Everton have been linked with Everton -- or rather, a Premier League side from Liverpool have reportedly expressed an interest in a Brazilian winger. This may have come as something of a surprise to his club, Gremio, who as recently as Friday were not expecting any offers. They had hoped to sell him in the previous transfer window, but only received a derisory offer from AC Milan -- this for the player who had been the breakout star of the 2019 Copa America, forcing his way into the side and finishing as joint top goal scorer in Brazil's triumph.
A few years ago he could have picked his club. But Everton is 23, and European clubs appear increasingly reluctant to take a risk on South American-based players who have reached such an age. The trend is to target teenagers; they can usually be bought cheaper, adapt quicker and have a higher sell-on value.
There are a few such starlets who are attracting interest from some of Europe's biggest clubs.
Ever since Real Madrid missed out on a teenaged Neymar in 2007, they have been looking to compensate by snapping up talented Brazilian youth. They have acquired Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo and the next in line is Reinier from Flamengo.
The latest product is a little different. Rather than a wide striker, a type of player that Brazil is producing in abundance, Reinier is an attacking central midfielder. Tall, imperious, classy, there is something of a tropical Michael Ballack in his play. He turns 18 next week, and is already deep in negotiations with Real Madrid -- the expectation being that he will cross the Atlantic once the forthcoming South American Under-23 Championships have finished. His coach at Flamengo, Jorge Jesus, thinks that the €30 million price is a snip, as long as Real do nor ruin his game by putting him on the wing.
A little older is Argentina's Julian Alvarez, who turns 20 at the end of the month. He looks like the next fine prospect from River Plate, a club with a track record of producing players. Mobile and intelligent, as much a creator as a taker of chances, Alvarez looks like one of those players who will be even better when he is surrounded by world-class colleagues. He is another one that scouts will be studying in the Under-23 Championships, which kick off in Colombia on Saturday.
Ecuador, meanwhile, will parade Jhon Jairo Sanchez, a 20-year-old winger who enjoyed a sensational season with Independiente del Valle. Strong and quick, he terrified defences across the continent as his humble club won the Copa Sudamericana, cutting in from the left flank onto his stronger right foot to do some serious damage. Ecuador have specialised in producing this type of player in recent years. Sanchez could be the best of the bunch.
One of his national teammates, Leonardo Campana, has been attracting Premier League interest from Wolves -- though in this case it may be premature. From a family with huge sporting and political prestige in Ecuador, Campana was the surprise hit at the start of the year, playing centre-forward in the team that became continental under-20 champions. Based with Barcelona of Guayaquil, Campana is clever with an impressive left foot, but he has so far found the transition to senior football a little difficult, struggling with a lack of pace and physicality.
He is one for the future, as is 17-year-old Brazilian right-back Yan Couto, who plays for Coritiba. He was an excellent attacking force when Brazil won the Under-17 World Cup, and shapes up as his country's best right-back option since the emergence of Dani Alves.
In the Under-17 World Cup, Couto formed an impressive partnership with winger Gabriel Veron, who was chosen as the player of the tournament. With fine dribbling skills and a hint of vision, Veron was a real handful. It seems that his club, Palmeiras, plan to give him plenty of first-team opportunities this year. Every one will place him in the shop window.
And few players illustrate the selling dynamic of South American club football as much as Facundo Pellistri, a Uruguayan just turned 18 who a few months ago was a complete unknown. Then a teenage teammate, 19-year-old Brian Rodriguez, exploded with the yellow and black shirt of Penarol, breaking into the senior Uruguay side and winning a move to Major League Soccer giants LAFC. And so a hole opened up for Pellistri. Towards the end of the year, with the fluidity of his movement, two fine feet and extraordinary vision for one so young, Pellistri became the new sensation of Uruguayan football. Boca Juniors are keen to take him to Argentina, but his long-term ambitions are surely on the other side of the Atlantic.