Tchê Tchê: Palmeiras' Mr Versatile can do it all and would be a great signing for Europe's top sides


Marcelo Bielsa must be reading Jack Lang's Brasileirão scouting reports: Thiago Maia, last week's profile, is joining Lille in a deal worth €14million. With the commission presumably in the post, it's on to the next up-and-coming star...

2016 was a golden year for Palmeiras, who brought home the Brazilian title after an agonising 22-year wait.

The obvious heroes of the hour were Cuca, the coach who whipped a bloated squad into shape and forged a dynamic, powerful side, and Gabriel Jesus, the boy wonder who became a man, winning the player-of-the-year award before jetting off to tear things up for Manchester City.

You could argue, though, that the most important cog in the winning machine was Tchê Tchê, the Verdão's Mr Polyvalent, who started the season an unknown quantity and ended it a firm fan favourite.



 

Background

Tchê Tchê – we'll come back to that name – got his break in football at 14, when he impressed at a tournament run by a supermarket. He caught the eye of representatives of Pão de Açúcar, a small club partly funded by... a supermarket group. There is no word of any involvement on Dale Winton's part, sadly, but the youngster made steady progress through the ranks and joined the first-team squad in 2012 (by this stage, the club was going by the name Audax after a takeover).

He racked up a few appearances but was soon farmed out on loan: first to Guaratinguetá, then to Ponte Preta and Boa Esporte. Things didn't go to plan, however, and by the end of 2015 he was back at Audax, considering his options.

Everything changed in 2016. Under the stewardship of the forward-thinking Fernando Diniz, Audax came from nowhere to mix it with the big boys in the Campeonato Paulista, their daring brand of possession football winning over fans and neutrals alike. Central to it all was Tchê Tchê, running games to such a degree that it was tempting to wonder whether Diniz had cloned him.

His performances did not go unnoticed and it was Palmeiras who clawed their way to the front of the queue for his services thanks to a timely phone call from Cuca. The rest is history: Tchê Tchê appeared in all but one of the Verdão's games as they took the title and, despite a dip in form earlier this year, remains one of their key men.


 

Style and strengths

Tchê Tchê is versatility personified. In the opening weeks of the 2016 Série A campaign, he would appear on pre-match tactics diagrams as a right-back, but routinely made a mockery of that definition, helping out in the engine room and frequently popping up on the left wing. He defines himself as a midfielder and has settled into that position over the last year, but he looks comfortable wherever he plays – testament to a brilliant footballing brain.

He's no slouch technically, either: he plays with his head up, is comfortable on the ball and, handily given his propensity to play in different roles, is two-footed. Chuck in boundless energy ("Out on the pitch, I just don't get tired," he said last year) and a bright-eyed sense of adventure, and you've got a compelling package. To call a footballer an 'all-rounder' is often to damn him or her with faint praise, but not in Tchê Tchê's case.

 

Areas for improvement

Given his broad skill set, Tchê Tchê may not suit a manager who likes strict division of labour among his players. He's not a guard dog, not a playmaker and not someone who is going to score a hatful from midfield. More relevantly, there's the possibility that he might be a little lightweight for some: at 1m75 and – at a guess – 70 kilos soaking wet, he's certainly no powerhouse.


 

Who he'd suit

Given his positional awareness, the 24-year-old would surely thrive under a cerebral coach like Manchester City's Pep Guardiola (coincidentally, a few team-mates took to calling him Yaya Tchê Tchê last year, in recognition of his freewheeling brilliance in the middle of the park).

There have been rumours of interest from Italy and Spain, but the player's favourite midfielders play in England and Germany. "In Europe, I really like watching [Paul] Pogba," Tchê Tchê has said. "Thiago Alcântara, too, because of his modern style. I don't model my game on them, but I like to watch those two play."

 

What they say

Palmeiras coach Cuca: "Not many footballers are as versatile as him. He can play at right-back, as a holding player, as an attacking midfielder, on either wing and even at left-back. When we're having trouble building moves through the middle, I put him just in front of the back four. When I want to tighten up one of the flanks, I put him there. When I need someone to speed up the transition between midfield and attack, I use him. He arrived at no cost at all and today he's indispensable."

 

Did you know?

The midfielder – full name Danilo das Neves Pinheiro – would probably be known as Danilo Neves were it not for Alex Fernandes, a fellow youth-teamer at Audax who conjured the enigmatic nickname Tchê Tchê out of thin air.

"We had a few Danilos in our team and I wanted to call him something a bit different," Fernandes said last year. "At that time, there were footballers called Tcha, Tchoko and Tchô, and in my neighbourhood there was a cool guy everyone called Tchê Tchê. Danilo was cheeky, always wanting to do weird things with the ball, so I started calling him Tchê Tchê in training sessions. It stuck."

Tchê Tchê himself is a fan ("I like it; it's different") and the sobriquet certainly allows for a degree of playfulness. Witness this tongue-in-cheek Twitter update from Atlético Goianiense last month: "Palmeiras substitution: Tchê Tchê (bless you!) off, Luan on."