Big Lang Theory: In praise of Lucas


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His agent calls him a Ferrari. The comparison seems apt; although just 19 years old, Lucas Rodrigues Moura da Silva (known simply as Lucas in Brazil) has become an object of desire for many of football's high rollers. The São Paulo attacker, already a YouTube sensation thanks to his growing catalogue of dashing runs and goals, is likely to be at the centre of one of the summer's biggest transfers.

The price tag too - his buyout clause stands at a cool €80million - speaks of his quality. While São Paulo are unlikely to hold out for a bid of that magnitude, they have already demonstrated that they don't intend to sell themselves short. A bid of €33million from Manchester United was turned down this week, whilst Internazionale have also had an offer rejected. These figures underline the high regard in which Lucas is held by the club - and, indeed, by many observers of the Brazilian game.

The youngster burst onto the scene in 2010 with a string of eye-catching performances for the Tricolor. Then known as Marcelinho (due to his physical likeness to former Corinthians midfielder Marcelinho Carioca), he impressed with the dynamic dribbling that has since become his trademark. A couple of months later, he announced at a press conference that he wanted to be known by his actual name (shock! horror!): "I want to make my own way in the game, without being compared to anyone." The headlines practically wrote themselves: Lucas - so good they named him twice.

In the two years since his début, Lucas has established himself as one of São Paulo's key players. Blessed with blistering pace, Lucas is at his best when running into space - either down the flank or more centrally when counter-attacking. Although capable of tricks and flicks, it is his ability to carry the ball at speed that stands out; he is an intuitive player, one who can seize upon the slightest defensive stumble to power in on goal. He also - somewhat surprisingly, given his slight stature - possesses a thunderous shot, which has brought him a number of long-range goals at club level. In fact, these two skills complement each other: when defenders back off to legislate for his speed, he is presented with the opportunity to shoot, and vice versa.

Lucas' game is not without its flaws, though. While his highlights reel may be replete with moments of individual brilliance, his decision-making over the course of 90 minutes often leaves plenty to be desired. Savvy defenders can often force Lucas down blind alleys, while former São Paulo boss Emerson Leão condemned his selfishness in the final third.

Maturity may also be an issue. In the match that followed Leão's criticism, Lucas made a point of making a simple pass every time he received the ball, refusing to embark on his trademark runs. This, predictably, didn't impress the São Paulo boss, who again spoke out in the media. The affair was eventually put to bed, but cannot have impressed potential suitors.

Even disregarding that incident, 19-year-old often cut a frustrated figure under Leão, whose tactics required him to hold a position on the right flank. "Quick players who can dribble shouldn't just play on one side," he told Placar magazine last month. "Sometimes I feel isolated out on the right. Leão told me to play there and I have to respect him... but I like to be free; to come central, switch to the left, get involved in the game."

Leão's reign at the Morumbi ended this month, following a disappointing exit from the Brazilian cup. His replacement, Ney Franco, will be much more indulgent of the youngster's whims. Having managed the Brazil U20 side that won the South American Youth Championship and U20 World Cup last year, the 45-year-old coach has already accrued plenty of evidence of Lucas' brilliance. In the former competition especially, Lucas was superb, bagging four goals, including a hat-trick in the final game against Uruguay. If Franco can convince Lucas to stay, and harness that kind of verve on a regular basis, São Paulo fans could be in for a treat over the coming months.

The worry for the Tricolor, though, is that the lure of the Old Continent could prove too strong. Unlike fellow wunderkind Neymar, who has repeatedly stressed his desire to remain in Brazil until the World Cup, Lucas appears eager to begin a European adventure sooner rather than later. "I can't guarantee that I'll stay until the end of my contract," he told reporters this week. His suitors would do well to tie up a deal before the end of the month, when Brazil embark on their quest for Olympic gold. With Lucas likely to feature in a side full of attacking intent, it is certainly possible that his stock could rise yet further in Europe.

When asked by Placar about the car comparison favoured by his agent, Lucas merely laughed: "Ferraris are pretty quick, right? Then I guess it applies!" One senses that the 19-year-old would prefer to get the speculation and transfer fees are out of the way, so he can get down to the real business of playing football. He is, after all, just a kid who loves the game. If he can maintain that youthful verve as he matures, he should become a star.