Gabriel, LOSC Lille

Gabriel: 5 things on Lille's up-and-coming Brazilian defender

Publish on 16/04/2020 at 22:21 - I. HOLYMAN


Lille centre-back Gabriel has learned from Portugal's EURO winner Jose Fonte and modelled himself on Paris Saint-Germain superstar Marquinhos to become one of European football's hottest properties. takes you into the life of the Brazilian defender for whom the only way is up.


1) Disciple of Fonte

"I've done a good job!" joked Fonte when asked about his centre-back partner's progress over the last 12 months. There are some 14 years between the former Southampton, Crystal Palace and West Ham United defender and Gabriel, and Fonte has unsurprisingly played the role of father figure to his young teammate. 


"As soon as Jose arrived at the club, he spoke to me," said Gabriel, who was joined in northern France by Fonte in summer 2018. "He encouraged me to work hard, to seize the opportunity that would come my way one day. He's taught me a lot, on and off the pitch. If I leave Lille one day, if I can, I'll take him with me! He's helped me improve a lot."


The pair have formed a solid back pairing and have also looked good even in a back three with another young Portuguese speaker, Tiago Djalo. Still only 22, Gabriel is hugely impressive, but not the finished article according to Fonte.


"Gabi has to keep defending well by being aggressive, being well positioned, and not taking risks," said the 36-year-old UEFA EURO 2016 winner, who sits alongside his protege in the Lille dressing room. "He has to improve his play between the lines and his long-range passing."


Gabriel, LOSC Lille, Jose Fonte


2) From Avai to Zagreb

Now a bona fide first-teamer at Lille — he has played all but four of Les Dogues' Ligue 1 Conforama games this season — Gabriel's route to the top has not been linear. 


The Sao Paulo-born stopper was first noticed by Avai FC — the club where six-time Ligue 1 champion, the ex-Olympique Lyonnais defender Claudio Caçapa, ended his career in 2011 — and caught Lille's eye at the South American U20 Championship in Ecuador in January 2017. A squad featuring Everton forward Richarlison, Aston Villa's Douglas Luiz and Ajax striker David Neres disappointed in the tournament, but Gabriel did enough to convince Lille to sign him. Not that he sailed into the first team. 


With just one L1 appearance under his belt, new coach Marcelo Bielsa loaned him to fellow top-flight outfit Troyes at the start of the 2017-18 season. He played just one league match and then joined Croatian giants Dinamo Zagreb on loan where he featured in yet another single first-team league game. "It was difficult to get used to another way of playing, the climate, another continent," said Gabriel to explain his teething troubles.


Not that his time in Croatia was wasted. Far from it. "I worked a lot and I loved the club," he admitted, picking up valuable life experience as well as playing time in the Dinamo reserve team. "I even wanted to stay there, I spoke about it with the president, but [Lille sporting director] Luis Campos told me, 'No, you're coming back to Lille'. One day, perhaps, I'd like to go back there. I feel good there, and even though I didn't play much in the first team, those six months did me good."


WATCH: Gabriel grabs his first Ligue 1 goal as Lille smash PSG


3) The power of persuasion

Gabriel dos Santos Magalhães — to give him his full name — might never have made the bold decision to cross the Atlantic had it not been for Lille's insistence that they were the club for him, and he for them.


Pursued by Brazilian heavyweights Palmeiras and Flamengo, Gabriel could have taken the closer-to-home option, but Lille impressed him by coming to Ecuador during the U20 tournament and laying bare their plans for him. 


"What was important was that Palmeiras and Flamengo hadn't given me a concrete offer. Lille had made a clear offer with amounts and how they would do it. That played a role and the fact Lille is a club in Europe, which was my dream," he explained.


He might also have sought a way out when he was fighting what seemed like a losing battle for a first-team place in his early days at the Stade Pierre Mauroy, but didn't. 


Gabriel, LOSC Lille


"I think a lot of good things are going to come," he said, showing remarkable foresight. "I want to establish myself here at Lille, who play in major competitions like the Champions League. European competition will come in the near future."


After a disastrous 2017-18 that saw Bielsa replaced by Christophe Galtier and Lille narrowly avoid relegation, they then finished runners-up in the following season with Gabriel — taking advantage of an injury to Adama Soumaoro — playing 13 of the last 15 league games to make his own prophecy come true. This season, he played every single minute of Lille's UEFA Champions League group stage campaign.


4) Marquinhos fan

Unruffled on the ball and a physical presence at 1.90m (6'3"), Gabriel unsurprisingly admires another Brazilian Ligue 1 defender cut from the same high-grade cloth. "Marquinhos inspires me," he admits, but the Paris Saint-Germain star was overshadowed by his compatriot, who came off the bench at half-time to score his first L1 goal in the astonishing 5-1 mauling Lille handed PSG last April.


"It was an unforgettable game," said Gabriel. "The coach called me three times, and I was so focussed on the game I didn't hear anything. When I finally saw him, my stomach went into knots. The warm-up didn't even last two minutes, and I came on against some great players, some of the best in the world. Kylian Mbappé, Thiago Silva, Marco Verratti, Dani Alves…It was a dream."


5) Brazil ambition


Though he brought Marquinhos and PSG down more than a peg or two last season, Gabriel would love nothing more than to line up with his compatriot in the colours of their country. "It's my dream to be in the national team," said the LOSC man, who — as a left-footed centre-back — could have a fast-track into the Seleçao. "I think that could play a role. There aren't a lot of left-footed players. I work every day to be able to get there, and with players like Marquinhos and Thiago Silva, it would be great, because they're players that inspire me a lot."


There is little doubt he has the attitude to go with the talent to enable him to achieve his goal, impressing Galtier when the Lille coach was not making the young Brazilian one of the first names on the teamsheet. "He worked hard and didn't complain," said the ex-AS Saint-Étienne coach. "I saw he had great potential and he was able to seize the first opportunity he got. He was hungry to play, and while he bided his time, he worked a lot. He's an example for other youngsters to follow. It's a sort of intelligence to behave like that. How often nowadays do you see players not working if they're not in the squad?"


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