Having partnered one Juan in the Brazil defence for the best part of a decade, Inter Milan centre-half Lucio will soon be teaming up with another one at the San Siro. The Juan in question is the 20-year-old Juan Jesus, currently regarded as the finest young central defender in Brazil.
Such was his commanding form in a relatively brief spell with Porto Alegre giants Internacional that the new Juan has already put pen to paper on a four-year deal with the mighty Nerazzurri. The chance to link up with the Brazil captain, himself a graduate of the Colorado youth ranks, is one the up-and-coming youngster is relishing, particularly as he has often been compared to the rangy stopper.
“It’s all a bit weird isn’t it?” he tells FIFA.com, having switched one Inter for another “People have always spoken about the Lucio-Juan partnership, and it’s going to carry on, albeit with a different Juan. It’s been a talking point whenever I’ve played for Brazil’s youth teams. I used to joke with the kitman Barreto: ‘They don’t need to make a kit for me. Just get them to send Juan’s from the World Cup’. Barreto would laugh and tell the others that I already had a big pile of jerseys with the name Juan on them and that they didn’t need to change anything.”
Joking aside, Juan Jesus is determined to make his dream of playing side by side with Lucio a reality. A member of the Brazil side that won the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011, he has represented his country on many occasions and believes he has the class and stature to break into Inter’s starting line-up, a belief that grew stronger when he met his idol for the first time.
“It was an incredible experience for me,” he said. “I’ve just been to Italy to sign the contract and I went to the cinema with my friend Coutinho, who I know through the national team, and his wife. Lucio came along too, with his wife, and I thought he was a really nice guy, very down to earth. It’s going to be an honour for me to play with him,” he continued. “It’s going to help me grow as a player and as a person because he’s a role model and the captain of A Seleção.”
Two peas in a pod
Aside from the position they play in and their backgrounds at Internacional, Lucio and Juan have several other things in common, among them their size and playing style. Standing 6’1 tall, Juan is just an inch shorter than the veteran, and, like him, has acquired a reputation for being the most committed of players and for bringing the ball out of defence and linking up with his team-mates in attack.
Though that desire to get forward means he gets his fair share of scoring opportunities, it also infuriates his coaches, something he seems prepared to accept: “I like to attack, and if I’ve got the space I’ll come out of defence. If the situation’s a bit dangerous, though, I’ll stay back. The thing is though, if I have to get forward and Lucio does too, then we’ll just have to put up a sign saying ‘The defence will be back soon’(laughs).
“I’ll need to read the game well because it’s different to Brazilian football,” he added. “But I’m sure it’s going to be a fascinating experience and one he [Lucio] can help me with.”
Though a loan move to Novara was mooted, Inter’s new signing is itching for an early opportunity to prove himself in the famous black-and-blue stripes. “The results of my medical tests were very good and the doctor recommended that I stay here,” he explained. “They’re looking to get things sorted out quickly and as soon as I’m ready, I might get straight into the team, against Marseille on the 22nd, who knows?”
The chance to dovetail into an Inter defence also containing compatriots Julio Cesar in goal and Maicon in the right-back slot is one that clearly excites the youngster: “Like anyone else who comes to this club, I just want to play. If [Walter] Samuel is suspended or someone’s injured, then there’s no reason why I shouldn’t get my chance. They have a four-man defence but I can play full-back too. Full-backs in Italy don’t get forward as much as they do in Brazil.”
With a ticket to the London Olympics with A Seleção among his objectives, as well as a starting place at one of the world’s strongest club sides, Juan Jesus is setting his sights high.
And should he achieve his lofty objectives, he intends to stick around: “I’m young, strong and quick, and from what they’ve told me about the project, they want me to go and do what [Javier] Zanetti did 20 years ago (laughs). Whenever I play video games and see the titles that you can win, like the Serie A and the Champions League, I start thinking about them. It’s going to be fantastic for sure.”