The Curious Case of Daniel Fuzato

Per reports from RomaPress, Daniel Fuzato will terminate his loan at Gil Vicente in Portugal's Primeira Liga and return to Roma, having played for 0 minutes in Portugal and seeking a new loan in Serie B for the rest of the season. Upon hearing the news, several commenters at CdT and elsewhere in the Romaverse have claimed that this should not be a cause for celebration, but for concern. After all, if Fuzato cannot earn his starting spot in Gil Vicente, what hope does he have of coming good? While there is some inuitive merit to this argument, I will seek to point out where it makes sense and where it fails.

TL;DR: In sum, I believe that very little could be gleaned from Daniel Fuzato's failed time in Portugal, and that he actually does continue to have significant promise relative to other young goalkeepers.

Argument: Why should I care?

Two words: Alisson. Becker. If Fuzato comes good, he can solve Roma's problems in net for years to come or fetch a pretty decent sum in the transfer market. If he's bad, it's only 500,000 euros down the drain, but it does mean we go back to the drawing board at goalkeeper. Sign up for more Olsen or Pau!

Argument: Daniel Fuzato's inability to play in Portugal suggests he won't come good for Roma.

As I understand it, the argument here relies on the idea that Gil Vicente is a club which was struggling for goalkeeping last year, and who plays in a lower level league than Serie A. Fuzato's Brazilian background means that he would also be in a country where he speaks (a version of) his native tongue, theoretically increasing the likelihood of success. Despite all of this, Fuzato was never able to stake a claim to any minutes at Gil Vicente. If we assume that clubs will play the most talented player, this suggests that Fuzato was never good enough to play for a club like Gil Vicente, even in meaningless fixtures. Given that, what hope does he have of coming good at a place like Roma?

Counter-argument: Fuzato's lack of playing time can be explained by factors other than simply "him not being good enough".

One important thing to remember about Fuzato is that he was brought to Gil Vicente on a dry/direct loan. As a result, no matter what happened Fuzato was headed back to Roma, without any chance for Gil Vicente to buy the player if he performed well. Given that, Gil Vicente was not invested in Fuzato's success, and had no reason to play him even if he was better. Instead, it was better to continue to build around a player they owned (Denis), fine tuning their tactics with him rather than ripping it all up to develop a player they knew they could not use after this year. In addition, goalkeepers are unlike other players: they do not have a chance to "sub in" for garbage minutes so the coach can see what they're made of under live fire. For a team like Gil Vicente, it's entirely possible the coach felt they always needed their No. 1 in net, which would have completely frozen out Fuzato through no fault of his own.

Argument: Dry loans are no reason to not play a player. Look at Roma: Mkhitaryan and Smalling were both dry loans, and yet we integrated them into the lineup as key players!

The argument here relies on the idea that dry loans are no problem, and that Roma's situation with Mkhi and Smalling can be analogized to Gil Vicente. There are a few reasons why each of these are untrue. First, as noted above, Fuzato received a major vote of confidence from Roma leadership, being given a new deal until 2023 before he went on loan. In contrast, Smalling and Mkhi were both not considered important pieces by their team -- there was no contract renewal to signal faith, and rumors of transfers had been swirling around both for a while. Both were considered deadweight that the team wanted to cut bait on, suggesting that if they performed well in Rome Roma might actually try to buy them (as did actually happen). Second, neither Smalling nor Mkhi were actually completely dry loans. Both involved payments from Roma, ensuring that Roma actually had a financial stake in using the player. While this may come out later, there is no indication thus far that a similar provision was in place for Fuzato. This lack of investment meant he was effectively a free wildcard for Gil Vicente that they could spend a year developing, but would not get anything back for. Given this, it makes sense why Gil Vicente would avoid using Fuzato in favor of their own player (Denis), even if it potentially could cost them goals.

Now, let us turn to the reasons why Fuzato likely still has promise.

Contention 1: Fuzato is young.

While not particularly top of mind, it bears noting that Fuzato is all of 23 years old, practically a baby by goalkeepers' standards. While it would have been amazing if Fuzato had taken the starting job at a top flight club, doing so would have been a sign more of being incredibly mature for his age rather than an expected track. A more plausible hoped for outcome was likely that Fuzato could be used as a backup and see minutes in cup competitions, but the gameday decisions of Gil Vicente's coach proved those hopes unfounded.

Contention 2: Fuzato was only there for three months.

Sometimes, it takes players time to bed in to a new club. Famously, Alisson saw very few minutes at Roma behind Woj in his first season here, and now he needs no introduction. If Fuzato had been at Gil Vicente long term, it would have given him the chance to bed in and take the starting job, and would have given his new club an incentive to play him.

Contention 3: O Selecao

Whether or not you think Fuzato has any promise, he clearly has some powerful backers in the Brazilian national team. In the last few years, Fuzato has been called up at least twice to the senior squad by Tite to play friendlies, despite his young age and complete lack of appearances (save for that night in Turin). At those camps, Fuzato had the opportunity to train alongside Ederson and Alisson, two of the best goalkeepers in the world, and even played against Egypt in a recent friendly with the U-23s. Regardless of your thoughts on the matter, it is obvious that being called up for any national team, much less Brazil's, suggests that the manager sees real promise in the player, if not outright ability. One possible reason this may be circumvented is in the case of dual nationalities, where managers might cap tie a player early to avoid losing out on them later. However, this does not apply to Fuzato, who only has Brazilian eligibility as far as I am aware. If Tite is calling him up to these camps and letting him play, it must be on merit.

Counter-argument: Those Brazil callups mean nothing if they routinely give starts to young players!

This counterargument is true. If we can establish a pattern of Tite regularly calling up young, unqualified Brazilians as players, then it is possible he is only calling up Fuzato as part of an established pattern. However, this doesn't seem likely. From Wikipedia, I pulled the age of every goalkeeper called up to the Brazilian national team in 2020. In order of their ages, they are: 23, 27, 28, 30, 33.

This list gives us a few key pieces of information. First, Tite is theoretically open to giving 23 year olds an opportunity with the senior team. Ivan, the 23 year old on this list, is captain of Ponte Preta, a team in the Brazilian Serie B. However, this list is highly skewed towards established players, and generally older players. The next two players on the list are Ederson and Alisson, respectively, two of the best goalkeepers in the world even two years ago. The last two players are Santos and Weverton, respectively, who have both been around forever in Brazil. All three of the third goalkeepers in this list are based in Brazil, suggesting that Tite wants to reserve the bottom of his goalkeeper callup for players in Brazil.

In general, it appears that Tite has a bias with his goalkeepers towards highly established keepers, and for his backups to be playing in Brazil. These dynamics make it difficult for Fuzato to be called up, as a young, non-established keeper playing outside Brazil. He has no shot at unseating Ederson and Alisson atop the rotation. In the third spot, Tite's preference for highly established keepers means that veterans and those playing on lower level teams will be preferred to Fuzato.This is unsurprising, but makes it interesting that Fuzato was called up, and suggests that Tite saw something he wanted to look at more closely.

Perhaps moving to the U-23s will shed some more light. Here, unsurprisingly, goalkeepers have very few appearances to their name, with more or less all of them in roughly Fuzato's boat. However, in the last calendar year, only two of those goalkeepers have received caps. One is our very own Daniel Fuzato, who played in the aforementioned Egypt game. This is not a team that likes to spread the caps around, suggesting that if Fuzato is playing, he's earned his cap as a thought of leader in his cohort.

In sum, this suggests that the Brazil setup at minimum views Fuzato as a competitive option at the U-23 level, with his callup to the senior squad a year ish ago a good sign that they do back him to improve. His cap against Egypt suggests that he's considered a leader at the U-23 level, but not established enough to justify a full international callup just yet.

Contention: I still can't get over the 0 appearances for Gil Vicente. Even if you take all of this into account, 0 appearances is bad.

It is! But think about the kind of places loanees usually go when trying to develop. Usually, they go to a Serie B side, or some other second division side around the world. Regardless of what one thinks about Gil Vicente, a mid-table side in the Portuguese league is undoubtedly a step up relative to that level of competition. Roma and Gil Vicente both had to agree to this loan as well: the fact that they did suggests that both sides thought there was a plausible chance that Fuzato could start, speaking volumes about his level of quality. Indeed, both sides only benefit if they think Fuzato can start: Gil Vicente would not take on the extra player if they did not think he could produce, and Roma would not have sent him out if they did not think he could develop. Given his experience shuttling between first team trainings and Primavera starts, this would have been in the form of first-division gameplay and nothing less. The fact that Roma is recalling him, moreover, suggests that they explicitly expected first team gameplay, suggesting that they thought Fuzato was at that caliber. If you think "Fuzato wasn't good enough", there is a breathtaking amount of faith from any number of institutions to be dealt with.

Contention: This writeup is way too long. What are you trying to say? Wrap it up.

Oveerall, nobody is suggesting that Fuzato's Gil Vicente loan wasn't a failure. However, Fuzato's history suggests that he likely retains some promise. While his Gil Vicente loan was cut short, his ability to even be in the conversation where that is a plausible loan is impressive. Likewise, the behavior of the institutions responsible for evaluating Fuzato at club and country have routinely betrayed belief in him. While this return to Roma is non-ideal, it's not plausible that this failure is an indictment on Fuzato the player. Instead, more plausible explanations can be found. Fuzato has promise. Now, it's just a matter of unlocking it.