Both in January and over the summer, Matheus Franca and his representatives met with a raft of European clubs.
Chelsea, Real Madrid, Manchester City and Newcastle were all interested and Arsenal even reportedly lodged a £15million bid, but it was Crystal Palace’s offer the highly sought-after teenager was most impressed by. The Eagles pitched – and convinced – the youngster that Selhurst Park would be the best next step for his fledgling career.
Franca left Brazil’s most illustrious club, Flamengo, to join Palace on a five-year deal worth up to £26million. “I’m very excited for my first game”, he said on August 5. Yet 74 days later, that game has still not arrived.
There is hope now, though, that Franca’s recovery from a lower back injury is into its final stages and those first minutes as a Premier League footballer are mere weeks away. Soon enough, Eagles supporters will get their first glimpse of one of the club’s most exciting signings in recent years.
He can be moulded into whatever Palace want him to be
South American football expert Nathan Joyes
During his time in Brazil, the versatile attacker was utilised across the front line; left wing, right wing, as an attacking midfielder, and even sole striker. He joins Palace as a bit of a blank canvas.
“He can be moulded into whatever Palace want him to be”, says South American football expert Nathan Joyes. “He will probably win the fans over, because the best quality he has is his work ethic for the team.”
The six-foot teenager has a fearsome shot and is at his best when using his close control to navigate his way out of tight spaces. But it’s not
“His defensive work is a positive point”, Mario Marra of ESPN Brazil tells Standard Sport. “He is attentive to the objective of recovering the ball and putting pressure on his opponents.
“Flamengo always played in [the attacking third], and now he needs to work hard for the ball against opponents. If Palace have time and patience, he will grow and help a lot.”
The 19-year-old’s development over the past year was not aided by a turbulent time at Flamengo, in which one coach was sacked for punching a player in the face, and Franca played under three different managers.
Under Dorival Junior, Franca excelled on the left, beating players and showcasing his skill to enjoy a fruitful time in front of goal.
Game time was harder to come by during the tenures of Vitor Pereira and Jorge Sampaoli. Flamengo’s fervid, unforgiving fanbase would grow restless if Franca, who can drift in and out of games, had not delivered the attacking goods by the hour mark.
Palace supporters will be more generous to Franca, who is an investment in the future. He has been taking private English lessons and Palace’s medical staff have him on a new fitness regime to aid his adaptation to his new surroundings.
Given the injury crisis in which Eberechi Eze, Michael Olise and Naouirou Ahamada are all unavailable, the last month would have been the ideal time for Franca to be fit and playing.
Now, though, there is finally a chance for Palace to see their new signing in the flesh. His return from injury could be the welcome news Roy Hodgson has been waiting for.