Sporting's Portuguese forward Joelson Fernandes (L) challenges Vitoria Setubal's Portuguese forward Zequinha Branco during the Portuguese League football match between Sporting CP and Vitoria FC at the Jose Alvalade stadium in Lisbon on July 21, 2020.
After reports emerged linking Joelson Fernandes to Arsenal, James Truscott takes a closer look at the winger with an in-depth scouting report.
As reported earlier on in the day, Arsenal are rumoured to be closing in on the €45 million (£40.9m) acquisition of Portuguese teenager Joelson Fernandes. The Gunners will face competition from both Juventus and Barcelona for the Sporting Lisbon player’s signature.
Having only turned 17 this February, Joelson’s opportunities in the first team for Sporting have been limited to four cameo appearances in the Portuguese top tier. However, he has been a mainstay of the club’s U23 side in which he is currently the youngest player, helping to guide them to third place in the Portuguese U23 league, Liga Revelação, with five goals and two assists in 28 appearances this season.
In addition to making an impression at club level, Fernandes has already started to make his mark on the international scene, progressing through the Portuguese youth teams since scoring on his U15 debut against Norway back in April 2018.
Sporting Lisbon's Portuguese forward Joelson Fernandes gestures during the Portuguese League football match between Moreirense FC and Sporting CP at the Parque Joaquim de Almeida Freitas stadium in Moreira de Conegos on July 6, 2020.
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In spite of the predictable comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo that come from being a Portuguese winger nurtured in Sporting Lisbon’s academy, the technical director of their academy, Joao Couto considers Joelson to be much more introverted than CR7. This is best summed up by Joelson’s apparent claims that his brother Sana, who is three years younger and also at Sporting Lisbon, is the better player out of the two of them. His brother is not the only familial tie he has to Sporting Lisbon, as his father Mango was an academy footballer there too before becoming a football agent and sports consultant.
Originally from Guinea-Bissau. like Barcelona’s own star teenage winger Ansu Fati, Joelson will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of the several fantastic wingers that have graduated from Sporting academy before him such as Ronaldo, Figo, Nani and Quaresma. But interestingly, it was central midfielder and new Manchester United favourite Bruno Fernandes who took Joelson under his wing at Sporting and mentored him.
What's he like as a player?
Although he has mainly been deployed as a left-winger by Sporting, he has also had stints on the right due to being adept with both feet.
Skillful, tricky and possessing a burst of pace, Joelson enjoys taking on the defender, often either to cut in or to attack the byline and fire in a cross. However, he is also comfortable picking the ball up from deep and using his vision to pick out a pass to on an onrushing teammate.
His diminutive stature of 172cm and fairly skinny frame may cause doubts over his physicality and how he would cope with that particular aspect of English football, but given his age, you would think that he has more than enough time to adjust and work on the physical side to his game.
Fernandes’ lack of height also means that he is not a threat in the air so while he may be versatile and able to play on both wings, he might not be of much use in a central attacking role.
Where would he fit in at Arsenal?
Arsenal fans may be disheartened by recent failings but one source of optimism for them has been the involvement and progression of numerous young players that have either been signed recently or been promoted from the academy. Considering most of them are attacking players, it may cause concern that the signing of Fernandes would diminish the first-team action given to the likes of Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli or Reiss Nelson. This is especially due to the likelihood that Fernandes would probably want to be involved in the first team straight away in order to tempt him away from Lisbon. On the contrary, it could be argued that the versatility of Arsenal’s attacking talent ensures that his involvement in the first team would not be to the detriment of another young prodigy. As an example, Saka is used at both left-back and left-wing, Martinelli can play on the wing or as a central striker and the same is true for Nelson. The latter even applies to an extent when it comes to the senior strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette.
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The biggest concern for Arsenal and their fans could be the asking price. TVI 24 had previously reported that the Gunners were hoping to secure Joelson for €13.6 million but Sporting insist that the player will leave for no less than his release fee of €45 million. However A Bola has since claimed that Arsenal are willing to match that hefty release clause and have sent negotiators to Portugal to broker the deal with the player’s agent, Kia Joorabchian.
These reports are worth scrutinising though, due to Mikel Arteta’s uncertainty over whether he will be given the requisite funds to strengthen his Arsenal squad in this transfer window. If that is the case, splashing out that much money on a relatively unproven teenager seems slightly unrealistic. Another factor that might make the transfer doubtful is an Instagram conversation Fernandes had with former Sporting Lisbon academy teammate Umaro Baldé, who he told a few months ago "I joined Sporting when I was 11 years old and I only think about leaving at 50."
If Arsenal manage to pull this transfer off it would be something of a coup and a good example of how Arsenal remain an attractive destination for the world’s top footballing talent even though they have had a few poor seasons. His skill and acceleration would certainly get fans off their seats when they are finally allowed to return to stadiums and he would add to an already exciting cohort of young players at Arsenal.