In its long and glamorous history, Brazilian football has had a trend of creating world class fullbacks. Carlos Alberto Torres, Cafu, Roberto Carlos, Dani Alves and Marcelo are just a few examples. A 20-year-old player born in São Paulo and brought up in Terrão (Corinthians’ youth academy), Guilherme Arana is one of the possible successors of Marcelo’s number 6 jersey once he retires.
Accustomed to challenges after breaking bread with Malcom, today at Bordeaux, Arana has been through several setbacks in his childhood, setbacks that influenced the way he grew up as a person. He’s already shown the potential to be one of the greatest fullbacks in European football in just a short time, and it’s not an exaggeration to call him one of the best fullbacks of Brazil’s upcoming generation.
Before he made it to Corinthians’ first team, Arana was a standout player in the Copa do São Paulo Jr, the most important U20 competition in Brazil, in a U20 Corinthians team that had won 5 straight titles with the likes of Leo Jabá and Gabriel Vasconcelos. Today, Arana forms a formidable left side next to defensive midfielder Maycon.
Arana debuted for Corinthians’ first team at the age of 18 against Recife, a 3-2 win. Tite was Corinthians’ manager at the time and he already saw in that young athlete the potential to become one of the best at his position in Brazil. Better yet, in 2014, Arana was already on the bench for the Copa do Brasil and Brasileirão at the request of Mano Menezes.
After a few shaky performances to start his time with the A squad, it was believed that the pressure of playing in the first team was too much for Arana, and management decided to send him on loan to Atlético Paranaense. There, he was able to gain more playing time and harden his skills with first team football. Even from afar, Tite would watch as the youngster started to develop the potential we all expected after his rise to the first team at the age of 16. In the 2016 season, with the exit of Fábio Santos, Corinthians asked for Arana to be recalled and he began to see more time on the bench and the field, gaining a lot of valuable experience. He didn’t play a lot, but he began to show quite the technical, tactical and mental evolution.
His first goal was against Palmeiras in a “classíco” at the Arena Palmeiras. When 2017 came around, Uendel was sold, and with a disappointing Brasileirão campaign that resulted in O Coringão missing out on Copa Libertadores for next season, Guilherme Arana assumed the number “6” shirt. Arana has surprised the Timão faithful with each passing performance, leading Corinthians to first place, ten points ahead of second-placed Grêmio. Still, the most impressive thing about Arana is his mentality. Whether it’s against Flamengo, Santos, or São Paulo, or if it’s against a bottom-dweller, Arana doesn’t crumble under the pressure of the result or the team he’s playing against. He was superb defensively in a 1-0 win against Palmeiras, and crucial in a 3-1 win against Recife, where he assisted for the equalizer and scored the go-ahead goal.
Offensively, Arana has improved his crossing ability; with 10 assists, Arana has the most assists across all competitions for Corinthians this season. With his ability to weave his way out of tight spaces, he has evolved into a superb technician for Corinthians, but his biggest asset is his decision making. You’ll hardly see Arana make a wrong decision, he knows when to pass, cross or recycle possession. His repertoire up front was on display in the 2017 South American Youth Football Championship, where he was the second-best goalscorer for Brazil, a nightmare for defenders on counter-attacks. Despite failing to qualify for the U-20 World Cup, Arana boasted his unique talent for Brazil’s U20 side in that January competition, foreshadowing his breakout 2017 season.
Arana was never the best defender, but with the help of Corinthians’ backline and the guidance of manager Fábio Carille, Arana’s evolution has been noticeable. He understands the concept of zonal marking, 1v1 defending and “La Salida Volpiana”-dropping in behind the midfielders to aid the first phase of build-up. This season, he has grown in every aspect of his game, becoming a complete left back for Carille’s 4-2-3-1.
Corinthians have a diamond in the rough that will be tested in tougher competitions next season, but the fact is, Guilherme Arana is the best left back in Brazilian football, and next year he’ll have the opportunity to play the Libertadores, should be resist temptation from European suitors this January. With Zeca, Jorge, Alex Sandro and Wendell, Arana has his work cut out for him if he wants to become Marcelo’s long-term replacement, but he has the ability to do so.
Guilherme Arana might not be as good going forward as Marcelo-he is, after all, the most skilled fullback in the world-or have the defensive prowess of Filipe Luís, or the speed of Wendell, or even the goals and assists of Alex Sandro, but Arana is a completely different player from all of them. As a player to model himself after, Sylvinho is Arana’s best reference. The former Barça player was an assistant coach at Corinthians during the 2013-14 season, and he helped him grow mentally and technically.
Characteristically, Arana is a balanced player and may be remembered like Sylvinho, but he’s got a far higher ceiling, and there’s no doubt that European clubs will be swooping for his signature this January. He is a player that adapts to his team’s needs, and if he keeps up his development, the next owner of the Seleção’s #6 will be him.
By: Gabriel Corrêa/ @_GabrielCorrea
Translated by: Pedro Pereira/@Peter1678