There is something about Brazilian football that demands players to showboat.
They do so naturally and without thinking; a little bit of flair when it wasn’t necessary, a chip when a ball along the ground would have sufficed, a perfectly executed panenka.
A long line of Brazilian footballers have come to Europe seemingly just to entertain and to play for the sheer love of the game.
To them, the pitch is a street or a school playground where the aim of the game is to constantly outdo your mates with a bit of skill more outrageous than the last.
Arise, then, Ajax‘s Antony: the next great Brazilian showman.
The 21-year old arrived in Amsterdam last year and after a season developing and adapting to the Ajax Way™ he has burst onto the scene as their next fully-formed, tricky young winger.
Nothing highlighted it more than his performance last night against Borussia Dortmund, which was flooded with the little moments that make you love watching football.
Chief amongst them was when he decided to bring down the ball in a totally unnecessary but truly brilliant manner.
With the game on its way out and Ajax leading, Antony watched as the ball looped up high towards him. It would be easy for any normal, self-respecting professional footballer to simply bring the ball down.
But Antony is a young Brazilian winger strutting his stuff for Ajax, and normal is therefore not an option.
Not stopping his stride, Antony watched as the ball came down. His first thought was not to bring it down safely but to go for the extravagant, the unnecessarily indulgent, and the typically Brazilian.
Jumping to meet the ball, he wrapped his right foot under his left, Ronaldo-chopping the air, to cushion the ball perfectly into his path and to bring it under his close control. Craque.
Antony first touch ✨https://t.co/9aYgCJ10sF
— Kamil Rogólski (@K_Rogolski) November 3, 2021
This was so much more than a skillful performance from Antony, however. He gave a complete display as Ajax came from behind to beat 10-man Dortmund in Germany and secure passage to the round of 16 with two games to spare.
He was involved in all three Ajax goals, all three made by his outrageous crossing. The first saw him cut the ball onto his left before whipping it in from the right-wing. The dangerous ball skimmed off Marin Pongracic’s head and was turned in at the far post by the stretching Dusan Tadic.
The second goal was almost identical save for the fact Antony would be awarded the assist, another left-footed cross from completely undoing the Dortmund defence as Sebastian Haller headed home.
With the game all but over, Antony laid the ball up for Davy Klaassen to tap home in added time to wrap up the three points.
Antony’s game by numbers vs. Borussia Dortmund:
100% long passes completed
80 total touches
77% pass accuracy
5 crosses attempted
4 ground duels won
2 chances created
Such a special talent. 🇧🇷 pic.twitter.com/4PUW9mFAis
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) November 3, 2021
Antony was awarded man of the match and rightly so. The only mark on an otherwise complete display was his slight over-exaggeration when Mats Hummels challenged him early on and was sent off.
The veteran German was not impressed by Antony’s theatrics when he went down.
“I was in complete disbelief, that’s an absurd wrong decision,” he told DAZN after the game.
“This is a farce, this is ridiculous. He’s a super footballer, but he still needs to learn how to be a sportsman.”
Even if he needs to learn how to be a sportsman, he certainly doesn’t need to learn how to be a footballer.
His central role in this impressive Ajax side has, as with every player who performs well in the modern age, led to a tsunami of articles linking with a move to any number of top-level clubs from Bayern to Barcelona to Manchester City.
But he won’t leave this Ajax side mid-season – why would he? This is another side Erik ten Hag and Ajax have quietly built into a seriously impressive team with a mixture of young talent and players who were supposedly finished.
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Ten Hag, who you also can’t imagine leaving mid-season no matter how many ‘big’ clubs come calling, has described this team as a “more solid” one than his semi-finalists of 2019 and after four wins from four in their Champions League group, it is easy to see why.
Antony’s youthful, Brazilian brilliance is the epitome of this evolved and rebuilt Ajax side. Coming in for cheap from Brazil, developing for a season, and now a vital part of an entertaining, impressive European team.
Eventually, Antony will leave Ajax, and so too will Ten Hag, both for big money.
But Ajax fans won’t worry too much; some other exciting winger and tactical genius manager will step up and take their places.
Like the circle of life, the cycle of Brazillian wingers and Dutch tacticians will carry on.
By Patrick Ryan