Sky Sports exclusive: Lille president Gerard Lopez speaks to Alan Myers about Everton target Gabriel Magalhaes, the club's summer transfer strategy, and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic
Friday 17 April 2020 10:50, UK
Lille president Gerard Lopez believes Gabriel Magalhaes is on track to join a "really big club" amid interest from Everton.
Carlo Ancelotti's side remain one of the favourites to land Lille's young Brazilian centre-back, who has featured in the Champions League, playing twice against Chelsea in this season's group stages.
The 22-year-old joined Lille from Brazilian side Avai for £1.5m in 2017 and has become one of the most sought-after young central defenders in Europe.
Speaking exclusively to Sky Sports, Lopez said: "It's true that he would like to go and try something else out. We haven't taken that decision yet, but he's received a number of offers. I feel he's closer to one club than others, but nothing's done yet so we'll see.
"I wouldn't want to say any more as I respect the player too much. The mechanism I have in place, and we saw that work so well with Nico [Nicolas Pepe], is that I have a certain price in mind for a player, and at the end of the day it's the player's choice to go and play where he wants to play - that's the respect that I have for them.
"I feel he is among the top five dominant central defenders in Europe right now. His statistics, which aren't well covered outside of France, shows that his percentage for winning duels is pretty unheard of in a league that's extremely physical.
"He's an absolute machine, so to me, he's well on his way - if not this year - to potentially a really big club. I'm certain he's on his way to the Brazilian national team at some point.
"He's been linked to two clubs in the UK and he's clearly been linked to other clubs that have either enquired or moved forward with proposals for him. But we're not in a hurry and we're not playing right now. The player isn't on the pitch."
Lille have historically been successful in the transfer market with Arsenal signing Pepe last summer for £72m, eclipsing the previous highest transfer fee received when Eden Hazard joined Chelsea for £31.5m in 2012.
The club were in the process of securing potential deals before the coronavirus outbreak - and Lopez was asked how the pandemic has impacted upon any incomings and outgoings.
He added: "It wouldn't have happened until the opening of the summer transfer window, but we've seen activity - a lot of activity as a matter of fact.
"I've been talking to a number of very big clubs who, like big companies or big institutions, take situations like this as a potential opportunity to strengthen themselves going forward.
"We were never going to sell more than three or four players this summer, and I feel that's still going to hold true. Somebody asked me if I saw there being a decrease in value [of players]... but that's not come up in the discussions I've been having.
"We've been working on things, and I'm confident of closing some of those deals in the next couple of weeks."
International caps: None - capped at Brazil U20 level
Gabriel started his career at Avai, a side who currently play in the second tier of Brazilian football.
After 21 appearances, he made the move to Europe in January 2017, signing for Ligue 1 side Lille for a fairly modest fee of £1.5m.
Gabriel initially struggled to adapt to senior football at Lille and went out on loan twice - first to Troyes, where he spent the first half of the 2017/18 season, before a temporary move to Dynamo Zagreb in January 2018.
First-team opportunities continued to evade him, moving between the reserve and senior sides before returning to Lille for the start of the 2018/19 season.
Gabriel took his time to cement himself in the side, not starting a Ligue 1 game until February 2019. But he has not looked back since; forging a relatively successful partnership with former Southampton player Jose Fonte at centre-back.
After a seven-year absence, Gabriel helped Lille qualify for the Champions League in 2018/19, finishing second in Ligue 1 to PSG.
Gabriel has continued his ascent this season, with a string of impressive performances both domestically and in the Champions League.
No Lille player has attempted more forward passes this season (578), while only his defensive partner Fonte has completed more passes than Gabriel's 1220.
A team-high 243 of those were completed as long passes into the opposition half, meaning he would fit in well with Everton's focus on carrying out quick transitions under Carlo Ancelotti.
The Brazilian scored in Lille's 2-1 win at Strasbourg in February, and he has been an aerial threat at set-pieces throughout the campaign. Only five centre-backs have had more attempts on goal than the Everton target (17).
Lille currently lie fourth in Ligue 1, one point off Rennes who occupy the final Champions League spot. Should Lille secure a passage to Europe's premier club competition for a second successive season, it will be in no small part down to their talented young Brazilian. Even if it transpires to be a parting gift.
Gabriel signed a new deal with Lille in January until 2023, and he has already responded to reports linking him with a move to the Premier League, telling Brazilian outlet Globo Esporte: "I just renewed the contract.
"I heard about conversations, I saw things on websites in England, but I have my head in Lille. I'm very calm to finish the season well and to achieve great things next season."
Ancelotti will no doubt be impressed by Gabriel's character.
At the age of 13, he showed dedication to his career by taking a 12-hour bus journey to Florianopolis to join Avai having been born and raised in Sao Paulo's Pirituba district. Upon his arrival at Lille, he taught himself French and now conducts interviews in the language.
Were it not for the coronavirus pandemic, Gabriel would have featured for Brazil's Under-23 Olympic side in friendlies set up against Croatia and Egypt this month. The year's long-term goal was to defend the gold medal won at Rio 2016 in Tokyo.
With the sporting event now postponed, another obstacle emerges. Gabriel turns 23 in December, meaning he will not fall within the age group to play football at the Games, but the hope is that the International Olympic Committee and FIFA will make exceptions for those who would have been eligible to play this summer.
Lille decreased their goals conceded per match in Ligue 1 after February 3, 2020. From December 5, 2019 to this date, they were at 1.67 goals conceded per match.
Since then, they are at 0.33 goals conceded per match. Gabriel played in all but one of those six games, with Lille's only defeat in that time - a 2-1 loss to Marseille - the game he missed.