For many of those players landed with the ‘promising’ tag at a tender age, there comes one particular period which is arguably the most difficult of their career to date. This involves making the leap from being a rising star to simply starring; leaving behind the ‘promising’ label to become a consistently great player; and turning success at youth level to triumph in the senior professional game.
A sizeable percentage are never able to make that transition, while many others spend years battling against the odds to turn their early promise into proven quality. However, for a privileged few, this leap forward is taken with such subtlety and spontaneity that it appears to come almost naturally.
One such case is the Brazilian Oscar, who at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012 has looked like he has been wearing A Seleção’s fabled No10 shirt all his life. The vast majority of Brazil’s attacking play has been channelled through the feet of the 20-year-old creator, who has been taking everything so easily in his stride it is hard to imagine he only recently broke into his country’s senior set-up.
“I know that I’ve been helping the team quite a lot,” said the midfielder, who earned his first senior Brazil call-up in September last year after starring in victory at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011, when speaking to FIFA.com. However, it was not until a series of pre-Olympic warm-friendly matches – against Denmark, USA, Mexico and Argentina, spanning May and June – that the schemer was given his first opportunities to shine as a starter.
It would prove to be just what the player needed to make his mark. “I put in some high-level performances in those friendlies,” said Oscar, with no trace of false modesty. “And I think that I’ve since proved at these Olympics that I’ve got the ability to become the No10 for the senior Seleção too.”
Much of the esteem in which Brazilian football followers hold Oscar is due to his distinctive playing style: the way he dictates the tempo of a game; his precision passing and his unerring decision-making.
“He’s the genuine playmaker that Brazilian football has spent years searching for,” said Carlos Alberto Parreira, coach of Brazil’s winning team at the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA™ and a member of FIFA’s Technical Study Group here at London 2012, in conversation with FIFA.com. “We’ve not had a real No10 for a long time. There were hopes initially that Ganso could be that man, but the injury problems he’s had have prevented him doing that yet. Now that Oscar’s on the scene, Brazil finally have that player.”
Calm and humble in person, though confident enough to back himself when required, Oscar describes his style of play as that of a string-pulling No10, such a rare breed in the modern game, rather than a withdrawn forward in the mould of Kaka or Ronaldinho.
“But here at the Olympics I’ve not exactly been given a fixed position. I tend to start a bit further forward and, when the game gets tighter, Mano [Menezes] gives me the freedom to go and look for the ball,” explained the Paulista-state native, who claims to have always played the same way since he was a child. “Yes it’s true, I wasn’t like the others. I’ve always been a passer, ever since I was a little boy. (laughs) When I play a decisive pass it makes me really happy, because I know how big a part I’m playing. Scoring goals is great, but I really love making assists.”
In addition to helping Oscar continue to cement his claim to A Canarinho’s No10 shirt, the run towards Saturday’s Olympic Football Tournament final at Wembley has given fans of his new club Chelsea the chance to see him at closer quarters. “It’s really cool to be playing well here in Britain, it’s given me a lot of confidence. I hope I’ll be able to experience plenty more good times on these pitches during this new and challenging phase of my career,” said the ex-Internacional de Porto Alegre player.
Before turning his focus to the Blues, however, Oscar would dearly love to guide A Seleção to a first ever Olympic footballing gold. Up against them are Mexico, a team which Oscar and four of his Brazil squad-mates here at London 2012 (Gabriel, Danilo, Bruno Uvini and Juan Jesus) faced in the semi-finals at Colombia 2011.
“What’s more, we also played a recent friendly against them (which Brazil lost 2-0),” said the playmaker as the interview drew to a close. “They’re always a very tough team to play against and, because we’re talking about a final, there’s no question of there being a favourite.”