Initially joining the youth set-up at Olaria, he quickly joined Flamengo as a 12 year old where he excelled. Between 2018 and 2022 he helped his youth teams win the Carioca (Rio State) U15 Championship (2018), Brazilian U17 Championship (2021), U17 Copa do Brasil (2021), Supercopa do Brasil (2021) and the U20 Taça Rio (2022).
His displays were picked up by the seleção and he was summoned to represent his country at youth level. In 2019 he played in an U15 friendly v Paraguay which led to him joining the squad which won the South American U15 Championships. Since then he has represented Brazil at U17 and U20 levels and is in the squad for the 2023 U20 South American Championships which kicks off in Colombia in mid-January, thanks to displays which include moments like this during a friendly with Chile.
Last month Charla Podcast were speaking to the U20 Flamengo coach, Mario Jorge, who also coached França at U13 level when he first joined ‘Mengo. As soon as the subject of Matheus is raised, the co-host interjects, “100m Euros!”. Not a bother for Eddie’s Mags, bonny lad. Jorge goes on to say that when he got Matheus again at U17 level he was “sensational”.
At U17 level França was playing in attack and he was so versatile that “if we were playing with a front 3, França could play in any of those 3 positions, that’s to say he could play as a 7, 9 or an 11” because he can play with both feet (ahem, MIGGY, ahem). He played in SIX different positions for Jorge at U17 level through midfield and attack. “França was ABSURD for me, really, it was scary [how good he was]”.
He was able to play in so many positions because of his footballing intelligence. He understood the systems Jorge used and the and the functions of each position within the system. On top of that, he knew how to adapt his skillset to suit each position.
It obviously wouldn’t be long before made the step up from the ‘Sub20’ team to the first team, and that happened this year. Given a run-out in the Rio State Championship (Campeonato Carioca) he held his place in the first team as the Brasileirão (Brazilian first division) kicked off. Unfortunately, he was injured in Flamengo’s 3-1 victory over São Paulo in April, which put him in the treatment room and then back with the U20s while he recuperated.
He marked his first team come back in the Round of 16 in the Libertadores (better than the CL) where he scored in Flamengo’s 7-1 battering of Colombian team, Tolima. In October he picked up his first senior title as an unused sub in the 2022 Copa do Brasil (Brazilian FA Cup) final, he followed this up in November as part of the Libertadores squad that beat Wor Bruno’s Athletico Paranaense in South American football’s biggest match.
Rumours of our links with França have been circling for a while now, but, as I mentioned in my Andrey Santos bit, I ignore rumours until they become credible. I woke up on Christmas Eve to a WhatsApp message from my brother-in-law, who just happens to be a massive Flamenguista, of Globo Sport’s report on us entering official negotiations with the rubronegro (red and black) club.
Brazilians always refer to their young prospects as ‘joias’ – ‘jewels’. I asked Fernando which jewel was better, Andrey or Matheus. He answered as pragmatically as is possible: “I don’t know, Andrey played in the second division and I don’t watch that league. Both are excellent young players who need polished. It’s a toss-up.” It just so happens that Eddie can polish the roughest of diamonds into a gem as brilliant as the Koh-i-Noor (ahem, MIGGY, ahem.)