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May 24, 2014

Elkeson worthy of Napoli and Inter attention

Elkeson has excelled under Marcello Lippi at Guangzhou Evergrande.
Elkeson has excelled under Marcello Lippi at Guangzhou Evergrande.

Summer silly season is well and truly upon us, with clubs looking to act quickly to secure their preferred transfer targets in the fortnight ahead of the World Cup and put in place plans for the year to come. With attention set to shift firmly to Brazil for a month, time is of the essence for many sides if they are to avoid the free for all that looks almost certain to take place late in the window, and that can also mean looking to new, less intensively scouted markets.

That would appear to be the case in the case of both Napoli and Inter Milan, both of whom are looking to add to their striking ranks by looking in the direction of China. If Sky Italia journalist Gianluca di Marzio is to be believed, both clubs are on the trail of free-scoring Guangzhou Evergrande striker Elkeson following an 18-month spell in which he has set records aplenty under the management of Marcello Lippi. Top-level competition it may not be, but with a productive spell at Botafogo also under his belt, Elkeson has admirers.

Indeed, the Vitoria academy product has been on European clubs' radars from an early age. In 2010, it was widely reported that Benfica had purchased 50 percent of his economic rights, as described here by Mais Futebol, having continued his impressive development at the club following early issues over his real age, documented by Lancenet. It was eventually at Botafogo, though, that the direct and powerful attacking midfielder would continue his career and there that he would make a decision that would have a huge bearing on his future.

With Rafael Marques struggling in front of goal and strikers Sebastian Abreu and Herrera having recently departed, the Rio de Janeiro side were enduring something of a striking crisis in the summer of 2012. Manager Oswaldo do Oliveira turned to Elkeson as a makeshift option up front, to much criticism from some sections of the club's support, but it was a move that would eventually prove fruitful. Elkeson would score 11 goals that season, ending the campaign as the club's top scorer in the Brasileirao. It was form that would also end his association with the club, moving to China at the end of the campaign for 5.7 million euros to join Marcello Lippi's Evergrande.

Just looking at simple statistics, it is easy to see why the forward would have caught the attention of such Italian giants. Across all competitions he has found the net on 47 occasions in 56 matches since joining the Cantonese side, helping the club to a famous league and AFC Champions League double last campaign. He sits atop the scoring charts in China once more in 2014, with 11 goals in 11 appearances, a position he maintained throughout the 2013 season. It may not be the strongest of leagues, but his success in front of goal is unprecedented. A tally of 11 goals in 14 games in continental action, including both legs of the 2013 final, would also suggest he can perform at higher levels.

To maintain those scoring levels in Serie A would be nigh on impossible. He is talented, but the Chinese league is far from the acid test of a player's potential. Elkeson, though, offers much more than just goalscoring. He is versatile, often featuring from the flank in big games for his club, while he spent much of his career as a central attacking midfielder. He can create chances with his pace and strength, providing 10 league assists last season in addition to his goals, while he is also a major asset in defending set pieces. While not especially tall, he is strong in the air, scoring regularly from headed opportunities.

Like many players, Elkeson's output can vary drastically depending on his confidence, while he is not always as clinical in front of goal as he should be -- despite frequently demonstrating his finishing ability with both left and right foot. For any team looking for a rounded forward option, though, he is a useful candidate capable of fitting into a variety of positions in a range of systems. However, his capture will not be simple.

Evergrande are by no means a selling club, having fiercely fought off attempts from the Middle East to lure away fellow forward Muriqui at the start of the season. Lippi has insisted that while he is manager, none of his starting players will be sold and has thus far been good to his word, with the exception of an out-of-contract Dario Conca. With Evergrande keen on securing a second Champions League title this season and increasing the lucrative sponsorship deals they signed following their first triumph, a considerable offer will be required. As good as he may be, Elkeson may not prove to be competitively priced in the eyes of many bidders.

Elkeson, though, is managed by the highly influential Giuliano Bertolucci -- agent to the likes of Oscar, David Luiz and Paulinho. If anybody can secure his client a move away, Bertolucci has the contacts and knowhow to do so. Persuading Lippi will not be easy. It will be interesting in terms of Evergrande's long-term planning to see how they deal with likely approaches for a few of their leading lights this summer, with the potential to bring in a considerable amount of money. Prestige and continued success, though, will likely prove more of an attraction to a club not lacking in financial backing. Elkeson will doubtless fancy trying his hand with a high-level European side, but with a contract until the end of 2016 already signed, it may not be his decision to make.

For further discussion on any of the players featured in The Scout's Notebook, Christopher can be found on Twitter @ChrisAtkins_. More of his work profiling rising talents can be found at TheElastico.com.