Wellington Silva a warning to young talent not to move too soon
Wellington Silva has gone back to where he started after an unsuccessful time at Arsenal. The 23-year-old Brazilian has joined Fluminense of Rio de Janeiro where, over five years ago, he looked set to have a big future.
At the age of 17, Wellington Silva was playing in the Fluminense first-team and could have become an important player for a prestigious club. But opportunity knocked to join Premier League giants Arsenal and Wellington chose to continue his career in London.
However, Arsenal were unable to secure a work permit for him, which meant that he hardly spent any time in London at all and the next few years saw him sent on a host of loan moves in Spain. He played for Levante, Alcoyano, Ponferredina, Murcia and Almeria before, with EU residency now established, spending a season in England's second tier with Bolton Wanderers.
Yet, after all that effort, Arsenal decided to cut their losses and the forward was allowed go back home.
His new/old club could do with some firepower. Approaching the halfway stage of the Brazilian Championship, Fluminense are in mid-table, with just 15 goals scored in 16 games. They laboured and looked unimpressive in Sunday's 1-0 defeat away to Atletico Paranaense, so perhaps a more mature Wellington Silva will be the man to spruce up their attack? Perhaps, had things been different, then he might be starting a European adventure now rather than trying to convince himself that the last five years have not been a disappointment.
The "premature move" is a blight on many a promising South American career. A talented youngster can find himself transformed into a commodity; a piece of raw material of great interest to those around him.
Sometimes the player's club are desperate to sell, needing an urgent injection of cash to pay last month's wage bill. Sometimes a player's economic rights are not even owned by the club, or are only partly owned. An investment fund may have taken a position in the hope of a quick profit and agents are hungry for the commission generated by a deal.
Sometimes the source of the impatience may be closer to home; a player's family may pressure him to accept an offer, fearing that injury or loss of form might make this the only chance.
Frequently the player himself is desperate for a move to Europe as soon as possible. Today's generation of young hopefuls have grown up in an era of global super teams and instant solutions so would never say no when a European giant comes knocking.
But an early move may not always be the best course of action in a young career. Footballers in their late teens are at a time of change, of assertion of identity, in their lives and to go through such things in a strange country may make the process even more stressful -- especially when the player is a relatively cheap import at a big club, or has been farmed out on loan to a smaller club with no long-term interest in his development.
It is hardly surprising that some careers go off the rails at this stage and, in such a short professional life as football, lost momentum can prove impossible to recapture.
South America's latest generation are now facing this very situation. Take Marlos Moreno of Atletico Nacional: a year ago he had yet to make his first-team debut. He has now already played (assisting and scoring goals) for the senior Colombia side and on Wednesday he could win the Copa Libertadores (South America's equivalent of the Champions League.) He has been on everyone's wishlist, and now Manchester City are beckoning, with a loan deal in Spain already on the table for next season if he joins.
Or Gabriel Jesus of Palmeiras -- the likely centre-forward in Brazil's Olympic team. His career only really took off in March, when new club coach Cuca changed his position. Instead of chasing backwards in pursuit of the opposing full-back, he was used as close to goal as possible; his speed, skill and audacity have since shone brightly. It has been reported in both Spain and Brazil that new Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola phoned the youngster with a view to persuading him to join, much to the disgust of Cuca, and sources told ESPN FC that a deal is close.
In Chile, there is the case of 18-year-old Jeisson Vargas of Universidad Catolica, a strong and quick attacker capable of playing on either flank. Vargas may be the most exciting thing to come out of Chile since Alexis Sanchez but is reported to want to leave the country as soon as possible, with Italy a likely destination.
Before this trio of talented teenagers decide on their next move, however, they should study the story of Wellington Silva -- an object lesson of the dangers of moving too far, too soon.
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.