The production line of Brazilian talent shows no signs of abating and Gremio appear to have produced another sensation that will be playing in Europe within seasons.
All the talk in recent weeks at Gremio has been of Douglas Costa, an attacking midfielder being tracked by Real Madrid and Manchester United, according to a number of reports.
But, Rafael Carioca is a player who has been consistent all season as a â€œvolanteâ€ (the Brazilian term for a defensive midfielder) and appears to be following in the footsteps of two former Gremio midfielders currently plying their trade in the Premier League: Liverpoolâ€™s Lucas Leiva and Manchester Unitedâ€™s Anderson.
At just 19-years of age, Rafael Carioca has been an integral part of the Gremio title challenge this season, showing maturity way beyond his years and a personality that has endeared himself to the Gremio fans. This 5.9ft box-to-box midfielder appears to have a bright future ahead of him.
Carioca has missed just one game so far this season as they have challenged for the title for the first time since they won Serie A in 1996 under Luiz Felipe Scolari. The marathon season has though taken its toll and the defensive midfielder has in recent weeks been struggling with a groin injury.
In a sign of just how far he has progressed in only one season of professional football, interest is hotting up for the defensive midfielder in Europe with Italian clubs Fiorentina and Genoa the latest to be linked. According to press reports in Italy, Viola chief Pantaleo Corvino watched him on a recent tour of South America.
In addition to the Italian sides, Spartak Moscow, Villareal and Stuttgart are also believed to be keeping tabs on the player. Any move for Carioca will be somewhat complicated as reports in the Brazilian press suggest that a businessman holds 30% of his license in a bid to make money when the midfielder does end up in Europe. According to IMScouting, Cariocaâ€™s contract runs out in 2012.
Like many Brazilians, the young Gremio midfielder is known by a nickname as his real name is Rafael de Souza Pereira, he seems to have been given the â€œCariocaâ€ surname as a result of being born in Rio de Janeiro in 1989.
The Gremio number eight started his career playing in Pao de Acucar, a small club in Sao Paulo. He then moved to the Gremio Under-20 team in 2007 and was one of the star performers in the Sao Paulo Under-20 Cup â€“ considered one of the most important competitions for youth players in Brazil. Carioca received rave reviews because he was the captain of the team and on the pitch was a real leader.
The current manager of the Porto Alegre club, Celso Roth, has shown much faith in Carioca. The Gremio number eight is in good physical condition and has, as expected from a Brazilian, great technique to defend and start attacks. He very rarely gives away fouls and in 32 games this season has received just four yellow cards.
The European media appear to have a fascination with whoever is labeled â€œthe next step over kingâ€ from Brazil, to follow in the footsteps of Ronaldinho, Kaka or Robinho. But, if one takes a look at the current Brazil team, it is clear that Dunga lacks all-round midfielders who can defend and go forward with equal ability.
Carioca drives his good friend Douglas Costa to training every day and whilst the latter has tongues wagging in Europe, it is Carioca who could well be a solution for the national team and a player who could be more successful in his own right, once he makes the expected move to Europe.
Video evidence of Rafael Carioca can be seen here.