Such has been the madcap nature of Chelsea’s spending under Todd Boehly, it’s all too easy to forget that Chelsea have snapped up one of the brightest talents in South American football. Brazilian dynamo Andrey Santos has the makings of a future superstar.
Go on, we bet you can’t name all 22 of Chelsea’s new recruits this season. It’s basic maths that not every one of their new signings will be a success at Stamford Bridge. But we’re willing to bet Santos will be among those that make it.
Chelsea received some criticism for shelling out a Premier League record £106million for Enzo Fernandez in January, given he arrived at Benfica six months prior for less than a fifth of that. Granted, Fernandez was exceptional in his half-season at Benfica and outstanding in Argentina’s World Cup triumph, but might Chelsea have identified his qualities at River Plate and saved themselves a lot of cash in the process?
To be fair to Chelsea, that’s exactly what they’ve done with Santos. Rather than waiting for the rising star to arrive at a stepping stone club in Portugal before multiplying his value, they went straight to the source to get the 18-year-old midfield powerhouse right now.
Santos had caught the eye at Vasco da Gama. Despite being a teenager making his breakthrough, he played a vital role in the club’s promotion to the Brazilian top-flight – just as Aston Villa’s star midfielder Douglas Luiz had done so before him.
“He’s a strong, box-to-box midfielder – I don’t think Vasco would have been promoted without him,” South American football expert Tim Vickery told Sky Sports when his signing was confirmed.
“But it’s a big step up. He’s not a player who will be ready for Premier League football yet. He’s only 18 – this is one for the future.”
He’s yet to make his Chelsea debut, but the £18million investment already appears a sound one.
In the weeks after putting pen to paper at Stamford Bridge, Santos shone as Brazil’s won the Under-20 CONMEBOL U20 Championship in February. A video of him giving a speech in the dressing room, showcasing his precocious leadership skills, went viral. He scored in the 2-0 final victory over Uruguay and finished the tournament as the joint top-scorer with six goals.
Andrey Santos' goal for Brazil U20 today may have been lucky and scrappy, but this effort that didn't go in was the more exciting highlight Chelsea fans want to see.
You can see a hint of why Juninho Pernambucano is enamored with Andrey's technique. pic.twitter.com/uzkg85IAVC
— The Elastico 🇧🇷⚽️ (@the_elastico) January 20, 2023
Now he’s been called up to represent the Selecao for the first time. He’s set to make his senior international debut in the upcoming international break.
But having failed to pick up a work permit, Santos has returned to his boyhood club on loan. Continuing his development in an environment where he’s proven to be comfortable could well be the best thing for him.
“We’ll take good care of him. It’s good for everyone,” Vasco’s director Paulo Bracks told Brazilian outlet UOL.
“It is good for Vasco to have a player with his talent, top scorer and captain of the South American winning team. It’s good for him, he’ll be able to play at a high level and say goodbye to the fans. And for Chelsea, having the player active here and will receive a better player than now. And it’s good even for the Brazilian national team.”
Not only that, but following Vasco’s promotion he’ll get experience of playing in Brazil’s Serie A – a higher level of club football than he played at before.
On the evidence of his sensational second debut – a 1-0 victory away at giants Flamengo, the reigning Copa Libertadores champions – Santos does not appear fazed by new and bigger challenges.
🔎 As ações defensivas de Andrey Santos (@04Andrey) vs Flamengo – Carioca 2023
💪🏾 Em sua reestreia pelo Vasco, foi sustentação defensiva da equipe com bom posicionamento para interceptar os passes, desarmar (6) ou subir a pressão.pic.twitter.com/9adOFARHii
— Footure (@FootureFC) March 6, 2023
“Andrey Santos is way above average. The kid is off the charts. What a little monster!” reacted noted Brazilian journalist Fernando Campos.
It’s been an uncertain time for Chelsea. You could charitably call the 2022-23 campaign an awkward transition between eras.
Jorginho has already departed and his era-defining midfielder partner N’Golo Kante looks set to follow when his contract expires in the summer. The World Cup winner was absolutely pivotal to the club’s most recent Champions League and Premier League triumphs, and despite his absence this season, saying goodbye will be painful.
But there are green shoots of hope and reasons to be optimistic for a future without Kante. Fernandez does not look cowed by his pricetag and has seamlessly slotted into Potter’s midfield.
A Fernandez-Santos axis could be Chelsea’s midfield sorted for the next decade. The sheer energy and dynamism of the duo is a frightening prospect for Premier League opposition.
We can’t wait to see what Santos can do in a blue shirt. But for now we’ll follow his progress in Brazil with great interest. He looks an immensely exciting young player.