Boy from Brazil set for life at Chelsea
Lucas Piazon, a 17-year-old striker from Sao Paulo, is on his way to Stamford Bridge. He tells Jon Cotterill of his hopes and expectations
There was a time when Brazilian clubs sold their most promising players for the 'price of a banana', to use the local expression. In 2003, Seville paid around £1.7m for Julio Baptista and Kaka joined AC Milan for just £5m.
Those days are over. Internacional have rejected Tottenham's offer of £10.5m for striker Leandro Damiao (21) while Santos want £40m for Neymar (19). And Sao Paulo have put an incredible £70m price tag on Lucas Moura, just 18.
With transfer fees for talented Brazilians ballooning, some of the smarter clubs have decided to get in early.
That is why in March, Chelsea paid around £6.5m to Sao Paulo for 17-year-old forward Lucas Piazon, who has yet to make a professional appearance.
The fee may seem excessive for a teenager, especially as, despite attempts by the likes of Mirandinha, Robinho, Afonso Alves, and Jo, there has never been a truly successful Brazilian striker in England's top flight. Piazon, however, is determined to be the first.
Roman Abramovich has added the player to a squad that already includes Brazilians Alex, Ramires and David Luiz. But if it is futebol arte (football art) the Chelsea owner wanted from the youngster, he may have to think again.
"I'd say my playing style is different from typical Brazilian forwards," said Piazon. "When you think about these, you think about dribbles and flashy moves. My football is simpler and more direct. It's more like a midfielder playing up front. I like to pass quickly. I don't hog the ball and I don't tend to run with it."
Piazon will join Chelsea officially on his next birthday, in January 2012. His remarkable record of reaching the finals of every big competition he has appeared in convinced Juventus he was worth a gamble.
The Italians even had an offer accepted by Sao Paulo and, as the player's family are of Italian origin, the signing was expected to be a formality. Not so.
The teenager had his heart set on a crack at the Premier League.
Piazon admits he has been a Chelsea fan from an early age, but says his choice was based purely on footballing reasons.
"I watch Italian and English football. I compared the two and decided the best option for me was England," he said.
"I've always wanted to play in Europe but it was always England first. I watch a lot of Premier League games. And since I first learnt of Chelsea's interest I've watched all their matches to learn exactly how they play."
Piazon had been tracked by Chelsea scout and Abramovich adviser Piet de Visser for more than two years, which undoubtedly swayed Piazon's decision.
"He liked the way I performed and thought I'd be able to adapt well to English football. That's one of the reasons I'm going to Chelsea. Of all the championships in Europe, I think I'd adjust best to England," he added.
Piazon, though, is under no illusion about what faces him in the Premier League.
"The marking is a lot tighter and the game is much quicker. In Brazil, if you get the ball, you have time to think and look around. Sometimes it feels that you're playing a match in slow motion. There it's much quicker and much tougher," he said.
He can hardly contain himself when he talks about the possibility of playing alongside his idols, singling out Frank Lampard, Salomon Kalou and also Didier Drogba.
But surprisingly for a forward, his favourite players are centre-backs David Luiz and John Terry. The latter because "he's always fully committed and also because he's one of the best defenders in the world. David Luiz because he's Brazilian and in a great phase".
With the departure of manager Carlo Ancelotti, some of those players may not be there when Piazon arrives at Stamford Bridge but he remains sanguine. "Ancelotti liked Brazilians. Maybe Guus Hiddink will take over and he also likes Brazilians. He has a history of doing well with South Americans."
Piazon has every reason to be confident as Brazilian forwards have flourished under Dutch management. Romario and Ronaldo, for example, both got their breaks in Europe with PSV Eindhoven.
De Visser, another Dutchman, is convinced the player has got what it takes to do well in the Premier League. "I saw him for the first time when he was just 15. He was small and thin but he played very quickly and was very intelligent for his age. I like good players but (I want) players with some 'extras'.
"The extras are their movement with the ball, (ability to) score goals and their intelligence," he added.
While many Brazilians talk about culture shock and their dread of English weather and food, Piazon, who speaks English well, is unfazed about moving to London and is confident he will adapt quickly.
Piazon's story is not one of poor boy made good. His mother, Marizabel, is a lawyer. His father, Antonio Carlos, is a commercial representative who now looks after his son's interests.
Both take an active part in their son's career and both will be moving to London. But while his parents will be there to keep an eye on him, it will be the teenager who will be calling all the shots, just as he has done throughout his short career.
new brazilian on the block
Born: Sao Paulo, January 1994
Aged eight, he began playing for what is now Coritiba FC's futsal (indoor football) team, making the switch to grass three years later.
Moved to Atletico Paranaense in 2007, helping them to the finals of the U-15 Copa do Brasil a year later, where they lost the final to Sao Paulo, who swiftly bought him.
Guided Sao Paulo through the Brazilian qualifiers for the Premier Cup (Nike Cup) in 2009, earning a call up from Brazil's U-15s. Later that year Piazon scored in Sao Paulo's 3-0 group win over Manchester United in the Premier Cup finals.
In November, the forward starred for Brazil's U-15s in the South America Championships in Bolivia, finishing as the competition's top scorer with 10 goals.
Scored three times as Brazil took the South American U-17 championship in Ecuador earlier this year.
Brazilian forwards who
have struggled in England
Caught the eye with a goal against England in the 1987 Rous Cup and soon became the first Brazilian to join an English club with a £575,000 move from Palmeiras. Infuriated and entranced in equal measure across a 54-match stay on Tyneside, mustering 20 goals, but could not settle and was soon heading back to Palmeiras.
Robinho (Manchester City 2008-10)
A £32.5m deadline-day marquee signing from Real Madrid by City's newly arrived Arab owners and soon hit the scoring groove, ending his first season as top scorer with 14 goals. It didn't last. Injury and loss of form meant he and City quickly fell out of love and there were sighs of relief all round as he departed for AC Milan two years later.
Famously scored seven goals for Heerenveen in a Dutch league match against Heracles and months later was on his way to the Riverside in a £12.7m deal. A season and a half later, having contributed just four goals in Boro's unsuccessful attempts to prevent relegation, he moved to the less demanding, but still lucrative, pastures of Qatari football.
(Manchester City 2008-11;
Everton on loan 2009)
Manchester City lavished approaching £18m on the lanky forward from CSKA Moscow but has managed just six goals and remained a fringe player who has similarly unproductive loan spells at Everton and Galatasaray. (© Daily Telegraph, London)