When Chelsea announced the signing of Hakim Ziyech from Ajax in February, a murmur of intrigue and respect reverberated around the football world.
When news then broke that the Blues were about to snatch RB Leipzig superstar Timo Werner from under the nose of Liverpool, a shockwave rippled through all of Europe. And when rumours of a possible second Bundesliga swoop for Bayer Leverkusen wonderkid Kai Havertz surfaced, the west London faithful almost collapsed in disbelief.
But these reactions pale in comparison to the incredulity and scepticism that engulfed the whole of Italy, upon learning that Chelsea were close to agreeing a deal for Flamengo midfielder Gerson. The Brazilian has recently arrived on the radar of some of Europe’s biggest clubs, having helped the side win the 2019 Brazilian Serie A, and also guiding them to a famous 2019 Copa Libertadores success, too.
If rumours are to be believed, the Brazilian midfielder will command a pretty hefty transfer fee. $38m, in fact. And a glance at any ‘Gerson: Welcome to Chelsea‘ YouTube compilation that has hastily been thrown together by an excited Blues fan could lead you to believe that he is one of the most underrated talents in South American football.
The 23-year-old can play on the right flank, or in the centre of the park, and he is able to orchestrate proceedings with his delicate and majestic left foot. Although not blessed with scorching pace, Gerson boasts the typical tranquility and skill on the ball of a blessed Brazilian footballer, and his box of tricks can get him out of any sticky situation, whether he’s being doubled up on in midfield, or escorted away from danger by the touchline.
And standing five foot ten inches tall, he’s certainly no pushover. So how has this Rolls Royce of a footballer never been picked up in Europe before?
Well, the sad truth is, he has. In fact, Serie A side AS Roma thought that had unearthed the biggest diamond in Brazil in 2016, when they signed Gerson for around €15m.
The ex-Fluminense starlet had arrived on the European stage with plenty of expectation, and I Giallorossi genuinely believed they were in the presence of a generational talent. It didn’t quite turn out that way, however.
You know when you walk into a room to get something, and you completely forget what it is you’re looking for? Those torturous seconds of wracking your brains, pondering, dawdling and finally coming up empty-handed provide the perfect backdrop to Gerson’s time at Roma.
The midfielder failed to impress under any coach that he played with, and whether he was out on the wing or in a central role, the game simply passed him by, time and time again. Gerson made little impact in any of his 42 appearances for Roma, struggling to keep up with the pace of the game, and refusing – or failing – to adapt to the rigours of Italian football.
The Roma man was painfully slow across the ground, and his inability to read play quicker and make a decision (or a good one, anyway) saw patience wear thin among teammates and supporters.
There was no dictating of play, no physical presence, no nothing. He was a little boy, lost in the supermarket and praying to be rescued from this never ending nightmare. Eventually, he was put out of his misery, and was sent on loan to Fiorentina for the 2018/19 campaign.
Other than featuring in a 7-1 battering of parent-club Roma during his time with la Viola, he didn’t impress enough to extend his stay in Florence, and Roma sent him back to Brazil for a fraction of the price they had originally paid for his services. And that was the end of Gerson in Europe. Or so we thought.
But as always, there are two sides to any story. And despite suffering three miserable and truly unsuccessful years in Italy, the midfielder is not entirely to blame for his shortcomings.
Admittedly, Roma is not famous for being a happy and nurturing home for young, prospective talents, as its imposing fanbase is known for its impatience and short temper, especially towards those who start off on the wrong foot. So it’s possible that, unless Gerson had adapted immediately to the demands of Italian football and put in stellar displays from the off, he may never have really stood a chance in the Italian capital.
And even when he failed to make his mark on the game, there was always a feeling that the spark was there, waiting to be unlocked, and he showed glimpses of the grace and class on the ball that he clearly possesses.
There is a lesson to be learned from this cautionary tale. Roma is a tough breeding ground, but the supporters are not unrealistic in their ambitions for the club. Title races are far from their minds, and although they are hopeful of lifting silverware, they are not expectant.
So a move to Chelsea and Lampard’s team of precocious young starlets may seem like a more viable solution, and a happier learning curve for the Brazilian. But being a Blue comes with its own pressures.
The west Londoners ply their trade in the most physical, energetic and fast-paced league in the world, and time waits for no man in the Premier League. So many players have excelled in any of Europe’s top five leagues, and then flopped in England, due to its relentless speed and focus on strength and running.
It’s no coincidence that Gerson has thrived back in Brazil, in the comfort of the slower Campeonato Brasileiro, where he is handed all the time in the world to take his extra touch or two, before penetrating a defence.
Unfortunately for the Chelsea target, that wonderful pass would never see the light of day in England, as he’d have already had possession robbed from his feet by his untiring marker. And if pressure is detrimental to Gerson’s performance, joining a team hoping to challenge at the top of the Premier League is not the happy home it may first appear.
There’s a revolution bubbling away at Stamford Bridge, and Lampard is overseeing the rise of Europe’s most exhilarating batch of wonderkids.
The pace, energy and slick football that Chelsea have produced this season have attracted the likes of Ziyech, Werner and possibly Havertz to the project, and the trio fit the criteria needed to survive and thrive in this team.
But those plans hold no place for a midfielder like Gerson. He’s a classy operator, and he may have earned his chance at another shot at European football, but Chelsea is not the right fit for the Flamengo star.