This summer marked the return to football management of none other than Marcelo Bielsa. After a 10 month hiatus, the enigmatic Argentine was appointed head coach of French outfit Lille LOSC, and his first order of business was to recruit fresh, exciting, young talent.
In a window that saw the arrival of no fewer than 13 players, it was perhaps Lille’s first signing that got Bielsa’s tail wagging the most. Purchased alongside two other Brazilian compatriots, left-footed attacking midfielder Luiz Araújo has already lit up the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in what has been a dazzling start to life in Europe.
Araújo was born in the municipality of São Paulo and first broke into the professional game via local club Mirassol. Four years at Leão da Alta Araraquarense helped the budding adolescent hone his craft and further develop an already impressive technical aptitude. Spectacular academy displays caught the attention of regional behemoth São Paulo F.C., who moved swiftly to secure the precocious player’s signature.
The City, dubbed ‘terra da garoa’ – meaning ‘land of drizzle’ due to its subtropical climate – was about to experience yet another storm. Only this time, lightning was not courtesy of the heavens, but instead, being provided by Araújo and his electrifying feet. He continued his mesmeric youth performances, and having already laid claim to the under-17 Copa do Brasil, added the under-20 title to his trophy collection.
His most impressive conquest, however, came in the form of the under-20 Copa Libertardores. The winger’s combination of close control and turn of pace proved too much for defences to handle as he danced and scurried his way past one challenge after the next. He also demonstrated an unerring final product – rarely seen at such a tender age – as he finished the tournament’s top-scorer with a haul of 5 goals.
São Paulo had seen enough and decided it was time to blood their starlet into senior football. Grêmio Novorizontino were the grateful recipients as Araújo was duly loaned to the club for the remainder of the 2016 Campeonato Paulista. Here he learned the importance of working as a collective unit and improved the defensive aspects of his game. Standing at only 5′ 9″ and possessing a slender build, physicality has never been a strong point of Araújo’s game, but his unrelenting determination to track back and help his teammates speaks volumes about his character. Think Riyad Mahrez’s skillset coupled with the work ethic of Alexis
Sánchez – not to say he’s of that calibre, but to give you an idea of the sort of qualities Araújo brings to the table.
The remainder of 2016 and the start of 2017 saw Araújo back at São Paulo, representing O Clube da Fé 41 times in all competitions and notching 7 goals. Deployed predominantly on the left flank, the wideman has the ability to hug the touchline, stretch play, and cut inside to create chances. He is also fond of a long-range strike, often attempting the catch the keeper flat-footed from outside the area.
This brings us to the summer of 2017, where Lille, in a state of transition, earmarked Araújo as the ideal candidate to kickstart Bielsa’s revolution. The manager is known for his meticulous scouting and ability to unearth gems, as showcased throughout his time in Mexico where he was appointed director of football at Atlas and held responsible for building the clubs youth system. With a fee of around €10.5 million agreed, the quicksilver winger made the transatlantic switch to northern France. Araújo’s golden ability to play in tight spaces married with a team-orientated, winning mentality will have no doubt endeared him to Bielsa, who is as much about collective effort as he is individual brilliance.
Throughout an iconic career, the Argentine coach has always maintained his core footballing philosophy of aggressive, vertical attacking play, and team cohesion. Placing great emphasis on such a physically demanding game-model has not come without its critics though, and many have accused Bielsa of ‘burning out’ his players in the latter stages of seasons gone by.
The average age of Lille’s summer signings, however, is 22 – a clear indicator that the coach is looking for an injection of youthful energy to bring his ideals to life. Pre-season was a success and Araújo played a starring role, both scoring and assisting twice. Ligue 1’s curtain raiser pitted Les Dogues against Claudio Ranieri’s Nantes and, operating wide left in a 4-2- 3-1 formation, Araújo shone. It was a nervy start for the Brazilian, perhaps overly eager to impress, as he tried to dribble his way out of trouble in the defensive third, before being robbed of possession and conceding a dangerous chance.
Howbeit from there on out, he settled. Combining exquisitely with left-back and fellow league debutant, Fodé Ballo-Touré, the duo dominated the left channel with the Parisian defender overlapping his further advanced teammate at every opportunity. Araújo would go on to open the scoring in the 26th minute with a beautifully placed cross-goal finish, only to see his dream start to life on the peninsula dismissed by the lineman’s flag.
The second half brought with it yet more opportunities as it became apparent Bielsa’s tactic was to overload down the right, before switching play to Araújo, who could then pin his marker one-on- one. Lille found themselves 2-0 ahead going into stoppage time before they would add a third in a move started by Araújo himself. His decisive through-ball found Ballo-Touré, who then supplied a wonderful low cross to the feet of Anwar El Ghazi to finish with aplomb.
A further five appearances since that magical debut have yet to yield a goal or assist, but Araújo’s performances have got everybody talking. The Lille faithful are slowly becoming enamoured with their South-American jewel whose tricks and flicks, alongside his ball recoveries and passion, have seen him become an instant hit. Nethertheless, as cliché as it sounds, Araújo is still very much a diamond in the rough. His early showings have been promising to say the least, yet one can’t help but feel this is just the tip of the iceberg.
In Lille, he has a club who can offer him the platform to showcase his abundant ability regularly in one of Europe’s ‘top 5’ leagues as he looks to emulate the career trajectory of the club’s former protégé, Eden Hazard. And in Bielsa, he has a coach who will work him relentlessly in order to extract every ounce of magic from his feet. Luiz Araújo, remember the name.
By: Charlie Carmichael/@CharlieJC93