GABRIEL BARBOSA is one of the most gifted players in the game that you have probably never heard of.

The 24-year-old has been a roller coaster ride of feelings for the striker in recent seasons – from the European child prodigy to the failure of Serie A to the return of a hero to his native Brazil.


Gabriel Barbosa, nicknamed Gabigol, was part of the Brazilian squad that reached the 2021 Copa America finalPhoto credit: Getty

And now that England and Europe’s biggest clubs take note of the man previously dubbed the “new Neymar”, Barbosa is ready for whatever gets his way.

Speaking to SunSport, he said: “I feel at my best moment in my career, in full physical and psychological development.

“I know that I have to improve and that I can develop even further in the years to come in order to become an even more efficient striker.

“I work on my body and mind every day to achieve these goals.

“My bad experiences with Inter Milan and Benfica made me stronger. That’s when we grow up.

“What I’m going to do differently now is to evaluate the next steps in my career more carefully.”

Barbosa learned his trade on the streets of what he calls a simple neighborhood in Sao Bernardo – a state in Sao Paulo.

He recalls: “We went through difficult times, but my parents always tried to do the best for me. There has always been a football in my life.”

Like many of the Brazilian greats, Barbosa became a star early on after joining the Santos youth team at the age of 8.

There he was nicknamed “Gabigol” for his incredible goal statistics and a reputation that still accompanies him today.


He said: “I was already under a lot of pressure. Imagine getting promoted to a club that has produced Pele, Coutinho, Robinho, Neymar – I suffered a lot in the end.”

“The expectations of young talents here are enormous, all the more so when I made my debut in Neymar’s farewell game.

“I was always very precocious. I played with the older age groups and a lot of people tried to get my feet up, but my family was fundamental to my development.

“They put me in the right place and helped me find my way. I am so grateful to them for the person I have become.”

By 2016, Barbosa attracted the world’s biggest names after taking Brazil’s Serie A by storm and would soon swap them for Italy’s Serie A at Inter at the age of 19.

Once again, expectations were high, especially given Inter’s history, where it faced Brazilian superstars such as Ronaldo, Adriano, Maicon and Julio Cesar.

He was received like a hero – much like his idol Ronaldo when he moved to Milan in 1997 – but left him two years later under a cloud of disappointment, underperformance and a “bad boy” day that would be difficult to shake off.

He only played nine games, scored one goal and was loaned to Benfica the following season, where he only played one league game.

He said: “It is every player’s dream to go to Europe. They have the best leagues in world football.”

“I was young and had just won gold with the Brazilian team at the Olympics and there were opportunities knocking on the door. I had to make a very quick decision.

“To this day I haven’t really understood why I had so few options. There were so many questions on my mind.

“But over time I’ve realized that I need a lot more than just talent to play at the club.”


The Brazilian striker has won many trophies in South America


The Brazilian striker has won many trophies in South AmericaPhoto credit: Getty

When asked about his alleged bad boy image, he continued, “I’m a very competitive person and have a strong personality.

“A lot of people who don’t know me end up with an outside view that doesn’t reflect reality.

“On the pitch I become a killer who needs goals, but outside I’m very calm and have simple habits.

“I played my role, I devoted myself to the maximum in training, my Italian course, my adaptation, my diet.

“Today, a few years later, I know that I could have done different things.

“My experience in Europe was a very quick story, I’m still frustrated.”

He decided to go back to where he belonged, where he was revered, to his beloved Santos before moving to Flamengo in 2019 and having one of his best seasons ever and reappearing as a global superstar.

59 games. 43 goals. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are tied.

Barbosa said: “My return to Brazil was very important for my career.

“Not only did I restore my self-esteem and love for football, I also saved my joy and desire to win and compete.

“I was always aware of my range and my ability to overcome.

“The lack of opportunities has never been a reason for my distrust and that of those who live and work with me.

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The striker with the nickname


Nicknamed “Gabigol”, the striker did not do his best at Inter MilanPhoto credit: Getty Images – Getty

“But it has been a source of great sadness and disappointment. Today I take this as a lesson and learning. I cannot see Europe as a failure as I was just starting my career.

“At Flamengo, I experience the best moments of my career.”

As he climbs and climbs to new heights in Brazil – including two back-to-back Brazilian championship titles and a member of the Brazilian path to the Copa America final this summer – one looks to the future.

In particular, a league that he has idolized since childhood and that could welcome him with open arms for years to come.

Barbosa said: “I’ve always enjoyed watching the Premier League. In the beginning it was difficult to see a lot of games because of the TV, but I always enjoyed it.”

“I also played a lot of PlayStation with English teams and I enjoyed it even more. I always saw Thierry Henry’s goals – I thought he was a very powerful, strong and intelligent striker.”

“I really liked Didier Drogba too. Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney at Manchester United. It’s a championship where the best in the world play.”

“I’m still watching it now. I really like Pep Guardiola’s style at Manchester City. Chelsea have managed to form a great team with Thomas Tuchel’s hands.”

“Liverpool have a very interesting team and a fantastic coach. Tottenham are a mega-team and I really enjoyed the West Ham season. I’m a big fan of Premier League football.”

There is a desire to prove otherwise to his doubters, but for now, Barbosa is enjoying life outside the limelight and letting his goals speak for themselves.

They don’t call him ‘Gabigol’ for nothing.

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Gabriel Gabigol Barbosa scores twice in five minutes and wins the 2019 Copa Libertadores for Flamengo against River Plate