July 21, 2017

Is Samba fullback Wendell ready to waltz yet?

German clubs, and Bayer Leverkusen in particular, have a long tradition of acquiring Brazilians. The latter club has also been very successful in doing so. Lúcio, Zé Roberto, Paulo Sérgio, Juan, Jorginho, Renato Augusto, França and Emerson each played over 50 matches for Die Werkself, most of them have even featured in over 100 games. Robson Ponte, another canarinho who had two periods in the outfit from North Rhine Westphalia, even got a techno tune of his own. Considering that only the most successful Brazilians are mentioned here, it’s safe to call Leverkusen a good destination for the boys from Brazil.

Another one is on his way. Wendell is as unknown in Europe as Josimar was before the 1986 World Cup, and he’s not even that famous in Brazil. Unless you’re from the Paraná state in Southern Brazil, that is. Despite playing for the outsider club Londrina, he was voted the best player of the state Championship. This award says quite a lot, considering that he’s a left back and didn’t play for local power houses Atlético Paranaense og Curitiba. However, the club Grêmio quickly snapped him up, and he’s already a starter for the potential Copa Libertadores title contender.

It was in a Libertadores group match, South America’s equivalent of Champions League, that Rudi Völler chose to take the trip down to samba land to have a look at the fullback. Bringing assistant coach Daniel Niedzkowski along with him, the Leverkusen sporting director couldn’t have chosen a better occasion as Grêmio trashed  the potent Colombian outfit Atlético Nacional by 3-0 at home with Wendell making an assist after running the length of the pitch.

Hence the aspirin side signed the 20 year old for no less than five seasons after invoking a release clause about to expire. Until June 2019, Wendell is Leverkusen’s. Brazilian newspaper Zero Hora reported the transfer fee to be €6,5 million with 65% going to Grêmio and 35% to Londrina, along with percentages to his former clubs included in any future deal. Unlike many Brazilian talents, Wendell wasn’t owned by any third parties, undoubtedly an important factor for Völler.

Wendell going to Leverkusen wasn’t just a coincidence, of course. Not any more than his recent  transfer to Grêmio was, as former player of both clubs, Zé Roberto, had a hand in both deals. Wendell himself made no secret of the former Brazilian international’s recommendations that his former employer would be a great career move.

So what made Völler so excited? Well, if you’re looking for a Brazilian fullback in the mould of Carlos Alberto, Roberto Carlos, Josimar and Cafú, Wendell might be the next big thing. To get a feel for his hyper offensive playing style, check out his exploits for Londrina. You’ll see a left back who not only advances down the line, but also one who often drifts into the middle, like a second striker, creating havoc in opposition defences as they wonder whether to press or cover the strikers.

Wendell is quick on the turn and with lots of technical ability (he only weighs 64 kilos!), he is comparable to Philipp Lahm, FC Barcelona’s Jordi Alba, or Valencia’s Juan Bernat. The last two converted from wingers into full backs as more and more coaches look for defenders who can create numerical superiority on the flanks.

The prodigy might spell trouble for another Valencia property, as Mexican mercenary Andres Guardado might be stricken off the Werkself shopping list after a loan spell with few minutes played. Rudi Völler has indicated that Wendell is ready for immediate action as soon as Grêmio ends their Copa Libertadores adventure, but is he really?

Considering his short stint at top level (31 matches so far, not even a full season for the Porto Alegre side), taking the step right now might be too soon. Wendell himself even hints that he’d like to establish himself fully at Grêmio before going to the Lower Rhine region and Bundesliga action: “I want to win the Libertadores and the Brasileirão with Grêmio, and I hope Bayer Leverkusen can lend me out some more. I want to develop step by step, and be a starter for Brazil for the World Cup in 2018!, Wendell told the Brazilian newspaper UOL Esporte.”

It might just be sugar talk for the Grêmio fans, but can also be a testament that Brazilian talent are far more professional and smart about their career moves these days than they used to be. Bayer director Michael Schade also commented that Wendell fits into the club’s long term planning. And considering his age, developing gradually and gaining experience on a proper level seems like a good idea to make the most of him when he eventually pulls on the black and red striped jersey.

But one thing the Leverkusen planners should note is the gruelling calendar of Brazilian football with two matches almost every week all year, only broken by a two week holiday break. A club like Grêmio will always have the pressure to field their best players, and Wendell has already shown signs of being overused. He hasn’t had an injury record until now, but in the last couple of months he’s had to stop practicing because of ankle pain. He might not be Roberto Carlos or Philipp Lahm yet, but perhaps bringing him to Germany after the World Cup isn’t such a bad idea after all.

With Guardado sure to be heading back to Spain, the free-flying left back might make his mark on the Bundesliga as soon as next season to fill the gap. The fans should expect some mistakes in the beginning, and adapting to a new culture and language will be a challenge for Wendell. But with patience and support, coach Sami Hyypiä and the Bay Arena crowd might see a world class player unfold before them. The only guarantee is that they won’t be bored by their new Brazilian craque.

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