Players are leaving their homeland of Brazil (and South America in general) at younger ages to ply their trade in mainland Europe. Some are not even moving straight to the elite clubs of Europe, but the mid-tier clubs in order to get as much game time as they would have if they stayed. Ronaldo Lima at PSV is the most obvious example of this, and his time in the Netherlands was the beginning of the ascent to the legend that he is today.
Malcom Filipe Silva de Oliveira made a decision like this, at a similar age to Ronaldo, when he decided to leave Corinthians in January 2016 for Bordeaux, more famous for its wine country than the football team. A left-footed, energetic, and intense player packed into a 5’7” body, he is somebody who has reportedly attracted the attention of both Manchester clubs, Monaco, and Juventus. Given the season he had just enjoyed, in addition to the start of this season, it is no wonder that the Sao Paulo-born player is quickly attracting attention from all across the continent.
He was a youth player at Corinthians since the age of 11, and was integrated into the first team by the much-maligned former Brazilian manager, Mano Menezes. The 17-year-old Malcolm would make two appearances in the São Paulo state league, the Campeonato Paulista, before then going on to make a further 10 appearances in the national league during the season that runs from May to December.
It was in his second season, his first as a full-fledged first teamer, where he shone. He contributed to five goals in 31 games in the national league, becoming joint-third top scorer with four others, behind Vágner Love and Jádson, with 14 and 13 goals, respectively. All but one of the seven games he did not feature in was because he was called up to the Brazil U20s to play in the Campeonato Sudamericano Sub-20, the U20 Copa America. Even with that, only the goalkeeper, Cássio, made more appearances than the then-18-year-old. It was the year in which Corinthians stopped Cruzeiro from winning the Campeonato Brasileiro three years on the trot. The majority of his games were spent out on the left wing, where he used his pace to be as direct as possible, dovetailing nicely with the more cultured approach of Jádson, formerly of Shakhtar, on the opposite wing, and Vágner Love through the middle. It proved to be an effective trident, one that lifted o Time do Povo to the league title.
Malcom was very much the least of the three parts in the attack, however. His inconsistencies were a given because of his age, but even with that, his end product often flattered to deceive, considering the fact that the incredible moments, where he was able to crack thunderbolts off his left foot with supreme precision, were few and far between. Even with his season that would normally see someone find their feet at one level before moving onto the next, Malcom went to Bordeaux at the end of the title-winning season, but halfway through the European schedule, where he went on to make 12 league appearances, with only five from the beginning of the game. A solitary goal vs. Lorient in the third-to-last game of the season and an assist vs. Troyes in the penultimate game was the only productivity that would come of the young Brazilian, but it was just the beginning.
It was in 2016/17 that Malcom truly began to showcase his ability, as he was given more opportunities to display his obvious talents and it was those performances that brought about the supposed interest from the aforementioned clubs. Playing from the right this time, rather than on the left, meant that he would look to cut inside to affect the game, rather than go outside his full back to deliver balls into the box. The Brazilian played his formative years as the “meia-de-ligação” behind the center forward, and even deputized there on occasion last season. As such, he is comfortable drifting inside into vacant spaces due to Bordeaux’s 4-3-3 system. The natural inclination to go into these areas means that the mercurial attributes associated with these number 10s are needed, and it is something Malcom is very capable of. Sharp footwork, clipped, measured balls into the area, and top-quality combination play have all beenon display within the past season when he has picked up the ball, although he was not given as much creative licence in 2016/17 as he has this season.
When one watches him play, you can see a lot of the stereotypical winger that Brazil seems to create. Explosive and fleet-footed with a powerful shot, whose only consistency seems to come with letting their teams down with decision-making. Some who have watched him have drawn comparisons to Douglas Costa of Juventus, on loan from Bayern Munich, in the way that they use their physical attributes out wide and play at an incredibly high intensity. It can be to their detriment, when the tempo needs to be slowed down, and they are unable to cope with a more somber rhythm, but this is less of a problem with Malcom. This in-game adaptability makes him such an exciting prospect, as playing as an attacking midfielder has obviously honed his skills.
Unlike a lot of left footers, Malcom is accustomed and not averse to using his right foot, whether it is during a dribble or a cross into the box. This unpredictability means he can go outside and inside from the right hand side. His striking technique in general is also quite wondrous. It looks like he is getting underneath the ball too much when he is given time to pick his man or spot the goal, but the way he strikes the ball makes it swerve and dip in the air, with the ability to do so while running or from a standing start, is quite ridiculous. It can almost resemble a free kick, with set pieces being another feather in his cap. The one vs. Saint-Étienne in particular is the shining light in his repertoire.
Malcom is another representation of the change of offensive Brazilian players to a more European style that many claim started with the introduction and rise to stardom of Ricardo Kaká. The Ginga style that had been promoted all over the world has been seen as being compromised by players coming through who are more interested in how Europeans play football than than the native Brazilians. It is why much of the attention was focused on Robinho coming through, due to the similarity in style to Pelé, someone who represented the Ginga style to the fullest. Perhaps it could be the reason why Brazilian players are moving aboard quicker than they are used to. Having to adjust to the style of Europe is no longer a concern with these players and given the way Malcom has started his career at Bordeaux, we could be talking about him as one of the best players in Europe very soon.