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Who will be Inter’s next Brazilian star?

Inter has a rich history of Brazilian stars. Who will be next in line?

Feyenoord v FC Porto - UEFA Europa League Photo by Angelo Blankespoor/Soccrates/Getty Images

For the first time since the 1996/97 season, Inter has no Brazilian’s in the first team squad. This, to any true fan, is a travesty. Flair and bombast and lunacy, all of the clichés that make up the quintessential Brazilian footballer, are what make Inter the kind of club you don’t merely support, but you love and endure.

January is just a couple of weeks away. Transfers will be back on the table. So who should Inter make their next Brazilian star?

Gabigol, Flamengo

As you’re fully aware, Gabigol has been out on loan from Inter to Flamengo. And as you’re also aware: he’s been awesome. Gabigol helped lead Flamengo to the Copa Libertadores showing the kind of form and talent that made him in such high demand when Inter shipped £29.5 million to sign the forward back in 2016.

Yet despite scoring 24 goals in 27 league games and 9 goals in 12 Libertadores games (earning him a recall to the Brazilian squad), Barbosa is unlikely to return to Italy. The combination of bad football fit and chemistry catastrophe was enough for Inter to quickly move on the first time around. Conte seems just as unsold on Gabigol in his system.

And the feeling appears mutual. “God willing, I will be here [at Flamengo] again next season”, Barbosa told reporters this week. The deal will come down to finances. Newcastle, Leicester and a hoard of English Championship teams have been linked to potential January deals. If any pony up close to £30 million, Gabigol will be gone. If not, there’s a chance he returns to the club to provide some squad depth. But that still appears unlikely.

Dalbert, Fiorentina

Another player currently on loan from Inter. Dalbert already has more expected assists (2.52) in the 13 games he’s played for Fiorentina this season than he did in the 24 games he played for Inter over the past two campaigns. Some of that production has been a little inflated. Dalbert’s quality in the final third has remained inconsistent. One of his assists came on a hit-ahead-and-hope; the other on a mishit cross across the box:

Conte gave the wingback a chance during the preseason but he doesn’t quite fit the Italian’s style. And that’s fine! Managers can be good and players can be good, but the fit together can be bad. Some players are system-specific. Dalbert likes to deliver crosses from depth:

Some of the results are out-of-this-world good:

But that style is not a natural fit for Conte, who uses his wingbacks as out-and-out wingers in the final third – take on a man, beat a man, then whip a ball into the box.

Dalbert’s defensive work remains a major issue, too. His understanding of where he should be in relation to the ball remains haphazard. Too often he gets caught in no man’s land, even when the trigger for a defensive press is clear and obvious. Most of his issues stem from out-and-out laziness. Watch him fail to trackback this runner:

Ugh. That’s just unacceptable, and it is no one-off.

Conte essentially swapped Dalbert for Biraghi this past summer. And while Biraghi has been – to be kind – up-and-down, he’s been no worse than Dalbert, whose flaws would have been exposed in Inter’s current system.

Alex Telles, Porto

Now things get fun. If Telles isn’t the best attacking left back in the world, he’s as near as makes no difference. He played for Inter on loan back during the 2015-16 season, and since then he has taken his game up three or four more levels.

Telles has a magical left foot. And he uses it to devastating effect in all aspects of the game. His delivery at set pieces is outstanding:

Holy moly that’s good. Want to see something just as sweet? Telles striking free kicks himself.

Telles is a weapon whenever he is on the ball. He’s a goal threat from free kicks, corners, and in open play. He is the ideal fit for Conte’s left wing back: A player who prioritizes delivery and his final ball over everything else, but who can offer a credible goal threat from outside the box.

In 11 games this season, Telles already has three goals and four assists. Each goal is more extraordinary than the last:

His delivery from wide areas is as good as any player’s in Europe. He can hit flat, pinpoint diagonals; whip curling crosses across the face of goal; or drip tantalizing floaters towards the six-yard box. Imagine Lukaku running onto this:

Oooh, baby. That is spicy. That is nasty. Telles would be an extraordinary weapon in Conte’s system (there is no more perfect fit across Europe right now), but is also system-proof (an outstanding crosser is an outstanding crosser) for when Conte inevitably leaves in flames.

Now the downside: his defensive work. Telles’ positional awareness is poor. His concentration goes up and down. He’s often caught lazing upfield before having to play catchup:

That is triply bad. Telles loses the initial exchange. Rather than bursting back, he lulls into a jog. As the play progresses, he stands and watch as the ball is shifted out to the left. My work here is done. No! The ball is whipped in from the left-hand side. Telles is bullied at the back post, caught between a pair of attackers. Goal.

That type of thing would drive Conte nuts. The only saving grace: Inter’s system, with a three-man backline would offer much more protection.

Telles would be an expensive deal. He has been linked to Manchester City and Manchester United for three straight years. But given his flaws I think he’d function much better for a team that runs with a fluid back three/five, with him pushed further forward as a wingback.

Inter would be his best bet, with the best kind of coach to improve his defensive work. It would be an expensive one, but Inter would be upgrading a position of strength (that’s how you build a serial champion) and securing one of Europe’s best throughout his prime.

Bruno Guimaraes, Club Athletico Parabaesnse

Guimaraes is a rising star already on the radar of Europe’s elite. Like most cult icons, Bruno offers a dash of flash and flair. But he has plenty of substance to go with his oh-so-wonderful style. At 22, he is beginning to blossom into a player capable of starting for a title challenger in one of the biggest league’s in the world.

Guimaraes is powerful and direct. Run through the history of championship teams, from any era, in any of Europe’s top leagues, and you will see it littered with central midfielders who had the ability to pick the ball up off a defender, drive, beat a man, break the defensive line, and kickstart the tempo of the attack. Seriously, go through them all: Iniesta, Viera, Zidane, Xavi, Ballack, De Bruyne and on and on and on. The special teams had two.

Bruno fits that role. He is a pass-and-move player who excels at nicking the ball here and then sliding into space there:

There are two things I look for in central midfielders. The first: that Viera pick-up-and-run-and-beat-and-create I described earlier. Tick (though there are hints of indecision in final third). The second: does the player turn and look for space and then move into it? Or is his head constantly bobbing, twisting and contorting, in what seems like a nano-second, with the player seemingly gliding into open grass.

I know I sound crazy writing about that as a distinction. But if you know, you know. It’s the David Silva thing. He never looks like he’s looking for space even though he does nothing but look for space. You know what I mean, right? If so, give Bruno a tick there, too.

Let’s chuck in an extra tick in for this modern age: is the player a relentless presser? Yes.

If anything, here’s where Bruno could really develop under Conte’s coaching. Bruno is relentless – a fit, merciless player – but not always smart with his pressing. Press triggers are really precise things in the modern game. Busting a gut and doing things that appeal to the gantry aren’t smart. They drag you out of position and leave vulnerable gaps in the defensive block. That’s why coaches build in triggers: the ball going to this specific area; a player receiving the ball with his back to goal. That stuff you can teach, though. Desire is innate.

Bruno is a perfect fit. The only spanner in the works: Atletico Madrid have the right of first refusal. Reports out of Spain differ on the club’s interest. Some suggest it’s a done deal; signed, sealed, delivered. Others say there’s no interest. Typical Spanish media, right?

Ibanez, Atalanta

Ibanez is the latest star to be punted out of Atalanta’s famed academy. Finding real match footage is hard. The best we have is a YouTube compilation that just so happens to be posted by his representatives. But still! Watch:

I mean, come on. Agencies can pump up their players and craft videos to boost their profile. But it’s hard to fake defensive positioning and size and touch and height. Look at those legs! What are those things? Are we sure this guy is real? I really, truly do not know. Perhaps he’s the illegitimate love child of the Spanish and Italian football Gods.

Ibanez is already on the radar of the Premier League’s big boys. Inter should pursue. But he screams of a Manchester City signing who spends a couple of seasons out on loan on some Spanish island, while immediately becoming your go-to Football Manager signing.

Douglas Luiz, Aston Villa

Ask this question into the ether – or your mates – and Luiz is one of the first names you’ll hear back.

Premier League exposure is a part of that. Luiz has had big games against big teams playing in front of an International audience. His game adds to it, too. He’s all funny angles and leaning and weaves and pinged passes and everything that made you fall in love with the game in the first place.

Luiz’s output hasn’t matched his status, though. Not only his base metrics, which for a player of his style typically mean diddly squat, but also when you dig into some of the super nerdy stuff.

Luiz’s xGBuildup90 and xGChain90, which essentially mean how often does a player’s involvement in a move lead to a scoring chance, are pretty damn poor. Roberto Gagliardini crushes Luiz’s in both:

Even Vecino (Vecino!) beats him by a fairly comfortable distance:

Luiz could be a nice long-term rotational/replacement option for Brozovic. But his contract demands and Aston Villa’s likely asking price makes any future move nonsensical. You can get his output for much, much cheaper. A fun, flashy player. But not as much substance as glitz.

Allan, Napoli

Allan is all substance. And I will admit up front that he is likely too expensive and that Napoli won’t want to sell him to a direct rival and that when they eventually do it will probably be to Juventus and that even though they already have too many players that sale will probably come this January.

But ignore all of that! Let’s dream. Dreaming is fun.

Allan remains one of Serie A’s best players despite a perceived down year. Allan is one of the league’s top chameleons. He fills gaps wherever they are in the lineup. He’ll slide back into the right-hand channel, allowing his fullback to overlap and distressing the defensive lines. Or he’ll pop up as a number ten, splitting a pair of strikers and acting as a funnel man, with the pair of wide-midfielders narrowing into a near central trio.

His ability to get on the ball and dictate the tempo, both by passing the ball and running, ranks among the best anywhere in Europe:

Allan’s role has shifted under Carlo Ancelotti. Under Marizio Sarri, Allan was more of a shuttler. He was used to protect the single pivote – typically Jorginho – and was then asked to arrive late into the box:

Jorginho left as Ancelotti arrived. The coach asked Allan to pick up more of the creative burden. Gone were those long striding runs. Allan sat a little deeper, shifted a little wider, and became a facilitator:

High-level talent finds a path around structural issues. What looks like a dip in Allan’s form has merely been an example of his adaptability. The Sarri-styled Allan would fit this current Inter more. But honestly, the team could do with either.

Being 28-years old is usually a hindrance in big-money transfers. But Allan’s apex perfectly mirrors Conte’s timeline.

Regardless, Inter have no shot. Or do they?

Note: I was away over the holiday period — enjoying my first Thanksgiving over in the U.S (we should definitely bring that thing to Britain). We have plans for a bunch of fun content over the coming weeks, and have a number of fresh voices lined up to join the writing team, which will limit any downtime moving forward. If you yourself are interested in contributing, do not hesitate to reach out.