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Why Barcelona are losing Gabigol race to Chelsea, Man Utd and Arsenal

Coaching staff at Santos rate him the best they've seen since Neymar. Robinho has declared him "blessed". And Barcelona thought so highly of him they paid a premium just for first refusal.

But with a year-long transfer ban now looming, Barca as Gabriel Barbosa's next destination is rapidly becoming more and more remote.

It's no coincidence that with a ruling over Barca's appeal against their FIFA transfer ban soon due, there's been an increased presence of Premier League scouts at Santos games. Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal all had their Brazilian representatives attend Santos' home defeat to Cruzeiro earlier this month.

With those close to Barca's appeal fearing the worst - and Santos directors admitting the need to sell to balance the books - English rivals can smell blood.

VfL Wolfsburg have also been mentioned. But while German interest can be confirmed, tribalfootball.com can reveal the representation is from German-based agents with close connections to not only VfL, but also Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich.

For his part Gabriel, dubbed Gabigol by teammates and fans, is taking the intensified interest in his stride.

"I leave all this to my father, with my agent. Everyone knows, my family knows, you know. The whole world knows that I want to stay with Santos. It depends only on Santos. I'll leave it with them," says Gabigol, whose contract, despite months of negotiations, is due to expire in June.

"My interest is to stay, everyone already knows this. I've been with Santos since childhood."

Still only 18, Gabigol has this year enjoyed a record of a goal in less than every two games. An achievement all the more remarkable with Santos coach Enderson Moreira employing his star teen in a variety positions. Gabigol has excelled at striker, but also can play as a No10 and is comfortable on both flanks.

Enderson says: "Gabriel has extremely high quality, is a good finisher and also provider. He knows where the goal is, but, obviously, as a new player he has things he needs to build on to make the most of a professional career."

Enderson admits the interest from abroad could unsettle the youngster.

"At the current time, it can hinder, or cause disruption. The player needs to be concerned only with the pitch and what he does is in training, he has some aspects to improve."

He may be a new name to consider in Europe, but Brazilian football has been aware of Gabigol since his early teens.

At 16, he headlined a national campaign for Gatorade and also counted on endorsement deals with local mobile phone and electronics companies.

Former Real Madrid and Manchester City ace Robinho, after a decade in Europe and upon returning to Santos from AC Milan, knew all about his young teammate.

"Gabriel is a blessed boy, a top grade player, I believe we will have no difficulty (playing together), because he is very skilled, he has an ease in scoring goals," enthused Robinho.

"I need to get myself ready to help him."

Barca directors knew he was something special and negotiated first option on the then 16 year-old as part of their massive deal for Neymar last year.

The option was the stuff of Spanish speculation until Gabriel, himself, confirmed the agreement in February this year.

"Someday I hope to become a Barca player. I've dreamed of this since I was little, from the moment I started playing football. The Spanish have already shown interest in signing me.

"I've always followed with admiration Neymar, my idol. He gave me a lot of help in my first few months here in Santos, before moving to Spain."

But Barca's transfer ban is now threatening the deal.

The Spaniards were given the 14-month suspension from working the 2015 transfer windows after being found to have breached rules on signing international players under the age of 18. The case is now in front of the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

And while Barca would happily wait until January 2016 to take Gabigol to Europe, Enderson warns Santos cannot afford to indulge the Catalans.

"Santos are experiencing financial difficulties, and we cannot afford to keep a player when they have good deals abroad," conceded the coach just last week.

And encouraging for the likes of Chelsea, United and Arsenal, the option between Barca and Santos is not watertight. Victor Andrade and Giva were also part of this €7.9 million agreement struck in 2013, but Andrade was released by Santos to join Benfica this past summer.

Money is tight for Santos and while his contract is split with a third party, it will be a relatively routine negotiation for English clubs with his registration owned 60 per cent by Santos and the remainder by the Barbosa family.

And as Enderson mentioned, no matter the protests from Barca, if Jose Mourinho or Louis van Gaal decides Gabigol is worth a punt, nothing will stop Santos from listening to offers in January.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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