Joelson Fernandes: The Lowdown

The 17-year-old wizard has been drawing attention across Europe for well over a year now and for good reason. The latest club to show interest and perhaps the club whose interest is the most concrete to date, is Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal. His release clause currently sits at €45 million, however, with his contract expiring in 2022 and his agent being Kia Joorabchian, a man with close ties to Arsenal, it’s quite possible that we could see Joelson switch green and white for the red and white of North London.

As the rumours surrounding Arsenal and their alleged intentions begin to quicken, Aaron Barton for Próxima Jornada gives the full lowdown on Fernandes, the latest prodigy from Alcochete.

The Story and the Statistics So Far

The 17-year-old Bissau born man has come through the ranks at Sporting CP’s famed academy, Alcochete and along the way has earned flattering comparisons to fellow Alcochete graduate Cristiano Ronaldo. His response to these comparisons (which first appeared in Record) seem to paint Joelson as a humble and focused individual: “It is true that being compared to these players puts a little extra pressure on me…I try to follow their (players he’s compared to) example and play the best I can in each game.”

This season he has played for both Sporting’s U23 side in Liga Reveleção and for Sporting’s senior side in the Primeira Liga. His 28 games for the U23 side brought 5 goals and his exciting performances convinced new manager Rúben Amorim to involve him in the senior set-up, handing him his official first-team debut in a 90th-minute cameo against Gil Vicente. This cameo meant Joelson became the youngest ever player to feature for Sporting, the record-holder before him? Cristiano Ronaldo, not a bad player to take the record off. Since his debut, he has featured in three of the last four games, playing 24′, 12′ and 27′ minutes respectively.

Although he was born in Guinea-Bissau’s capital city, Bissau, Fernandes has followed in the footsteps of fellow Bissau man and Arsenal target Danilo Pereira in opting to represent Portugal at international level. He has represented the junior Seleção sides at U15, U16 and most recently at U17 level.

The Player Profile

Joelson is equally adept on the left or right of midfield, for the Sporting U23 sides he has played a large chunk on the left-hand side of an attacking three but he can also be found on the right-hand side such as in the game for the senior side v Moreirense. Plying his trade out on the left, despite being naturally right-footed, means he can often cut inside on his favoured right to engineer a shooting opportunity or to play a killer pass. He will often drift both with and without the ball from the left into the middle of the pitch, around the number 10 position, either to get on the ball or to offer another central option. Through this movement and the subsequent pulling of the right-back out of his position, allows an often unoccupied Sporting left-back to go direct down the line, stretching the pitch and causing chaos for the opponents. If the option to come inside is blocked off, he has demonstrated on previous occasions that he is also adept at taking the ball down the line and putting in a cross with his left. This versatility is what makes him dangerous, he doesn’t rely solely on just one attribute such as pace or dribbling but instead chooses his weapon of choice depending on the particular situation he is faced with. 

In the clip below, Joelson is operating this time on the right-hand side and uses his dominant foot to jink past several defenders and create a shooting opportunity.

He has a very good turn of pace which allows him to get by his man and when coupled with his very direct dribbling style, it presents a frightening prospect for opposition defenders. His talent with the ball is evident, his relatively small stature (5’6″) helps him maintain a low centre of gravity, his twists and turns almost appear erratic at times but it is more often than not Joelson who is in total control of the situation. 

His decision making is something that is developing and will continue to develop as he plays more senior football and matures, at present, he can sometimes be guilty of overplaying, for example coming back inside/outside whilst on a jinking run and with the defender seemingly already beaten. This is to be expected with an explosive, raw talent whose footballing experience up to this point is mostly in youth football, not senior. 

For Mikel Arteta and Arsenal, this would be a move for the future and with his first team chances being solely dependent on how quickly he acclimatises to England and the change in style. This is not a player who is going to come to the Emirates and walk into straight the first team, Arteta knows that and the Arsenal board knows that. What the deal does give Arsenal however is a player with an immensely high ceiling who, given the right conditions to learn and develop in, could play a major role in the Arsenal first-team set up for years to come. Is Joelson the finished article? the answer is quite obviously no. If he does move to North London, his development and transition into the finished article will be well worth a watch in itself.

Aaron Barton

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