Two quick conclusions can be drawn by the move of teenage striker Talles Magno from Vasco da Gama to New York City FC.
One is that Major League Soccer is now a serious force in the market for young Brazilian talent. There has always been a strong South American flavour to MLS. In the early years it tended to be Bolivians and Colombians. In time, with the consolidation of the league, more inroads were made further south. Argentines have become a major attraction.
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Brazil was more difficult, with a stronger currency and higher wages. But the Brazilian real has lost some of its value, the clubs need money and a move to the United States no longer comes across as a backward step.
The other conclusion is that insane pressure can be out on young players, those who have already been dubbed “wonderkids.”
Some are comparing Talles Magno unfavourably with Kayky, who recently signed with Manchester City from Fluminense. Kayky, 18, is almost exactly a year younger than Talles Magno. He only made his first-team debut this year, while Talles Magno first appeared in the Vasco lineup at the start of June 2019. Talles Magno, then, should be further down the line of development.
But Kayky will make his way to England at the end of the year. And Talles, who was once linked to Liverpool, is going to NYCFC rather than the flagship club of the City Football Group. So if we accept the cruel logic that Kayky is on the fast track while Talles Magno is trailing behind, how can that be explained?
One factor is that Kayky has been introduced this year into a relatively successful side. Fluminense reached the final of the Rio State Championship, and on Tuesday have a good chance of making it through to the knockout stages of the Copa Libertadores. Vasco da Gama, meanwhile, have been going through difficult times. In February they were relegated to Brazil’s second division.
Developing young talent is a tricky art, which becomes much more complicated when the team is doing badly and the pressure is on. And there is something else to take into consideration.
It is already very clear what type of player Kayky is. The “left-footed Neymar” has speed and glorious close dribbling skills, coupled with interesting vision. Slightly built, he needs space in which to shine — the type of room to be found down the flanks. In short, Kayky is a true winger.
The case of Talles Magno is not so clear cut. Some of his first appearances for Vasco came at centre-forward. Afterwards, he was more often seen playing from the left, especially after the club signed the Argentine goal poacher German Cano. Operating deeper and wider allowed Talles Magno to develop his combination game, trading passes with Cano or with playmaker Martin Benitez.
But it also meant that he was spending a lot of his time a long way from goal, which seemed a waste of a player who is tall, strong, mobile and talented, capable of finishing in the air and off both feet.
Talles Magno is very unlikely to develop into an out and out winger. He lacks the extreme pace that the role requires. But as he fills out physically, it is easy to imagine him as a genuine centre-forward, or maybe as a second striker, dropping off and wandering behind the No. 9.
This is the very thing that makes his move to New York City so fascinating. Players do not all develop at the same rate. Some need more time to work out how their strengths can best be used in the collective context of the game. They need to grow a sense of their own footballing identity. Watching someone as promising as Talles Magno find himself as a player should be one of the most enticing treats that MLS has on offer.
And if his time at NYCFC is a success, who knows what heights he can reach?