In this series, we take a look at some of the most interesting young talents in the world of football. Next up is Palmeiras’ 20-year-old versatile talent, Gabriel Menino.
Palmeiras may have sailed through their Libertadores group with ease, but their slightly underwhelming league form saw Vanderlei Luxemburgo lose his job last month. After a protracted search, the team known as Verdão followed the current Brazilian trend of appointing European coaches and brought in Abel Ferreira.
The 41-year-old Portuguese manager comes into a squad stacked with talented youth. From Uruguayan left-back Matias Viña, to wonderkid forward Gabriel Veron, there are a number of exciting prospects which, along with a favorable side of the draw, should bolster Palmeiras’ chances of making a run to at least the semi-finals of the Libertadores.
Perhaps the most interesting young player on Palmeiras books right now comes in the form of Gabriel Menino, whose excellent performances have earned him call-ups to the last two Brazilian national team squads.
Gabriel began his career at Campinas-based side Guarani, before switching to Sao Paulo giants Palmeiras at the age of 16. In his maiden year, he was part of the side that won the U17 Copa do Brasil.
Promoted to the first team less than a year ago, it’s been a whirlwind rise to prominence. Gabriel was a key factor in Palmeiras’ Paulista state championship victory at the start of this year and has swiftly become a regular in both Brasileirão and Libertadores campaigns.
What has been particularly noteworthy is Gabriel’s versatility. Typically a mixed midfielder, Gabriel actually started out as a center-back and this defensive nous, combined with his energy and positional intelligence, has seen him deployed at right-back too.
Whether it be in central midfield, on the wing, or at full-back, Gabriel is a player who gets up and down the pitch and generally likes to be on the front foot. This season he has averaged 9.69 offensive duels per 90, bettered only by teammate Gustavo Scarpa, while his figure for progressive runs (2.67 per 90) is also among the best in his position.
While not necessarily known for his dribbling, Gabriel is posting a solid 4.27 dribbles per 90 minutes so far this season, which again is equally useful when playing wide or centrally and also displays his comfort on the ball.
Boasting a pass completion of 84.4%, Gabriel looks after the ball well and his good range of passing also helps with his flexibility to play in numerous positions. As well as keeping possession in his own third or spraying out long diagonals, he also has the creativity and vision to contribute in the final third in a more attacking midfield role, as shown by the incisive through ball below.
Another facet of Gabriel’s varied passing is his good crossing ability. When operating in wider positions, he can swing in a mean delivery, while his corner kicks have been the source of three of his five assists this year.
Whilst not renowned for his goal-scoring prowess, Gabriel still manages a respectable 1.45 shots per 90 and, though his finishing could be improved, the thunderbolt against Bolivar in the Libertadores shows his ability to launch a potent shot from range.
Returning to the defensive side of his game, Gabriel’s all-action displays show that he thrives without the ball as much as with it. Averaging 8.82 defensive duels in his own third and 6.14 recoveries per 90, it shows Gabriel’s aptitude in breaking up play thanks to his excellent positioning, reading of the game, and ability to press.
It is this defensive solidity paired with an impressive ability on the ball that makes him such an alluring option for Tite as an alternative at right-back for the Seleção.
Rather than have the traditional full-backs bombing forward at all costs, Tite has shifted more towards inverted full-backs, able to contribute as extra midfielders in-field and play a key role in orchestrating attacks more centrally.
Gabriel’s ability to build play from deep, his tactical flexibility and strength in both offensive and defensive duels make him a prime candidate to act as a potential Dani Alves understudy and, one day, maybe replacement.