From the Handbook: Marcos Antônio
This profile was originally published in the sold-out Scouted Football Handbook: Volume III, originally published in August 2019. You can buy a digital copy of the book here.
CAREER IN REVIEW
Marcos Antônio first emerged on the global scene after the wonderful Under-17 World Cup campaign he enjoyed with Brazil in 2017. His country claimed third place, while their prodigious midfielder claimed Scouted Football’s Bronze Ball award in our end of tournament awards.
After his stellar showing in India, only FIFA regulations on the transferring of minors would mean that he would remain in Brazil for another season. However, not long after his 18th birthday, Antônio was off to Portugal, where he joined second division club GD Estoril. Strangely, he played just six senior games for the Portuguese club. Commitments to the Brazilian under-20 team for the Sudamericano in January took precedence, before Estoril then allowed the 19-year-old to train with Shakhtar Donetsk ahead of a potential move. His transfer was subsequently made permanent, with Antônio joining a host of Brazilian players already at the club, first managed by Portugal’s Paulo Fonseca and now fronted by compatriot, Luís Castro.
Antônio played five games for Shakhtar to close out the season after arriving in February, despite facing stiff competition for minutes from the established midfield duo of Taras Stepanenko and Alan Patrick, while also jostling for position with Maycon.
The only player younger than Marcos Antônio to play more minutes In the Ukrainian Premier League last season was Ibrahiim Kane
It has been a whirlwind: from Club Athletico Paranaense in July to Shakhtar in February, via Estoril. His 2018/19 season culminated in the Ukrainian Cup final, in which the he played the full 90 minutes as Shakhtar swept to a decisive 4-0 victory. He also claimed the first league title of his career, and it should be the first of many for a midfielder with such enormous potential.
STYLE OF PLAY
Antônio is a small but spritely midfielder that commands play from the base of midfield. He is zippy and agile when changing directions, allowing him to be effective in tight spaces as he takes the ball forward. For a small player, he uses his body smartly when shielding opponents from the ball, while his sublime first touch aids him to create space for himself when receiving the ball in traffic. His touch often leaves a pressing opposition player wrong-footed, giving the Brazilian an extra second to make a composed decision. Furthermore, he is comfortable knowing where the space is to control his first touch, as he is always doing quick scans of his surroundings as he moves into position to present for the ball. Because of this, while he likes to take up possession at the base of midfield, he is potent when transitioning forward through crowded central areas. It also means he has total confidence in presenting for the ball at all times, knowing that no situation is too difficult for him to escape.
In traffic, he holds up the ball well, aiming to draw players towards him to open up space for others. Occasionally he is guilty of taking too much time to play the ball. This can spell trouble when he is deep in midfield, exposing his defence to a quick counter-attack. At the same time though, this needs to be balanced with how willing Antônio is to be progressive in possession. He does not shy away from trying to break lines with incisive short passes. He is really well-suited to teams that aim to keep the ball on the ground and patiently play through opposition defences. Other than the occasional switch of play, the 19-year-old almost always plays the ball along the ground. And his passes going forward are rarely longer than 10 metres; but they are always crisp. He is clearly right-foot dominant though, so he will need to be wary of teams showing him onto his left.
Antônio does not relent on the defensive side of the game either. He has an enormous engine, allowing him to be particularly effective covering back in defensive transition situations. He is aware of what positions he needs to take up to slow down these attacks, but can be rash in committing to challenges when he has little coverage behind him.
Interestingly, he has been utilised at the other end of the field to press at goal-kicks. Setting up to defend, Fonseca used the Brazilian midfielder almost in a striker position, putting him to task to immediately apply pressure to short targets. It really worked well, as Antônio is quick and does not have to worry as much about over-committing to challenges as he does in defence.
There is a tremendous balance to his game that allows him to suit a variety of roles in midfield. Clearly, he is most comfortable at the base of midfield, trotting between the centre-backs to pick up possession and splay passes forward. However, his lung-bursting runs and excellent first touch and make him an equalLy dangerous threat forward of centre.
FORECAST FOR THE FUTURE
Having just arrived in Ukraine, Antônio now needs to focus on permanently embedding himself into the Shakhtar starting line-up. A pair of serious injuries to Maksym Malyshev and a compatriot, Maycon, will help him, but he still faces firm competition for a role in midfield from the experience duo of Taras Stepanenko and Alan Patrick.
The 19-year-old looked like he was becoming a per-sonal favourite of Fonseca’s, before his summer departure for AS Roma. He will now need to re-establish himself under Luís Castro, who remarked at his unveiling that he shares a similar style to Fonseca. If that holds true, Antônio should have no issues fitting in under the tutelage of his new manager.
But the Brazilian still awaits his big break. Castro has started the season opting for a system with Stepanenko and Alan Patrick holding down the midfield places. Antônio does not take long to leave an impression, though. He will undoubtedly get his opportunity to shine once Shakhtar start to compete on multiple fronts with Champions League and Ukrainian Cup fixtures on the horizon.
But after two rollercoaster years since he graced the Under-17 World Cup, he should now be settled at a club that has become a home away from home for Brazilian footballers. Now, when called upon, he simply has to play his best football.
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