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How Man Utd are beating Euro rivals to Brazil's best kids - and saving millions in the process

It may not have happened for Rafael Leao at Manchester United, but that doesn't mean the Desportivo Brasil experiment is about to be ditched.

Instead, barely a month after announcing Leao would be returning to Desportivo Brasil after a year in England, United are preparing to welcome a new batch of youngsters as part of their tie-up with the Traffic-owned Brazilian club.

Two of the teens, Lucas Evangelista and Aguilar, are already regarded among Brazil's brightest young talents. The pair are members of the national U17 squad, with Lucas likened to Santos star Paulo Henrique Ganso and centre-forward Aguilar winning national best player awards since he was 14 years of age.

United's partnership with Desportivo Brasil was established in 2009 - and actually inspired by Arsenal. United chiefs, even today, admit they were fortunate to sign former Fluminense twins Rafael and Fabio da Silva from under the nose of the Gunners.

"United had followed the twins for a very long time," said an anonymous Brazil-based scout to Terra. "Arsenal were also interested, but in the end United signed them for a helluva lot of money, which Arsenal refused to pay."

Now, United use the expertise of management powerhouse Traffic and Desportivo Brasil to identify and recruit likely prospects. In exchange, Desportivo receive a 50 per cent cut of any sell-on fee - should they make it at Old Trafford.

Those identified by United are invited twice a year to England to spend a month with the club's academy. Ages range from 17 to the newly spotted Patrick, who is still only 14 and will be part of the group for the first time this month.

Along with Patrick, Lucas and Aguilar, Bruno Gomes, also an U17 international, and Agnaldo will join them for the training stint. All were recommended by United's chief scout in Brazil, John Calvert-Toulmin, who is now working closely with Desportivo Brasil management.

The chance of a career at United is a big lure for any talented youngster. But the Desportivo Brasil setup goes beyond simply a football education.

Aguilar, for example, was immediately enrolled in a private school when he chose to join Desportivo from Cruzeiro and is now learning English as part of his course work. As one whose tied to 'Project Manchester', he also undergoes specialist 'English training', which is specifically designed to prepare them for the rigours of the English game.

Still only 15, Aguilar will move to Europe at 18 - whether that is to United or one of Desportivo's other partner clubs, which include FC Twente of Holland.

"FC Twente is a partner and helps United to solve the problem of players without European passports. After two or three years there, they can be considered European. And of course, it is easier to operate in the Dutch Eredivise," said Traffic's President of International Business, Joche Lösch.

"Manchester United are looking for young players in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. If they find a good player, they come to us and register him with Desportivo. The agreement includes the signing of the player at age 18 for a fixed value by Manchester United.

"If a player becomes a Pato, they have a good saving, because we'll honor the contract. If they do not like him, we are left with the athlete."

Like Aguilar, all of United's prospects have a history, including fellow striker Bruno Gomes. Taken from Corinthians, Bruno Gomes actually attracted a £400,000 offer from Palmeiras last year - which Desportivo threw out. The teen had his spell at United last season and like his teammates, is regarded highly at both ends of the partnership.

Twente already 'house' one player identified by United in Gladstony. The attacking midfielder joined Twente last year and though some administrative problems have affected his progress, he could actually begin preseason at United. Gladstony has secured an Italian passport, courtesy of his grandfather's background, and is expected to join United for preseason training before manager Sir Alex Ferguson decides whether to keep him involved or send him away on-loan.

The 18 year-old is impressing for Patrick Kluivert's reserve-team at Twente and there is now a push for Steve McClaren to hand him a first team debut. Whatever happens, Gladstony is sure to be a trailblazer for a unique partnership involving international club football and player management.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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