Meet Guilherme Arana, the nutmeg king who dreams of being Barcelona or Real Madrid's next great full-back


It's transfer season, so Brazilian football expert Jack Lang is dusting off his notepad for a series of scouting reports on the country's best young players. He profiled Grêmio forward Luan last week and now it's the turn of a defender...

 

By any metric, it has been a good year for Brazilian full-backs. 

Marcelo, Dani Alves and Alex Sandro tore things up in the latter stages of the Champions League, prompting a fresh wave of appreciation for the daring, forward-thinking interpretation of the position that has long been associated with Brazil. It is a bloodline that runs back to Nilton and Djalma Santos, via Cafu, Roberto Carlos and Carlos Alberto. Great players one and all.

There's a good chance that the next cab off the rank will be Guilherme Arana. The 20-year-old has been attracting European attention since breaking into the Corinthians first team and has been one of their standout players so far this year, impressing with his raids down the left.

Here's all you need to know...



Background

Born and raised in São Paulo, Arana pitched up at Corinthians at the age of eight to play futebol de salão. It was the start of a beautiful relationship: he made the U11 side a couple of years later and made serene progress through the age groups.

Arana was part of a 'golden generation' that also included Malcom (now at Bordeaux), Maycon, Léo Jabá, Léo Principe and Pedro Henrique. Together, they completed a clean sweep of titles, winning the Under-20 state and national championships in 2014 before adding the Copa São Paulo de Futebol Júnior a year later.

By that point, Arana had been drafted into the first-team squad by Mano Menezes, but his first taste of senior football would come on loan at Atlético Paranaense, where he played three games before being recalled to help solve an injury crisis. His long-awaited debut for the Timão came in August 2015 and was a rollercoaster affair: a stray pass gifted a goal to Sport, but he made amends by winning a late penalty. 

He made 11 further appearances as Corinthians won the title, netting his first goal in a 3-3 derby draw against Palmeiras. "That goal made the family so proud," his father later said. "I cried with joy – and I'm a Palmeiras fan!"

2016 was a slightly frustrating year: Arana was called into the Brazil U20 team but found his path to the Corinthians starting XI blocked by the more experienced Uendel. But this year he has come to the fore, nailing down a berth under young coach Fábio Carille and becoming one of the side's most consistent performers. He was named the best left-back in the Campeonato Paulista and looks well on course to repeat the trick in the Brasileirão.

 

Style and strengths

Team sheets might list him in the back four, but Arana is very much an attacking dynamo down the left flank. He is most comfortable on the front foot and regularly gets into advanced positions to support the attack, hitting the byline more than most thanks to his impressive engine. His end product is usually reliable, too: Corinthians striker Jô, formerly of Manchester City, jokingly nicknamed him the 'God of Crosses' in one recent press conference.

There is also a bullfighter's swagger to Arana's play. He loves nothing more than flicking the ball over an opponent's head or – even better – embarrassing him by nudging it through his legs. He is Brazil's nutmeg king and has even given a masterclass on the subject on television:



 

Areas for improvement

Arana is no slouch in defensive situations. His pace and athleticism help him to recover quickly from forward forays and he is committed and forceful in the challenge. But he is not especially impressive in the air and not every coach would be overly delighted with his willingness to take so many risks with the ball at his feet, especially in his own half. 

 

Who would he suit?

He may only recently have become a first-team regular, but the Corinthians starlet already looks destined for big things. Plenty of European sides have already been linked: Bordeaux have had a bid rejected, while Internazionale, Ajax, Manchester United, Schalke and Sevilla have all been credited with interest in the past. 

Flávio Adauto, the director of football at Corinthians, insists he won't be leaving in 2017, but that has not stopped the player himself outlining his dream move. "My preference is Spain," Arana said recently. "Barcelona and Real Madrid are two massive teams I've always dreamed about. I pick them on video games, so who knows, maybe I'll play for one of them in the future."

 

What they say

Corinthians coach Fábio Carille: "Arana has played really, really well this year. When he came back from Brazil U20 duty, I told him he was my left-back, that it was up to him to step up. He has taken the jersey and done brilliantly, both in the defensive sector and in attack."

 

Did you know?

Alexis Sánchez has his dogs. Michael Owen has his horses. Arana has a beloved pet parrot called Tonico (that's Tonic in English – who said languages were hard?), whose image peppers his Instagram feed.

Arana also likes to fly kites (a hobby from his childhood) and is a big Christian: he has a number of religious tattoos and, for a time, wore a rosary bracelet given to him by Tite, now the Brazil coach. "I was getting injured a lot, so he gave it to me to break the curse," the left-back said.