In this series, we take a look at some of the most interesting young talents in the world of football. Next up is Santos’ 19-year-old striker, Marcos Leonardo.

Santos has long been a famed producer of striking talent. From the likes of Pele, Coutinho and Pepe during the club’s golden era in the 1960s, to more recent stars such as Robinho, Neymar and Rodrygo, the Vila Belmiro has always been fertile breeding for young forwards.

Next in line to follow in their footsteps looks to be 19-year-old hot shot, Marcos Leonardo.

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Originally hailing from the state of Bahia, Marcos Leonardo joined Santos’ youth academy at the age of 11. He excelled at every age group, scoring over 100 goals, before signing his first professional contract in 2019.

The young striker made his senior debut in August 2020 at the age of 17 and it didn’t take long before he had his first goal, scoring against Goias less than 2 months later. He followed it up with his first Libertadores strike shortly after, becoming the sixth youngest player in the history of the competition to find the back of the net.

Marcos Leonardo writes his name into the history books, holding his run to stay onside and give Santos an injury-time winner.

Having finished 2021 in good form, 2022 has seen him kick on and gain even more praise. 7 goals already in the Brasileirao, plus a couple more in both the Copa Sudamericana and the Copa do Brasil, has seen him draw lofty comparisons to Romario, while also being heavily linked with Liverpool.

If that wasn’t enough, Marcos Leonardo also bagged himself four goals against Uruguay U20s as Brazil took home the Torneo Espirito Santo last month.

On the shoulder of the last defender, Marcos Leonardo bends his run and then coolly chips the goalkeeper.

With 27 senior club goals to his name before the age of 20, clearly, Marcos Leonardo is a player who knows where the goal is.  Former coach Gustavo Roma described him as a “killer and a born scorer” thanks to his finishing and his ability to sniff out opportunities.

This season in the Brasileirao, Marcos Leonardo has made goal involvement every 138 minutes and he has been responsible for 33.3% of the team’s goals – the highest in the squad.

Marcos Leonardo has proven to be clinical in front of goal and is capable of scoring a variety of finishes off both feet. What’s also notable is his economy of touches – a hallmark of efficient strikers – as he rarely needs many too many touches before getting his shots away, as shown by his average of 3.64 touches in the box per 90 this year.

Marcos Leonardo plays a give-and-go with the winger, finding the space in the box and allowing the ball to come across his body before rifling a shot into the top right corner.
Marcos Leonardo finds space between the center back and right back but receives the ball with his back to goal, allowing the center back to get back across to cover.
However, Marcos Leonardo only needs three touches: one to control, one to nutmeg the defender, and one to poke the ball into the corner of the goal with the outside of his boot.

This season has also seen Marcos Leonardo increase his shot output, perhaps in part due to more game time, experience and confidence. The Santos gem currently ranks 6th in the league for number of shots (45) with a 42.22% on target, while his shots per game as risen to 2.99 per 90 from 1.83 in 2020 and 1.97 in 2021.

Despite not being the tallest, Marcos Leonardo is also a good header of the ball and has scored a decent percentage of his goals via his head.

Marcos Leonardo shows he has a great leap to spring well above the defender and power a header with great precision.

As important as his finishing is his intelligent movement. Marcos Leonardo is a very mobile forward, never staying static waiting for the ball to arrive but instead always looking to find half a yard of space so he can be on the finishing end of moves.

A perfect of Marcos Leonardo’s all-round forward play initially sees him use his mobility and strength to get in front of the defender and control the ball on his chest.
Marcos Leonardo brings the ball under his control and holds off the challenge from the defender, giving his teammates time to get forward, before laying the ball off into the path of his teammate and making a b-line towards the box.
To finish off the move he started, Marcos Leonardo receives the ball on the edge of the box and, under pressure from two defenders, fires a powerful shot into the back of the net with his second touch.

Marcos Leonardo also has good pace, allowing him to get in behind defenses and not be caught. Though not a prolific dribbler, averaging 2.79 per 90 this season, he can travel at pace with the ball too.

Marcos Leonardo sprints onto the clearance, judging it to perfection and heading the ball over the defender and chasing after it for a free run at goal.
Still with a lot to do, Marcos Leonardo shows great pace to sprint with the ball from the half-way line towards the box.
Marcos Leonardo makes his way into the box and, with the covering defender closing in, unleashes a firm finish into the bottom corner of the net.

Far from being a clinical fox-in-the-box, Marcos Leonardo also uses his game intelligence, technique and movement to combine well with teammates.

A favorite move is dropping deep and back-heeling through ball to an on-running teammate into the space he has created by vacating the traditional center-forward role.

Marcos Leonardo spots the opportunity to drop deep, knowing the defender will follow him and create space for the inverted run of the winger, before expertly back-heeling the ball into their path.
Once again we see Marcos Leonardo pulling off the same trick for the national team, displaying his technique, intelligence, audacity and awareness to set up a goal for Manchester City’s Kayky.

By all accounts the Santos striker is a down-to-earth character too, no doubt helped by the fact his father was a former semi-pro footballer who knows the potential pitfalls of professional football.

While Marcos Leonardo is the current jewel in the Santos crown, there is a wealth of other talent ready to continue the rich history of their academy.  Renyer and Angelo Borges are exciting teenage forwards, midfielders Vinicius Zanocelo, Gabriel Pirani and Sandry look to have big futures while highly-rated center-back Kaiky Fernandes has already made the move to Almeria.

It’s a matter of when, not if, Marcos Leonardo makes the next leap and he will certainly be yet another Brazilian forward to keep an eye on in the near future.

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