New Neymar? Another Santos teen making headlines
SAO PAULO (AP)
Neymar just left Brazil and there is already another Santos teenager making all the headlines in the country.
This time the kid attracting all the attention is Gabriel Barbosa Almeida, a 16-year-old nicknamed ''Gabigol'' thanks to his scoring prowess in Santos' youth squads.
Gabriel scored his first professional goal this week, giving Santos a key win in a Brazilian Cup match and igniting widespread comparisons to Neymar.
Gabriel is about two months younger than Neymar was when he scored his first goal, and the teen also needed less time on the field to do it than the newly signed Barcelona star.
Before Neymar, the team made famous by Pele in the 1960s had also delivered Robinho, the AC Milan striker who thrived with Santos as a youngster and eventually played a World Cup with Brazil.
Gabriel may only be 16 but he has been touted a future star for quite some time in the coastal city of Santos. There was talk about him even while Neymar was just starting to showcase his skills at the club a few years ago.
But it wasn't until Wednesday that Gabigol put his name on the map for good, thanks to scoring the winning goal in Santos' 1-0 victory over Gremio in the first leg of their round-of-16 matchup in the Brazilian Cup.
Gabriel wasn't even supposed to play that night. He went to the stadium to watch the match as a spectator, but got the last-minute call to get ready after another player was suddenly cut from the squad.
''When it's meant to be, it's meant to be,'' Gabriel said. ''I was playing videogames at home all afternoon and just came to the stadium to watch the match. I went to the changing room to give my support to the players and then they told me that I had to get ready because Victor wasn't going to be able to play. I didn't even have my playing shoes with me, I didn't have anything with me.''
Gabriel started the match on the bench, but got into the game in the second half and scored the winner in the 82nd minute with a low left-footed shot from near the penalty spot, giving Santos the advantage heading into the second leg in Porto Alegre next week. The goal came against veteran Gremio goalkeeper Dida, who is 23 years older than Gabriel.
The Santos youngster took off his jersey and ran toward the fans in the stands to celebrate, yelling and pumping his left fist.
''I'm going to save this moment for my entire life,'' Gabriel said after the match. ''I'm incredibly happy, I'm speechless. It was amazing to see the fans celebrating with me.''
Neymar was 17 when he scored his first professional goal. The 21-year-old Brazil striker scored in his third match with Santos, but he needed a total of 149 minutes on the field to do it. Gabriel, meanwhile, was playing in his sixth game as a professional, but needed only 124 minutes to get a goal for the first time, according to GloboEsporte.com.
What Neymar and Gabriel have in common is the man who discovered them among the hundreds of youngsters trying to make it from the youth squads. Betinho, the scout who also found Robinho, was responsible for selecting Gabriel and helping him get ready to transition into the professional squad.
Gabriel was only 10 when Betinho started talking about his potential. He gave an interview to GloboEsporte.com at the time saying that Gabriel could ''be playing at a very high level in the future.''
''It's a pleasure to see what's happening now,'' Betinho told the website this week. ''Like I said a few years ago, he can be the idol of a generation.''
Gabriel, physically strong and owner of a powerful left-footed shot, reportedly already has a (euro) 50 million buyout clause in his contract with Santos. He has the same agent as Robinho and Neymar, Wagner Ribeiro, who played a big part in Neymar's transfer to Barcelona earlier this year.
Gabriel, who will turn 17 on Aug. 30, already played for Brazil's under-15 squad and has already been summoned for the under-17 national team.
He only got to play on Wednesday because Victor had to be cut for taking allergy medicine which could potentially show up in a doping test, but Santos coach Claudinei said that the youngster will likely be getting more playing time soon.
''Gabriel got in and took advantage of his chance,'' the coach told local media. ''There is no doubt that this is going to help him find his space in the team.''
Gabriel will go back to teenage life until he can get another shot at glory.
''I'll just go back to playing videogames,'' he said. ''I always score a lot in the videogames, but in real life it's so much better.''
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