Interview with Chelsea signing Lucas Piazon – full version
The interview with Lucas Piazon took place in São Paulo on May 28th – the day of the Champions League final between Manchester United and Barcelona and just 48 hours before he was due to join Brazil’s U-17s at their training centre in Granja Comary.
You can read the shortened version from the Daily Telegraph here 10 June 2011.
There was a time when Brazilian clubs used to sell their most promising players for the ‘price of a banana’ to use the local expression. In 2003, Seville paid around £1.7 million for Julio Baptista and Kaká joined AC Milan for just £5 million. But those days are long gone. Internacional have just turned down Tottenham’s offer of £10.5 million for their 21-year-old striker Leandro Damião. Santos want £40 million for 19-year-old Neymar. São Paulo have slapped a £70 million price tag on 18-year-old Lucas Moura. Damião, Neymar and Moura have all broken into the Brazil squad in the last year and look like fulfilling their early promise. So, with transfer fees for talented Brazilians ballooning, some of the smarter clubs have decided to get in early. That is why in March this year, Chelsea paid around £6.5 million to São Paulo for Lucas Piazon – a 17-year-old forward who has yet to make an appearance as a professional.
The fee may seem excessive for a teenager. But this one has drive, ambition and the talent to match. Forwards Mirandinha (Newcastle 87), Robinho (Man City 2008), Afonso Alves (Middleborough 2008), and Jô (Man City 2008 and Everton 2009) never really cut the mustard and there’s never been a truly successful Brazilian striker in England’s top flight. Piazon is determined to be the first.
Chelsea had been tracking Piazon for over two years and scout Piet De Visser is excited by what he has seen. “I saw him score after dribbling with his right foot and then shooting on his left. I saw him score down the centre with his right foot and saw him score headers. So he can score from all types of positions. I said then [in 2009] that he is a very promising player. Very promising”.
Roman Abramovich has added the striker to a squad that already includes Alex, Ramires and David Luiz (interestingly, all four share the same agent: Giuliano Bertolucci). But if it’s futebol arte (football art) the Chelsea boss wanted from the youngster, he may have to think again. “I’d say my playing style is different from typical Brazilian forwards. When you think about these, you think about dribbles and flashy moves. My football is simpler and more direct. It’s more like a midfielder playing up front. I like to pass quickly. I don’t hog the ball and I don’t tend to run with it”.
England or Italy?
Piazon will join Chelsea officially on his next birthday in January 2012. But the London club almost missed out. His remarkable record of reaching the finals of every big competition he has ever appeared in convinced Juventus he was worth a gamble. The Turin giants had their offer accepted by São Paulo. The player’s family all have Italian passports and the signing was expected to be a formality. But the teenager said ‘No’ to the Old Lady in favour of a crack at the Premier League. Though Piazon admits he’s been a Chelsea fan from an early age, he says his choice was based on purely footballing reasons. “I watch Italian and English football. I compared the two and decided the best option for me was England. I’ve always wanted to play in Europe but it was always England first. I watch a lot of Premier league games. But since I first learnt of Chelsea’s interest I’ve watched all their matches to learn exactly how they play”.
What undoubtedly swayed the forward’s decision was the influence of De Visser. “He liked the way I performed and thought I’d be able to adapt well to English football. That’s one of the reasons I’m going to Chelsea. Of all the championships in Europe, I think I’d adjust best to England”.
Piazon, though, is under no illusion about what faces him and knows the Premier League will test him to the full. “The marking’s a lot tighter and the game’s much quicker [in England]. In Brazil if you get the ball, you have time to think and look around. Sometimes it feels that you’re playing a match in slow motion. There it’s much quicker and much tougher”.
Piet de Visser agrees with the player’s evaluation but doesn’t think it will be a problem for Piazon. “To play in England it’s not only about skill. It’s also very physical. But he’s not afraid. He’s a tall boy [1.83m] but he needs to put on a few more kilos. And this will come. If he gains weight and [improves] his physique, he’ll be able to play because he’s intelligent. He can play between the lines, he’s got good control and passing, he can make individual moves as well as combining [with other players] and he’s very good at one-twos”.
In February 2010, the teenager was invited to Stamford Bridge to check out the club’s facilities and see the match versus Arsenal – an experience the player described as “very cool”.
The 17-year-old can hardly contain himself when he talks about the possibility of one day playing alongside his idols and picked out Lampard, Kalou, and Drogba. But surprisingly for a forward, his favourite players are centrebacks David Luiz and John Terry. The latter because “He’s always fully committed and also because he’s one of the best defenders in the world. David Luiz because he’s Brazilian and in a great phase”.
With the departure of Carlos Antolotti, some of those players may not be there when Piazon arrives at Stamford Bridge. But the teenager remained sanguine. “Antolotti liked Brazilians. Maybe Gus Hiddink will take over and he also likes Brazilians. I hope he does. He has a history of doing well with South Americans and I think that Dutch football is similar to Brazilian football”. Piazon has every reason to be confident as Brazilian forwards have done well under Dutch management. Romário and Ronaldo, for example, both got their breaks in Europe with PSV.
Former Chelsea favourite Ruud Gullit has talked about how the Dutch try to get the ball to do all the work and how they like to pass before the opposition can get a tackle in. If Hiddink does check in, Piazon will feel at home.
Piet de Visser (another Dutchman), is convinced that the player has got what it takes to do well in the Premier League. “I saw him for the first time when he was just 15 … and he was small and thin but he played very quickly and was very intelligent for his age … I like good players but [I want] players with some ‘extras’. The extras are their movement with the ball, [ability to] score goals and their intelligence”.
The long road to London
Piazon’s journey to Chelsea was circuitous. Like many gifted Brazilian footballers (Zico, Rivelino, Ronaldinho), Piazon’s roots are in futsal (indoor football). The player was born in São Paulo in January 1994. When he was young, he moved with his parents to Paraná and at the age of 8 began playing for what is now Coritiba FC’s futsal team. Three years later, Piazon made the switch to grass. The move was a good one and he soon made an impression becoming top scorer in every tournament he appeared in.
But the set up at Coritiba wasn’t the best. His parents had to fund his away trips and even organized schemes to help the poorer families with their kid’s travel expenses. When Piazon got the chance to move to a more organized club, he took it and joined Atlético Paranaense in 2007. Once again he was a success. Atlético reached the finals of the U-15 Copa do Brasil in 2008 and Piazon was the star. Atlético ended up losing the final to São Paulo FC. But the winners were very impressed with what they’d seen and soon after put in an offer. Surprisingly, his parents let the teenager decide if he wanted to move. If he said yes, he’d be leaving his family behind in Curitiba. São Paulo are a much larger club and he faced the danger of becoming a small fish in a very big pond. But his competitive nature won through and a 14-year-old Piazon was on his way to the Morumbi club.
Piazon’s next big steps came in a busy 2009. In May, the forward began to attract the attention of international scouts when he helped guide São Paulo through the Brazilian qualifiers for the Premier Cup (Nike Cup). It was around this time that he was also called up by Brazil’s U-15s. In August, São Paulo travelled to Manchester for the Premier Cup finals. In the Group stage, Piazon scored in the 3-0 win versus Manchester United. São Paulo then went on to beat Werder Bremen in the final match. His father Antônio Carlos told me that at this point both Man United and Man City expressed an interest in his son’s signature but in the end neither club followed up.
In November, the forward starred for Brazil’s U-15s in the South America championships in Bolivia. Piazon finished the competition’s top scorer with ten goals.
Piazon scored three times for Brazil in the South American U-17 championship in Ecuador earlier this year. Brazil won the competition. His record for his country at all levels is played 35, scored 25.
Silver touch. Silver spoon
Piazon’s story is not one of poor boy made good. His mother, Marizabel, is a lawyer. His father Antônio Carlos, is a commercial rep who now looks after his son’s interests. Both take an active part in their son’s career and both will be moving to London when the forward makes the switch next year.
In the interview, the player comes over as genial but somewhat reserved. But while he’s new to dealing with the world’s press, there is a confidence underneath the teenage exterior. Despite the £6.5 million fee, the 17-year-old seemed to be taking everything in his stride and said that so far his life’s not altered radically since the signing. “What’s changed is that more people want to talk to me because of Chelsea. More people know who I am and come to watch me play. But I can still go out to the shopping centres and so on with no problem.”
That, though, may soon be about to change. Brazil will start their U-17 World Cup campaign in Mexico versus the much-fancied Denmark on June 20th. The South Americans will also face Australia and Ivory Coast in the so-called Group of death.
Brazil U-17 coach, Emerson Ávila is expecting great things from the forward in Mexico. “Piazon’s best performances [for Brazil] were in Ecuador earlier this year [in the South American U-17 championship]. He is maturing as a player. He was sharper and had a better presence in the area. He’s a support striker who has the characteristics of a midfielder. He reads the game well, is a quick thinker, technically refined and has a great finish with both feet”.
If Brazil progress, there is a chance that they could meet England in the playoffs. Piazon knows that that’s when the pressure will be on.
Next steps with Chelsea
After Mexico, the forward is expected to spend some time with Chelsea and maybe even train with them for a period.Chelsea, though, are not going to rush Piazon into first team action. They’ve got him on a five and a half year contract – time enough to let the player develop. De Visser thinks Piazon could be ready for first team action in less than 18 months. During this time he’ll be with the Chelsea reserves or could be loaned out to another side in England.
Piazon’s father, Antônio Carlos, added more details. “Obviously, he’s going to need a period to adapt and he’ll do this with the B team to learn the English style. He’ll play for the U19s and play some competitions for them. When he’s ready, he’ll play in the Premier league. Chelsea are talking about a year to 18 months, depending on how he develops. We’ve spoken to Giuliano Bertolucci [the player’s agent] and the people at Chelsea and he needs to bulk up and also learn to adapt to the dynamics of English football. But there’s no pressure on him to go straight into the first team. The reason he’s not turned pro at São Paulo is because we held him back. São Paulo coach PC Carpegiani wanted him but after he signed for Chelsea we were worried about injuries. He’s still young and it’s better to make the step up when he’s fully ready”.
As well as beefing up, Piazon will have to adjust his temperament on the pitch. The player has a habit of dropping his head and showing his frustration when things don’t go his way. Piet de Visser, though, is not concerned. “Sometimes he looks annoyed. But it’s because he demands a lot from himself. He wants to be the best and if something doesn’t go right he gets angry. But this is a good thing. Many young players do stupid things and they don’t care. They say “OK”. But when [Piazon] is not winning he’s upset and that’s a good sign for a professional. I was very happy to find such a player with a good mentality and good character and pleased to bring him to Chelsea. But remember; he’s a player for the future”.
Adapting to the Uk
While many Brazilians talk about culture shock and their dread of English weather and the food, Piazon is unfazed about moving to London and is confident he’ll adapt quickly. The player already speaks English well and is anxious to make the switch to West London so he can enjoy the match day atmosphere. “I think the Chelsea fans are real fanatics. I think this is great. I like the way the supporters always go to the games. We’ve got many real fans here in Brazil as well but the stadiums are rarely full”.
Moving to England shouldn’t be too much of a strain. After all, he’s coming from a city that’s at least twice the size of London. But while his parents will be there to keep an eye on him, it will be the teenager who’ll be calling all the shots as he has done throughout his short career.
Piazon is more than aware that in many ways, signing for Chelsea was the easy part. He now has to live up to his billing and prove he can cut it at the highest level in England. But the youngster is relishing the challenge. He has the ability but just as importantly, he has ambition. It is his competitive nature that has brought him so much success and made him opt for the Premier league instead of Italy and the Scudetto. Chelsea know that in Lucas Piazon, they have signed a winner.
© Jon Cotterill and Pitacodogringo’s Brazilian football site, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jon Cotterill and Pitacodogringo’s Brazilian football site with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Entry filed under: Lucas Piazon. Tags: Brazil U-17 squad Mexico World Cup 2011, Carlos Antolotti, Chelsea, Chelsea’s Best Young Player of the Year 2011/2012, Emerson Ávila, Giuliano Bertolucci, Gus Hiddink, Manchester United Premier Cup, Piet De Visser, Roman Abramovich, Ruud Gullit, São Paulo Futebol Clube.