Gabriel Barbosa has always believed in himself. After scoring his first Inter goal, he claimed he had come to Milan to make history. In a way he did, it just wasn’t with Inter. Instead, after loan spells at Benfica (also a disaster) and Santos, he found himself winning the Copa Libertadores with Flamengo.
Now, with his loan running out on December 31, the question will be asked - can he return to Inter and make a name for himself or will he be sold? If so, where to?
For the Nerazzurri, they potentially have a win-win on their hands. Firstly, Gabigol’s form in the Copa Libertadores has put him back on the map. Liverpool, Arsenal, West Ham United and Crystal Palace have all been linked this week, along with multiple other European clubs. The Brazilian’s form could certainly help Inter recoup the €29.5m they paid for him back in 2016, and that in itself would be a victory.
On the other hand, why would Inter not want to hold onto the bright young thing who has been shining so brightly? Surely he would benefit the Beneamata, especially as Alexis Sanchez is still on the treatment table, leaving little cover for Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku. Yet general manager Beppe Marotta begs to differ.
“We see Gabigol in the same way that we see Lautaro, a player who is growing year by year,” Marotta recently remarked. “His loan ends in December, after which we will carefully evaluate what to do with him. It’s unlikely he will be part of our project, but he has several proposals.”
How did it come to this? How did the 23-year-old make such a bad impression in such a short space of time, and how can winning South America’s biggest club competition not redeem him of his sins? In 2016, Gabriel was viewed - along with Gabriel Jesus - as the biggest talent to come out of Brazil since Neymar. Inter won his signature and yet he played only 89 minutes over nine games. He scored once and did have a few moments where he got the fans on their feet, but still he was cast aside.
In his defence, his 16-17 campaign was marred by upheaval off the field as Inter not only changed owners but also coaches no less than four times. However, rumours also started to emerge that he wasn’t fit, lacked professionalism and couldn’t settle in Italy.
Eventually he was loaned to Benfica, where he played only once, before moving back to Brazil. In the glimpses we have seen of the South American, he’s played like a relic from yesteryear, showing no fear, always wanting the ball and entertaining crowds. Like former Napoli hitman Careca or even Paris Saint-Germain icon Rai, you simply don’t know what he’ll do next.
Herein lies the problem. Antonio Conte is the last coach who wants a player he can’t control. There is no room for an ill-disciplined, ball-juggling crowd pleaser in this regime and there is even less time for a disruptive presence in the dressing room. From the first time Conte would have heard the stories about his general lack of application, he would have ordered every security guard to send him away.
There is no denying that Gabriel Barbosa has talent, neither is there any denying that he could be an asset for a top side - just not in Milan. Inter and Marotta are doing what they have done best so far, showing no mercy. This is a player who simply doesn’t fit the mould, so the club will want to recoup as much money for him as they can, ship him out and reinvest. The Nerazzurri probably accept he may become a superstar, but it won’t be at Inter. Gabigol will simply be Gabigone.