Friday, February 20, 2009

Hot property Hernanes heading for Europe

Anderson Hernanes de Carvalho Andrade Lima – simply Hernanes to his mum – has shown sufficient promise to be hailed as Brazilian football’s ‘next big thing’. Quite some accolade, given the oceans of talent swilling around the Thankfully, due to his preferred role as a deep-lying creative midfielder, the 23-year-old will side-step unfortunate comparisons with the likes of Pele, Garrincha or even Ronaldo, which up-and-coming Brazilian starlets routinely face.

One unavoidable comparison is often drawn though. Right now, Kaká belongs to Jesus and Milan (in that order). At the birth of his galactic career though, the one-time Manchester City target honed his inimitable skills at São Paulo; the club where Hernanes now occupies the role of creator-in-chief.

In reality, though, there aren’t all that many similarities between the two products of the Morumbi. While Kaka has made his name as a thrusting attacking midfielder or support striker, with unmatchable pace, power and composure, his successor is a player more in the mould of, say, Cesc Fabregas or Brazil’s USA 94 star Rai. In Hernanes, the requisite technical excellence of a Brazilian playmaker is allied to great mobility, vision and impressive ease on the ball with either foot.

South American football expert Tim Vickery reckons “there's no one better in Brazilian football at the moment.” By way of confirmation, the young midfield maestro was named the Premio Craque do Brasileirao (domestic player of the year) last season and The Times’ no.1 ‘rising talent in football’ in 2008.

Wednesday evening’s entertaining Copa Libertadores clash with Independiente Medellín of Colombia showcased Hernanes’ exemplary talents. Throughout the close-fought game, the São Paulo no.10 was a constant thorn in the side of the visiting underdogs. With an upright, compact style, his shimmies, step-overs and surges earned a number of free-kicks and kept his opposite number fully engaged throughout.

At 5ft 11, he’s hardly a giant by modern football’s exacting standards, yet – like Cesc – Hernanes was seemingly born with the authority to direct a game with abundant simplicity and awareness. He’s not afraid to shoot either – a number of mid-to-long-range efforts (with both feet) troubled Independiente’s Paraguyan ‘keeper Aldo Bobadilla and the folks in Row Z alternately. Allied to the honest endeavours of his omnipresent midfield partner Jean, Hernanes ensured that the flow of the game remained towards the Colombians’ goal.

The frustrating immobility of ex-international striker Washington, however, rendered much of São Paulo’s attacking efforts in vain. In fact the three-times continental champions looked likely to slip to a shock defeat before striker Borges scored a frankly ridiculous equaliser deep in to stoppage time. Muricy Ramalho’s team begin their quest for a fourth successive league title in mid-May and they hope their brightest star (contracted until 2012) will remain at the hub of their challenge.

Already an Olympic bronze medallist – a tournament at which Brazil’s under-23s (plus Ronaldinho et al) were outclassed by Argentina and he came up short in the midfield battle with Real Madrid’s Fernando Gago – Hernanes has so far earned only a solitary senior international cap. The Seleção has lacked, of late, players to dictate the action from deep in midfield; relying on the prosaic toil of Gilberto Silva and Wolfsburg’s Josué. A vacancy is there to be filled at the heart of the world’s favourite team. To fully establish himself in Dunga’s plans for the 2010 World Cup, it’s fair to assume that the boy from Recife might now be entertaining thoughts of a move to Europe.

For every Brazilian success story among the habitual mass migration upon the opening of a European transfer window, there are many failures – abject or relative - who limp home with tail firmly fixed between legs. One such chastened returnee was Hernanes’ Olympic team cohort Thiago Silva, who flopped spectacularly with both FC Porto and then Dynamo Moscow. Yet, the versatile defender has since resurrected his career back home at Fluminense; impressing enough to encourage Milan to shell out €10m for his services.

He’ll be eligible to play for the rossoneri from the summer. Speculation is building that Hernanes might follow on Thiago Silva’s coat-tails to the San Siro as a potential successor to Andrea Pirlo – though surely the sublimely gifted Italian has much left to give, particularly at a club which has come to see itself as safe-haven for declining veterans. It’s the club where where Kaka was a near-immediate success upon his arrival from the Morumbi. It’s the club, too, where fledgling talents such as Patrick Vieira and, more recently, Yoann Gourcuff have slipped off the radar, only to resurface spectacularly elsewhere.

The move to Italy is far from a done deal. Barcelona is another possible destination – but with a league of exhilarating midfield stars already present at Camp Nou it would be a brave move for Hernanes to make in a World Cup year. For all the excitement about his obvious talent, there are still areas in his game which could be improved and honed to perfection upon a switch to a club at Europe’s top table. The hunt for Hernanes’ signature begins, in earnest, this summer.

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