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FEATURE | Malcom – the next Neymar or just a flash in the pan?

‘Lots of people had commented on social media, saying that Bordeaux was too small a club, and that I shouldn’t go, it was too much of a risk’ he was telling ESPN in June. Nevertheless, 18 months ago, Brazilian winger Malcom ignored the call of the big European clubs – Arsenal and Manchester City reportedly amongst them – and set off towards southwestern France for his first taste of football in Europe.

Despite his compatriots’ lamenting that he had undersold himself by going to a midtable Ligue 1 club, he had not just picked any French team at random. Bordeaux, at that point six years on from their last league title, had been a renowned testing ground for South American players making their first steps out of their home countries, aided largely by a host of partnerships with clubs around the continent – for instance, Newell’s Old Boys, Lionel Messi’s boyhood club.

This link has also established been with the ‘Proyecto Crecer’ academy in Córdoba, with which Bordeaux have had the first option on their players since an agreement was signed 13 years ago as part of the signing of Juan Pablo Francia. Emiliano Sala – now at Nantes – and Valentin Vada – who arguably had his breakout season this year, have been the most recent beneficiaries of this partnership.

But beyond what is virtually a second academy for the club, the team’s recent history has seen a host of South Americans come and go thanks to a scouting operation led by former director of football Charles Comporro.

The 2008/9 season saw Argentinian striker Fernando Cavenaghi’s goals be vital in the title win, while the Brazilian contingent has been a cornerstone of Bordeaux squads in past seasons, with Henrique, Jussie, Wendel, Mariano and Fernando all leaving fond memories behind on the banks of the Garonne. Bordeaux may not be Barcelona in terms of stature, but they it’s safe to say they know how to deal with a young Brazilian making his first step into the big leagues – and he would have had no shortage of past success stories to go by.

Arriving six months after being a key part of Corinthians’ title win – for which he chipped in with five goals and four assists – Malcom was arriving in a club environment which starkly contrasted. Bordeaux, still recovering from Laurent Blanc’s departure and the financial restrictions that followed the title win, had been languishing in midtable for a few years following the dizzying heights of a Champions League run to the quarter final in which they saw off both Bayern and Juventus.

A revolving door of managers would follow, none of which managing to truly restore Bordeaux back to the upper reaches of the table, even if Francis Gillot would win the Coupe de France in 2013. At this point, it was Willy Sagnol’s turn at the helm of the club. If there’s one positive thing that would come out of the former Espoirs national team manager, it was his insistence on bringing young players to the fore of the team. Malcom would benefit from this and appear 12 times in the marine blue shirt before the end of his first half-season, scoring his first goal in the penultimate game of the season against Lorient. Along with Adam Ounas, he was one of the bright sparks in an abjectly mediocre campaign and impressed with displays of skills as well as an attacking versatility.

While Napoli-bound Ounas has had something of a season to forget and has failed to kick on, the same can’t be said of Malcom, who has had his own breakout season this year. Part of Bordeaux’s ‘KLM’ attacking trio – Kamano, Laborde and Malcom –  the Brazilian has been key in manager Jocelyn Gourvennec’s rejuvenation of Bordeaux which has guided them back up to 6th place – which could have been 5th if not for a late resurgence from Marseille.

Even if he did drift out of matches at times over the season and had periods out of form at the start of the season, his 7 goals, appearing in 37 games, have done little to quell the interest that already surrounded him at Corinthians. Arguably his best performance of the season came away to Lyon at the start of the season, in which his initial equalising goal and attacking drive set the tone for Bordeaux’s 3-1 win, and saw him on the receiving end of a horror tackle from opposition captain Maxime Gonalons.

What sets Malcom apart from the average Brazilian wonderkid is his versatility – instead of hugging the touchline and relying on his quick feet to show up in the highlights, the position where Malcom has arguably shone the most has been in midfield, in a more central role. His dynamism and technical ability have often been the key for Bordeaux in unlocking Ligue 1’s tough defences, and even if Gourvennec seems to have found his ideal formation in the 4-3-3 in which the Brazilian plays on the right wing, he can always drift centrally if needs be.

Virtually all Girondins fans would agree that Malcom is destined for big things, and this is more than likely to be away from Bordeaux. While his billing as the new Neymar may be hyperbolic – just as Diego Rolán’s as the new Suárez was – it’s clear that the club have one of the most promising players to come out of Brazil of his generation, and there will be no shortage of suitors should he decide to leave this summer. His agent, Fernando Garcia, has nonetheless claimed that his client wants to stay at Bordeaux for another season before leaving unless ‘a big offer comes in’, while Malcom himself has said that his family has fallen in love with city. Amongst all this uncertainty, Bordeaux will surely be looking to keep him for as long as possible to build on the successes of last season. But with Manchester United, Liverpool and Sevilla all reportedly interested in him, that’s easier said than done.

R.J.

 

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