It is hard not to think that football is changing.
Teams that previously played in lower divisions are now doing battle in the knockout stages of the Champions League and Copa Libertadores, while traditional clubs struggle to make ends meet and risk relegation.
Of those in the latter category, some try to assemble cheap and competitive teams, while others dream of a sale to an outside investor to reinvigorate their fortunes – as has been the case for Botafogo, who were recently purchased by John Textor, the American business executive who is also a co-owner of Crystal Palace.
But before any investor injected money into the Rio de Janeiro outfit, Botafogo were already hopeful of a brighter future because of Matheus Nascimento.
‘O Glorioso’ is one of the most traditional clubs in Brazil, and has a hall of fame that includes Brazil legends Garrincha, Nilton Santos and Jairzinho.
They have not, however, won a national title since 1995, and have been relegated three times since the turn of the century, accumulating more than R$1 billion (£131.5m/$180m) in debt in the process.
Such a scenario is not traditionally conducive to bringing through talented teenagers from the club’s academy, but 17-year-old Nascimento has been charged with rebuilding Botafogo.
Because of his long hair and tall stature, Nascimento has long been referred to as ‘the Brazilian Cavani’ and the Manchester United striker is one of his great idols.
Indeed, Botafogo even tried to organise a meeting between the pair while Cavani was in Brazil playing for Uruguay at the Copa America.
But the similarities do not begin and end with Nascimento’s physical appearance.
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Certainly, Nascimento’s greatest strength is his movement while playing as a centre-forward, with the teenager able to use his body to open space for himself to finish chances like few others of his age.
His technique and coolness in front of goal are also impressive, but he has also drawn attention for the way he is willing to leave the penalty area to try to create opportunities for others in the ilk of a traditional No.10.
A no-frills footballer, Nascimento was first spotted by scouts in 2015 at a soccer school put on by Botafogo in Niteroi, one of the richest cities in Brazil.
Nascimento’s family never planned for their son to become a professional footballer, and instead just wanted the boy to have fun. His talent, though, was never going to go unnoticed.
Enrolled into Botafogo’s academy, it did not take long for the club to realise they had a potential star on their hands, even if Nascimento’s overall demeanour did not suggest as much.
“He is a very calm boy, very homely,” his mother, Katyane, told UOL in 2019. “We talk a lot with him and he deals very well with everything that has been happening.
“He is a very smart boy who just likes to play football and games.”
After a short while, Nascimento began to attract attention. Frequently called up by to the Brazil age-group teams, both clubs from Europe and agents began circling in a bid to potentially move him out of South America.
That is when Botafogo created a career plan for their teenage prodigy.
“Botafogo sees Matheus Nascimento as an asset. He is a boy who has been standing out for the club and who has been a starter and top scorer for the Brazil youth sides,” Tiano Gomes, general manager of Botafogo’s academy, toldUOL.
“He is a high-potential athlete, but he has a long way to go. We need to be calm, obeying the athlete’s natural development.”
That process led to Nascimento making his professional debut in September 2020 against Corinthians, stepping off the bench for the final 10 minutes of the Serie A clash.
Botafogo’s relegation to the second division was confirmed soon after, and Nascimento was able to put together a run of starts in the top flight before the end of the season as the club prepared itself for the 2021 campaign.
Despite playing for the worst team in the league, Nascimento rarely put a foot wrong, and many expected him to play a major role at Estadio Nilton Santos over the past 12 months.
Botafogo, though, insisted that the forward follow the plan laid out for him, and he instead made just three league appearances in the past season, though he did train regularly with the first-team squad, with his specific programme tailored towards him building up his strength and physique.
It is now felt that he is truly to make his mark on the world of men’s football in 2022, with Botafogo back in Serie A having secured promotion in November.
“Enderson (Moreira, Botafogo’s manager) loves the player, he thinks he’s above average,” Eduardo Freeland, the club’s football director, told Globo Esporte when asked about Nascimento in December 2021.
“We discussed a lot when it would be best for him to play for the Under-20s, and when it would be better for him to stay with the first team. We treated this year as a transition.”
The insistence that Nascimento follow the plan laid out for him even led to Botafogo rejecting a €23 million (£19m/$26m) offer from an unnamed European club for the youngster in May 2021.
Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have both been cited as potentially interested parties, but it is likely there are plenty of other clubs keen on bringing Nascimento to Europe, even if it means paying closer to his €50m (£42m/$57m) release clause.
Botafogo’s main focus now is ensuring they get a fair price for the youngster by allowing him to show what he can do on a weekly basis among the professionals, which in turn should put them on a much firmer financial footing.
Dubbed ‘the saviour of the homeland’, Matheus Nascimento is out to write a new page in Botafogo’s ‘Glorioso’ history on the pitch, before potentially keeping them afloat off it.
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