x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Mosquito and Nathan’s showing in UAE offers a double vision for Brazil’s next strike force

Atletico Paranaense pair's performances for Brazil bode well for the future

Mosquito, left, and Nathan have the potential to be the next great forward duo for Brazil alongside the likes of Romario and Bebeto or Neymar and Ganso. Richard Heathcote / Getty Images
Mosquito, left, and Nathan have the potential to be the next great forward duo for Brazil alongside the likes of Romario and Bebeto or Neymar and Ganso. Richard Heathcote / Getty Images

Romario and Bebeto, Rivaldo and Ronaldo, Neymar and Ganso. In recent decades, Brazil has produced a conveyor belt of prolific forward pairings. This month’s Fifa Under 17 World Cup introduced to the world the latest in a lengthening line of yellow-shirted double acts.

Mosquito and Nathan, both born in 1996 and both playing domestic football at Atletico Paranaense, shared nine goals in five games while in the UAE. They also claimed seven assists between them, with Nathan — the younger of the two players — being awarded the Silver Ball, an accolade given to the tournament’s second-best player.

On the pitch, the two players share a special understanding that Mauricio Copertino, the Brazil U17 assistant coach, suggested derived from consistently playing together at Atletico. Off the pitch, however, the two players have contrasting styles — and stories.

Nathan, shy and contemplative, was born in the southern state of Santa Catarina before joining Atletico at the age of 14. Last year, the midfielder was one of the youngest players to compete in the U18 state championship and, having recently been promoted to train with older teammates, is expected next season to feature in the U23 state championship.

“He’s very dedicated and his evolution was very quick,” said Pedrinho Maradona, the former Atletico development coach. “That’s because he’s gifted. When we’re working with someone who is gifted, we have to help him skip some steps so that he can develop quicker, both in terms of his football and his maturity. This can help them join the professional team earlier.”

Mosquito, loquacious and charming, has taken a different — and more controversial — route. The lightning-fast forward started his career at Vasco da Gama in Rio de Janeiro and became the hottest young prospect in Brazilian football when he scored 11 goals in seven games during his country’s triumphant U15 South American Championship campaign in December 2011.

Mosquito turned 16 on January 6, 2012. Managed by Gustavo Arribas, a business partner and long-time associate of Israeli “super agent” Pini Zahavi, he was expected to sign his first professional contract with Vasco. It never materialised. Instead, Mosquito vanished from the Rio club amid claims they had failed to pay his stipend and provide medical and transportation vouchers.

Ten months later, he reappeared at Atletico.

The move proved particularly contentious as his new club were deemed to have broken an agreement dictating Brazilian teams would not offer contracts to young players in disputes with other clubs. The fallout from Mosquito’s move saw Atletico temporarily banned from some official youth-level competitions.

Now back on the pitch, Mosquito — who says his long legs are the reason behind his nickname as well as his speed — is enjoying playing alongside Nathan.

“Everything’s easy when I play with Nathan, because I know him so well,” the forward told Fifa.com earlier this month. “For me, there’s no mystery about it. We play well together at our club and we produce the same performances for the national side.”

Maradona worked with both players throughout his spell in charge of Atletico’s youth teams, and during the U17 World Cup he watched Brazil’s matches on TV. He kept in constant contact with both players via Facebook, he said.

“Nathan is unique because he can use all his skills — short dribbles, quick change of direction, accurate shooting — in one play,” he said. “What I tell him is that he needs to focus on doing something that is different from what the others are doing. That’s what will make him outstanding.”

By all accounts, Nathan was the outstanding performer among a team of exceptional performers. With his five goals and five assists, the No 10 eclipsed both Mosquito and striker Boschilia, who finished the tournament with six goals and the Silver Boot.

Yet if he expects his exploits at international level to see him fast-tracked into the first team at Atletico he is likely to be disappointed, according to his former coach.

“Just because he’s doing well with the Selecao [national team] does not mean he will graduate to the first team at Atletico sooner,” Maradona said. “He needs to remember there are other players working hard at Atletico to make their way up. This is not being nasty, just realistic.”

Maradona added that the club make a special effort to ensure young players remain grounded, regardless of circumstance. Nathan and Mosquito will have to bide their time. Playing together, however, will only help them showcase their talents.

“All we want to do is be a good pair out on the pitch,” Mosquito said. “One day we might be like Bebeto and Romario or Ganso and Neymar, but right now our only job is to develop and grow because we are still young.”

They have already benefited from the experience of playing an international tournament in the Middle East once. Now their ultimate target must be to return in nine years’ time when the World Cup comes to Qatar. By then, they will be 26 years old.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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