5.4 dribbles per 90: What Manchester United, Liverpool-scouted starlet brings to the table

SS Lazio fans

Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea are all reportedly sniffing around Brazilian talent Felipe Anderson.

Some players hope to be great. Others are meant to be great – predestined, if you will – even if most tipped as the next big thing to take football by storm never live up to the hype.

From a young age, Felipe Anderson fell into the latter category. At just 17 he made his professional debut for Santos, sharing the pitch with a marginally older Neymar.

It was clear that Santos had yet another star on their hands, and within two years the Santa Maria native was a fixture in the side – featuring as a bold, fearless attacking midfielder.

A switch to Europe was on the cards soon enough, almost fated to soon arrive. An agreed January 2013 move to Lazio fell through, however, when paperwork wasn’t completed in time.

The move did eventually go through in June, though the Aquile would be made to work for it.

Sporting director Igli Tare would later call the negotiations, in comments to Samba Foot, “the most paradoxical and shocking I have ever been a part of”, in relation to third party owners Doyen Sports’ repeated backtracking on agreements.

But after a disappointing debut campaign for Felipe Anderson, Tare and company are certainly glad they put up with the headaches to get their man.

The Brazilian wasn’t terribly involved at Lazio last term under first Vladimir Petkovic and then Edy Reja. As a rather uninspiring Lazio side could muster only a ninth-place finish in Serie A, Felipe Anderson saw just 529 minutes of league football.

An injection of youth, of vigour, was needed. Stefano Pioli took over at the helm for Lazio this past summer – and he too somewhat glossed over the talented Brazilian at first.

Felipe Anderson spent the first three months of the campaign primarily coming off the bench, starting just three times and making eight substitutes’ appearances. On two occasions, Pioli left him as an unused sub.

By the time the side went three straight games without a win in November, the attacking set-up had become stale. And then Felipe Anderson took off.

Up until that point, the 21-year-old was yet to register a goal or an assist. He had created just seven chances and fired three shots on target. But, bursting at the seams with potential, he was about to explode.

Pioli found faith in his young star – and immediately began reaping the rewards. Felipe Anderson started the next five Serie A fixtures on the docket, knocking in five goals and adding five assists.

Those are the numbers of a prodigy – the kind of production that only the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are able to sustain. Felipe Anderson was at last showing the signs of growing into the player he was meant to be.

Beyond pure goals and assists, the Brazilian was accomplishing all he was in sublime style. Long shots, chipped passes and mazy runs all proved to be in his arsenal. During this period, the Brazilian averaged a dizzying six successful dribbles per game, per Squawka.

Only injury would slow him down. The burgeoning star was shelved for three games to end his brilliant run, building up fitness upon his return against Genoa and playing 90 minutes opposite Udinese before sitting out a suspension for yellow card accumulation.

Once more, he stepped back into the light. Against Sassuolo and Napoli, Felipe Anderson claimed a goal and an assist, created five chances, won seven fouls and completed nine dribbles.

To date, the 21-year-old has nearly outdone his previous best season – the 2012 campaign at Santos. He came up with six goals and seven assists in 35 appearances that term, compared to six goals and as many assists through 20 Serie A showings this season.

Plus, he's tacked on 5.4 dribbles per 90 minutes this time around. Of players in the top five European leagues with 20 or more appearances, only Karim Bellarabi averages more. Lionel Messi, Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez are all significantly behind.

The Brazilian’s ability to lead Lazio to results despite his tender years has shown maturity. As has his willingness to adapt to playing in wide positions, taking up his mantle on both the right and the left this term – leaving the central role he preferred in his younger days behind.

Of course, such a quick rise to prominence was always bound to catch the attention of the Premier League elite. Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea all sent scouts to watch him on Monday against Fiorentina, per Calciomercato.

For Lazio and Felipe Anderson, there are choices to be made. Now that the Brazilian is shining – as his pedigree demanded – where to from here?

His youth, mutability and overall quality don’t necessarily dictate that he would be more successful in one side than another – but moving now would nonetheless be a risk.

It took the youngster until December to gain any semblance of continuity in Europe, and while the going is good, Felipe Anderson would be wise to maintain stability.

Perhaps he is ready to jump to the Premier League, though just 1,613 career minutes of top flight football in Europe suggest staying put for the time being wouldn’t be of harm.

That is, unless United, Chelsea or Liverpool decide that they’ve seen enough to come forward with an indecent offer Lazio couldn’t refuse, satisfied with Felipe Anderson’s form since December.

And based on what he’s shown in a relatively short period of time, it would be difficult to blame them for doing so.

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