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Thursday, March 30, 2023

Meet Marcos Leonardo: ‘Next Neymar’ at Santos who wants Premier League transfer

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A Santos wonderkid bursting onto the scene and being tipped as Brazil’s next big thing is a familiar tale.

Inevitably, being a teenage striker at the club which produced Pele, Neymar and so many other superstars generates a certain level of buzz.

But, in the case of Marcos Leonardo, the numbers speak for themselves.

He is speaking to Mirror Football less than 24 hours after scoring a stunning winner with the outside of his boot for Santos in their Brazilian top flight win at Juventude. He started the move on the halfway line by holding up a long ball, showcased his pace with a neat give-and-go and, when he reached the box, demonstrated exquisite technique and poise to nestle the ball into the bottom corner.

Leonardo has caught the eye and racked up plenty of first-team appearances whilst still a teenager


PAULO PINTO/AFP via Getty Images)

Just three days earlier, he scored four goals for Brazil Under-20s in a victory over Uruguay. After ten games of the league season, he has six goals in 10 games. Despite turning 19 just last month, he has already scored 25 senior goals and racked up nearly 100 games.

Whilst his early outings for Santos generated a certain level of attention, the last week has, rightly, seen the hype surrounding Marcos Leonardo step up a notch.

“Every player who wants to be successful needs to be prepared for pressure,” he insists. “I play for a big club in Brazil, so all the time you live with pressure.

“I am happy with the recognition in Brazil and now outside. But I’m very down to earth. I realise I need to keep working to grow even more.”

On and off the field, Marcos Leonardo demonstrates a maturity beyond his years underpinned by a patient and calculated outlook. As is generally inevitable for young players in South America, he holds big dreams of playing in Europe and representing Brazil in the FIFA World Cup.

Yet he is happy to bide his time rather than rush into a move before he is ready. For now, Santos is his focus. Conquering Brazil is the current goal, and broadening his horizons can wait.

“First of all, I want to make history with the Santos shirt,” he insists. “Winning titles, putting my name in the club’s top players gallery. To be the top scorer in the competitions I play.

“Then I want to manage to get to the Brazilian national team. I’m doing well in the youth categories, but my focus is on having the chance to represent my country in a World Cup, wearing the number 9 shirt.

“I believe these are my two biggest goals at the moment. I want to play in Europe, but I see that I have to complete stages before any kind of opportunity to do that.”

Marcos Leonardo’s father, also called Marcos (third from right) has been a huge part of his journey

The influence of his father has been apparent from the very beginning. His earliest memories are watching Brazil games on TV together, as well as watching his dad playing semi-pro having seen his own dreams of becoming a footballer fall short.

“He tried to be a player when he was younger, but my grandmother wouldn’t let him,” Marcos Leonardo says. “Since the beginning, football has always been a big part of our life.”

In later years, his dad has taken on a big role in his development. He made the decision to move the family from Bahia to Sao Paulo to enhance Marcos Leonardo’s prospects when he was only 11.

The pair have grown up analysing the game and plotting Marco’s route to the top. Once in the big city, he caught the eye of Santos quicker than expected and has never looked back.

“I’ve always worked very seriously since I was young,” he says. “My father always showed me videos of games, mine and other strikers, and we always analysed my development.

“I have a lot of responsibility in my preparation and I believe that mentality has always helped me. I still need to develop my skills, I’m very young. But I am also aware of my potential. So I learned that football is made of stages, evolution and maturation. With focus you can get where you want.

“It was an important decision my father made (to move to Santos). We came to São Paulo, but we still weren’t sure how it would be, where we would try, and I was signed at Santos by chance.

“I entered a club school, to prepare myself. But I did so well, they sent me for a try out and I was signed.”

Santos has been known for churning out top class young strikers over the years


Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images)

He could have seldom hoped for a better landing spot. Since the golden era of Pele, right through to the more recent success of Neymar, the club has a leading reputation for blooding young players and producing Brazil’s next stars.

It is a theme of which Marcos Leonardo cannot help be well aware of but one which gives him great pride as he now dons the No.9 shirt and leads the line himself during his teenage years.

“It was a great joy to have been signed by Santos,” he admits. “It is a club known all over the world.

“I’ve always treated it as a great responsibility to defend the club’s colours, from the youth categories to the senior team.

“Santos has always given me all the possibilities to become a great athlete. In addition, it is a pride to play for a club where Pelé played, Neymar. I feel honoured to be able to wear the shirt of this club.”

Marcos Leonardo has caught the eye for Brazil U20s and hopes to make it to the senior team


Ricardo Moreira/Getty Images)

It is noticeable that, when asked to name those who inspired him as a kid, Brazilian names crop up. Inevitably, Cristiano Ronaldo is in the mix, but Ricardo Oliveira, who enjoyed his best years at Santos, and Romario join him for company.

“I’ve always liked strikers a lot,” he says. “They are my references for my position, the players I always wanted to see.”

Nowadays, the Premier League’s global appeal gives it a huge pull – and means that Marcos Leonardo one day dreams of heading to England.

“I want to play in the Premier League one day,” he declares. “I watch a lot of games, and it is one of the main championships in the world. Not only for the competition among the teams, but also for the whole league. The proof is that English clubs always arrive in finals like the Champions League.”

He names Harry Kane and Cristiano Ronaldo as the two stars that currently catch his eye, but adds: “It’s a competition full of big stars.”

The striker admits he would one day love a move to the Premier League


Ricardo Moreira/Getty Images)

One day, he aims to become one of those Premier League’s superstars he currently admires – and what can fans expect to see if he gets his wish?

“I’m a striker with a lot of speed and strength,” he explains. “I always like to position myself well inside the area and I try to improve my finishing with my left and right feet.”

If you need proof of those attributes, his latest goal which hit the headlines serves as ample evidence. Whilst Pele and Neymar have carved a path which is hard to follow, the teenage prospect is certainly taking the right first steps on the long, winding road from Santos to the top.

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