Liverpool are the latest club to be linked with Thiago Maia, here Michael Graham offers some background on the Brazil midfielder’s unprecedented rise to the top.
When Thiago Maia’s name emerged in a report linking him with a move to Manchester United last month, it’s unlikely to have been one with which many fans were familiar.
And now almost a month later Liverpol boss Jurgen Klopp has been added to the list of Maia’s admirers as the German searches for holding player to compete with Jordan Henderson.
The 19-year-old has had a regular audience of United scouts this season, say ESPN Brazil, with Jose Mourinho believed to be ready to move for the midfielder as early as January.
Barely two years into his professional career, Maia is already making a habit of turning heads and blazing a trail.
A left-footed and primarily defence-minded central midfield player, Maia’s performances as part of Brazil’s successful Olympics team prompted the Santos man to rethink immediate plans to commit himself to domestic Brazilian football.
Even being at the Rio showpiece in the first place was special enough, where he became the first athlete – not just footballer – from the Amazon-dominated region Roraima to represent Brazil at an Olympic Games.
“I am very happy to be here,” he told reporters covering the tournament. “When they called, I got very emotional. I remembered my father, who always fought for my rights and dreams.
“Despite football not being in Roraima, unlike the other states, I managed to get here. I suffered a lot to get here.”
That suffering was, at least in part, down to football itself. Initially rejected as a youngster by Corinthians, Maia, who has been likened in style to legendary Real Madrid midfielder Fernando Redondo, dossed on a friend’s floor in Sao Paulo to earn his stripes at Santos.
Before starring in the Olympics, it looked like he was at Santos to stay, too. His coach, Dorival, urged him to commit to the club until he develops a greater level of consistency, and it appeared those warning had been heed.
However, since then, Maia seems to have had a change of heart – or perhaps, if you’re a cynic, a change of agent – and there is no shortage of eager takers.
Which clubs want him?
If Manchester United and Mourinho are going to lure him to Old Trafford, it seems they will have to go through both Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and now Liverpool to get him.
All three clubs have money to burn on a risk from South America and, perhaps far more crucially, both clubs have a history of taking young Brazilian talent and developing them into top players in Europe.
Chelsea would appear to have an especially strong hand given that Maia is represented by Kia Joorabchian, the man who, among other deals, brokered Ramires’ move to Stamford Bridge.
Behind them, it’s tough to rule any of Europe’s elite clubs out of the race. Maia’s natural left foot alone is a strong pull for any coach looking for midfield balance without compromising on quality.
Monaco, Schalke and Napoli are similarly interested in the player, but Klopp, who has Brazilians Lucas Leiva, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho already in his ranks may well be best placed to lure the player to England.
How much will he cost?
It’s very difficult to say at this stage, although Santos are a big enough to club to be somewhat immune from any bullying tactics of Europe’s elite.
Santos are believed have already rejected an offer worth €18m from Zenit St Peterburg for Maia.
So it’s certainly difficult to envisage anything less than that figure getting the job done. Manchester City had to pay a reported £27m to prise Maia’s Olympic team-mate Gabriel Jesus away from Brazilian football last summer, so that may be the best guide we have on what it would take.
What they said
“There is a chance this boy will do well because he is a promising boy, who will surely have a very high development, he will be a top player in our country’s football.”
Dorival, Santos head coach.