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Chelsea loanee Nathan on what went wrong in Europe, what’s gone right in Brazil, and his future

In the spotlight

Palmeiras v Atletico MG - Brasileirao Series A 2019 Photo by Miguel Schincariol/Getty Images

Even these days, it’s not often that a player can make the jump directly from Brazilian to English football — usually there are a few intermediary steps in Portugal, Ukraine, or Italy, for example — but that was precisely the case for young Nathan in 2015, who joined Chelsea directly from Atlético Paranaense.

However, unlike fellow Brazilians who trod the same path, such as Kenedy or Oscar, Nathan was not granted a work permit and thus had no choice but to start his Loan Army journey, which continues to this day.

He first joined Chelsea B Vitesse, where many others from Cobham had taken their first steps as professionals. But Nathan found it difficult to get things going in the Netherlands, and the same happened in France (Amiens) and Portugal (Belenenses), where opportunities to impress on the pitch were few and far between. Last year, Nathan returned home to Brazil, joining Atlético Mineiro, and his situation has steadily improved ever since.

Now, Nathan can look back with the clarity of hindsight on his European travels, and the various factors that have made his time there unsuccessful.

“Certainly, the climate (laughs). Football itself is not something that gets in your way. [Going on loan in Europe] brings opportunities to learn about different cultures, and different schools of the game.

“It is language, climate and being away from family that end up [being bigger obstacles]. But as a professional athlete, I never let myself down by these circumstances, since they are part of our footballing career.

“And on the pitch I noticed differences in competitiveness, playing styles, tactical discipline.”

Brazilian football has been undergoing a fair bit of “soul searching” for quite a few years, since neither the national team nor coaches have been able to find much success outside of South America. Additionally, the arrivals of former Benfica coach Jorge Jesus, and Marcelo Bielsa “disciple” Jorge Sampaoli — and their ongoing success — has thrown the entire football scene for a loop.

“Brazilians understand football as our own thing, as a form of entertainment and not as much as a science. Of course things change, with technologies helping us even more [in the game]. But the passion and love for the sport are strong characteristics of Brazilian culture.”

Palmeiras v Atletico MG - Brasileirao Series A 2019 Photo by Miguel Schincariol/Getty Images

At Atlético, Nathan has become a regular by playing out of his original position. The attacking midfielder was turned into a more deep-lying central midfielder by his (now former) head coach Rodrigo Santana, who first opened the doors of Galo’s starting eleven for him this year. This sort of versatility is not seen too often in most Brazilian midfielders.

“Throughout my career I played in a more advanced position, but every athlete wants to play. My characteristics on the pitch allow this versatility in midfield, and I thank Rodrigo [Santana] for this opportunity even though this is not my original position, because this shows that he understood that I can help the team in more than one role from advanced midfield.”

Nathan’s loan contract at Atlético ends in December, at the end of the Brazilian season, and his Chelsea contract ends in June, at the end of the European season. He’s talked recently about wanting, hoping to stay in Brazil, but he knows he needs to keep up his good form in order to have any chance of that happened, to show that he truly deserves a place in the (scorching hot) Belo Horizonte sun.

“We renewed my contract midyear, and I feel good here at Galo. My representatives are the ones who handle these things.

“My focus is on the pitch, since I depend on it to stay at the club. I have a lot of affection for Atlético and I like Belo Horizonte. I hope everything goes well, and that we are able to continue the work here.”

At 23 years of age, Nathan knows that he still has a long career ahead of him, perhaps even back in Europe eventually, but only if he is able to put in the work and show that he deserves another shot at glory.

“I like playing in Brazil, but my age allows me to have plenty of objectives in football. For now, I prefer focusing on the work here at Galo.

“We have a good relationship with [Chelsea], and they respect our wishes and interests. I want to play more here and let the pitch show new paths for my career.”

-Nathan; source: UOL Esporte

Best of luck to Nathan at Atlético, who also count former Chelsea striker Franco Di Santo among their numbers, for the rest of this season. They currently sit mid-table, six points above the relegation zone and ten points below sixth place, which is the last Copa Libertadores spot. They are mired in a four-match winless slump at the moment, though the last three of those games were all against teams in the top six, including Sunday’s 4-1 defeat to Gremio. Nathan did score in a 1-1 draw with second place Palmeiras last weekend.