For the millions of Inter fans across the world, it feels like an age has passed since Suning purchased a controlling stake in their club from the much-maligned Erick Thohir. Indeed, a lot has happened since the Indonesian businessman sold a large percentage of his share to the Chinese corporation. Within weeks of their arrival, Suning made a significant statement of intent by bringing Brazilian starlet Gabriel Barbosa – ‘Gabigol’ to you and I – to the club for a record fee.
However, things have not gone according to plan for the São Paulo native since leaving his boyhood club Santos, for whom he scored more than 50 goals before reaching his 20th birthday. After failing to establish a starting role under both Frank de Boer and Stefano Pioli, Luciano Spalletti agreed that the best course of action would be to loan him to a club where he could gain experience of European football in a different environment. On the contrary, his spell at Benfica was destined to fail the second it became clear that Rui Vitória was unhappy with his discipline and work rate.
2018 was a much more positive year for Gabigol, as he finished top scorer in the Brasileirão having completed a season-long loan move back to Santos. Under the circumstances, he did incredibly well to achieve such a feat considering the fact his side were relegation fodder for much of the campaign before finishing 10th in the league table. Evidently, the aforementioned Spalletti remains unconvinced by the now 22-year-old forward, hence he has been allowed to join Flamengo on a temporary basis until the end of 2019.
Unlike his last foray into the demanding climate of Brazilian football, a spell with the Rubro-Negro should provide Gabigol with a genuine opportunity to compete for silverware. In Abel Braga, he will be working under the tutelage of one of the most heralded coaches in the land. Moreover, the unprecedented levels of investment in the playing squad during this off-season should ensure that the Mengão are in contention to lift each of the major trophies in which they feature.
It is likely that Gabigol will spearhead his side’s attack at the tip of a 4-2-3-1 formation, providing him with the perfect opportunity to show that he is capable of leading the line in a high-pressure environment. Theoretically, he will be the main beneficiary of the creativity provided by the likes of Vitinho, Giorgian De Arrascaeta and Éverton Ribeiro. With such attacking firepower at their disposal, it should come as no surprise to learn that most Brazilian football experts expect the title race to be a direct fight between Flamengo and Palmeiras.
With that in mind, it really does feel like a case of now or never for Gabigol. If he is as successful as he should be over the course of the next 12 months and finds himself unable to force his way into the Nerazzurri’s plans, then a parting of the ways between club and player seems like a mere inevitability.
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