The Vancouver Whitecaps have signed Brazilian box-to-box midfielder Caio Alexandre from Botafogo. the reported $4.4 million fee is the second highest the club has ever paid. By all accounts Alexandre is pretty good but it’s a move that creates a lot interesting questions about the direction this Whitecaps team is headed. So let’s dive into what he brings to the team.
Alexandre, 22, broke through in the Botafogo senior team last season. He quickly established himself as one of the club’s top players, playing 40 games in all competitions and chipped in with four goals. Despite this, Botafogo look destined for relegation; Which is probably the reason he was available to the Whitecaps at all.
Style of Play:
Botafogo’s most common formation last season was a 4-3-3. Alexandre usually played as one of the more advanced #8s or as part of double pivot in a 4-2-3-1. Because he is a young Brazilian, someone has cut together a very long highlights package that consists of just about everything good he did over the course of last season (and a bit from his time with the reserves).
Yes, this package is curated, but it makes it pretty clear what Alexandre’s general strengths are. He is a zone mover. He picks up the ball from a defender, or wins it back himself, he then turns and moves the ball up the field. Often Alexandre will drop between the centre backs to receive the ball and distribute it. He often follows up his forward passing with a run into the box, which is why he generates a lot of xG for his position, so he also adds some goals from the midfield.
Here is how some of Alexandre’s stats would compare to MLS midfielders if his performance in Brazil translated directly. The Brazilian first division is a higher level in MLS so you can reasonably expect an increase in these stats in MLS. (N.B I used Paul Riley’s xG model, which is not the most detailed but it was the best I had access to).
As we can see, Alexandre is a lot more orientated towards attacking than Vancouver’s current crop of centre midfielders. He generated a lot of shots for how deep his starting position usually was for Botafogo, and is a reasonably good dribbler. His defending, however, was not anything to write home about. He attempted a lot of tackles but his success rate was only 50%. With this skillset, and based on what Manuel Veth’s sources are telling him, it seems very likely that Vancouver will deploy him as a more attacking box to box midfielder.
Here is how Alexandre compares to the veritable army of centre midfielders the Whitecaps have.
Alexandre and Owusu are somewhat similar but Alexandre is much more creative, as you can see by the discrepancy in key passes. Owusu is a bit more willing to attempt a dribble but their success rate is about the same. Both players attempt a lot of tackles but neither is all that adept at actually making them.
A humorous contrast, Bikel and Alexandre couldn’t be more different.
Baldisimo and Alexandre are somewhat similar in that they both come deep to get the ball and progress it. But Alexandre tends to get up the field and join in the attack, whereas Baldisimo usually stays in deeper areas, so Alexandre has a lot more direct involvement in chance creation.
Thanks to Peter Galindo, we are also able to see some more advanced data on Alexandre.
For the most part this radar tells us what the other chart told us. But the radar reveals just how effective Alexandre is at pushing the ball up the field. Deep progressions are defined by Statsbomb as “Passes, dribbles and carries into the opposition final third per 90 minutes.” I’m just assuming Wyscout is talking about the same thing (they usually are but sometimes there are differences). 8.9 deep progressions per game is crazy. Keven de Bruyne is averaging 8.71 for Manchester City this season. No Whitecaps player came even close to that many deep progressions in 2020.
I believe it was Baldisimo with 4.5 (in a tiny sample size).— Peter Galindo (@GalindoPW) March 8, 2021
This all becomes more impressive when you consider that Alexandre is playing for the worst team in the Brazilian league. You can’t imagine he has a great supporting case. Now, this is not to say that Alexandre is as good as Kevin De Bruyne, he’s not. But, he’s clearly really good at a skill that the Whitecaps have specifically struggled with for...well for quite a while.
based on his stats and video I would expect Alexandre to be an above average MLS box to box midfielder. I would anticipate somewhere in the range of 2-5 goals and a handful of assists depending on his minutes and role in the squad. His main contribution will be his ability to progress the ball up the field. I don’t think it’s terribly controversial to say the Brazilian league is a better level than MLS, and the Whitecaps are not as bad relative to MLS as Botafogo are to the Brazilian league, so an improvement in his overall performance can be expected.
So Many Centre Mids
The Whitecaps now have a logjam at centre midfield, though Alexandre profiles quite a bit differently from the players they currently have. Manuel Veth’s report included the fact that Alexandre is not the #10 the club has been after and negotiations are ongoing for that player. So there’s still another midfield player yet to come. There will be a lot of call ups and fixture congestion so depth is a good thing. But people are wondering how all of these players are going to fit together when everyone is available for selection. I have come up with some options (assuming Bruno Gaspar is signed and a DP#10 are signed).
Option 1: Heavy Metal Football:
I’m not sure how practical this formation would be in the real world but it looks like a lot of fun. Baldisimo, and Alexandre are both all action midfielders who are very direct and don’t back out of a challenge (though their success in those challenges is mixed). You also have two quite attacking fullbacks in Adnan and Gaspar, and the front four has the ability to cause anybody problems. The only drawback is this formation probably doesn’t provide enough defensive cover. But maybe in a game the Whitecaps are heavily favoured to win, this could work.
Option 2: Defensive Solidity
If the Whitecaps are up against a team like LAFC, or any other team with the potential to drop 5 goals on you, then this lineup is a good way to maintain defensive solidity but still have the weapons to hurt the opposition on the counter. You have all of the good ball movement of the heavy metal strategy but add Janio Bikel for defensive solidity. The biggest downside is you have to sacrifice one of the members of the front 4.
Option 3: Balanced
The balanced option is probably the most likely. You get to keep the whole front four, the defensive solidity that comes with Janio Bikel, and the ball progression of one of Alexandre or Baldisimo. The biggest drawback of this system is you have to sacrifice one of Baldisimo or Alexandre.
Arcane MLS Rules:
Alexandre is coming in under the league’s new U-22 initiative. Since the Whitecaps have now signed more than one U-22 player and already have two senior DPs, their third DP must be either be under the age of 23 or he must be at the TAM/DP threshold*. This lends credibility to my theory that the player they are after is Leo Fernandez of Tigres.
Fernandez is linked with a move away from Tigres but as yet the Whitecaps are not one of the teams he is linked to.
Leonardo Fernandez, everyone’s favourite pick to be #VWFC’s new No. 10, is currently rumoured to be moving away from Tigres due to lack of playing time. Clubs he’s being linked to include Peñarol, Nacional, Universidad de Chile, Toluca, Cruz Azul, & the Columbus Crew ...— (@GlassCityFC) March 6, 2021
In any case it seems it’s time for the sleuths out there to start looking up U-23 attacking midfielders who might be about to move.
I guess that’s wrong, lol
So to confirm, the 'Caps are able to:— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) March 12, 2021
-Sign a third Young Money player alongside Caio Alexandre and Deiber Caicedo
-Sign a third senior DP alongside Ali Adnan and Lucas Cavallini, as they can buy down one of the two (likely Adnan)
Alexandre is yet another international player. With the signings of David Egbo, Javain Brown, and maybe Bruno Gaspar depending on what order they announce those signings in, the Whitecaps are officially out of international slots. In fact they are one player over their current limit. So if their DP #10 is an international then they need to make space for him. They can either trade for more international slots or move some international players out. I know people are stressed about the DP #10, so am I, but every time Axel Schuster is in front of a microphone he makes it clear the DP #10 is a priority so I am reasonably confident someone is coming in. With the signings of Cavallini, Adnan and to a lesser extent Bikel and Owusu the Whitecaps are clearly beyond the stage of not paying transfer fees for players. Whether they have the ability to bring in players who can be successful on transfer fees remains to be seen. I think the most probable solution to the international problem is a loan for Brown and/or a loan/transfer for Jasser Khmiri. Both players are already members of the senior national team for their nation so finding a taker shouldn’t be terribly hard for either.