Bruno Guimaraes was one of Lyon's standout performers in their victory over Manchester City in the Champions League.
When he chose to move to Lyon in January, he was not short of offers elsewhere; the interest of Arsenal was genuine, Benfica had been linked for some time and Atletico Madrid had repeatedly sent scouts to watch him.
Despite being in the last-16 of the Champions League the French club are enduring a difficult season domestically, so may not immediately seem the most attractive prospect for one of Brazil’s most prominent young talents. But Lyon had an ace up their sleeve.
Sporting director Juninho Pernambucano was the man pushing for the signing and was in regular contact. In one conversation, he even told Guimaraes that he would make him “the best central midfielder in the world”.
When a young player hears that from Juninho, one of the finest strikers of a ball the game has ever seen and a legend at Lyon, the allure is difficult to resist.
Add to the fact that Guimaraes comes from a family of hardcore Vasco Da Gama supporters – the club for which Juninho won two Brazilian titles and a Copa Libertadores before moving to eastern France – and you have an almost irrefutable offer.
“90% of my going there is because of him,” Guimaraes told Globoesporte.
The move is as important for Juninho as it is for the player. He is coming under fire in the French media as a result of Lyon’s substandard displays this term, so desperately needs to see a return on this investment. His job may even rest on it.
From the words that were said to Guimaraes, Juninho clearly feels that the 22-year-old box-to-box player has a bright future. But the best midfielder in the world? It is an assertion of substantial weight.
Bruno did not have the most conventional of football upbringings. He bounced from a Vasco football school to a famous Rio amateur club and then played futsal for Flamengo. He was rejected from a trial to play 11-a-side football at Botafogo and spent a just short time at Fluminense before being released.
Eventually he was given a chance at Audax-Rio, part of a group of clubs set up by the director of a Brazilian bank, before being transferred to their affiliate outfit in Sao Paulo. There, he was spotted by Serie A side Athletico Paranaense, who appreciated his immense promise.
It was at the Curitiba-based club that he flourished into the player that Lyon saw fit to part with €20m for and who lit up the recent South American U23 championship.
In Brazil’s tournament opener against a defensive Peru side, he took the captain’s responsibility, covered every blade of grass and slid a magnificent pass through to Paulinho for Brazil’s only goal of the game.
In the last game of competition – a must-win encounter against Argentina – he produced another fine performance as Brazil ran out 3-0 victors.
Both games emphasised Guimaraes’ force of personality – that Steven Gerrard-esque trait required to take control of the big occasion – something he had already shown repeatedly for Athletico.
In 2018, still aged just 20, he scored in the semi-final of the Copa Sul-Americana and battled hard in both legs of the final as o Furacão took the title on penalties.
In 2019, this time in the group stage of the more prestigious Copa Libertadores, he produced an all-action box-to-box display and provided a brilliant assist as Athletico beat Boca Juniors 3-0.
He was less impressive when Athletico met Boca again in the knockout stages, but as a 21-year-old playing in South America’s premier club competition for the first time a little oscillation is forgivable.
In November he more than made up for it in what turned out to one of his last ties in the club’s red and black shirt. Athletico lifted their second major trophy in two years, with Guimaraes scoring in the first leg as they beat Internacional to claim the Copa do Brasil.
Though he has sometimes played in a holding role both for Athletico and Brazil’s U23 team, his best position is either as the freer of the two midfielders in a 4-4-2 or a roaming No.8 in a 4-3-3. As Juninho said at Guimaraes presentation, “He is quite a complete midfielder.”
The ex-Brazil international added that his young compatriot’s background in futsal, with the ball skills and inventiveness it entails, will stand him in good stead and will help Lyon “control games more.”
In the same press conference, Guimaraes cited Paul Pogba, Kevin De Bruyne, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos as role models, which gives you some idea of how he intends to develop. He is, as Lyon manager Rudi Garcia pointed out, a player with great “technique and the capacity to break lines”.
Yet the adaptation from South American to European football can be difficult regardless of skill level and the issue is exacerbated for central midfielders.
In France, he will find a more compact game than in the Brazilian leagues, with less room to manoeuvre, shorter distances between the lines and less space into which he can make his trademark bursting runs.
He is quite a complete midfielderJuninho Pernambucano, Lyon Sporting Director
In his quest to the get to the level of De Bruyne, Kroos, Modric and Pogba, some patience will be required.
Fortunately, he should find it at Lyon. The presence of six other Brazilians in the squad will ease his adjustment and the club has a reputation as an environment where young talent is encouraged to reach its potential.
There, Guimaraes will get his first real glimpse of the level he will need to reach if Juninho’s prophecy is to become a reality.