Leo Bonatini

Leo Bonatini: Unknown Brazilian lighting up the Championship

When you think of Brazilians in English football, Premier League trio Philippe Coutinho, Gabriel Jesus and Willian immediately come to mind. But just a level below, in the Championship, lies another. Leo Bonatini quietly lighting up the English second tier.

Wolverhampton Wanderers took a huge gamble bringing in Bonatini on a season-long loan deal from Saudi Arabian side, Al Hilal in the summer. Though on the surface, the deal appears not to be too much of a risk, considering the Black Country club hired 11 other players alongside the 23-year-old. But unlike the rest, the Brazilian was unproven at the highest level, albeit with an impressive goal return everywhere he played.

Born in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, in 1994, Bonatini joined Cruzeiro’s youth setup in 2010, aged 16. He dazzled as a youngster and two years later, earned a dream move to Italian giants Juventus. Bonatini joined the Turin club on a season-long loan deal with an option of a permanent move. But sadly, he only appeared once for the club’s Primavera youth side before returning to Cruzeiro.

After that, he headed out on loan again, this time to Goiás. Bonatini made his debut in the Brazilian Serie A aged 19. In two loan spells at the club, he bagged five goals in 27 appearances overall. But his next loan move would prove far more fruitful and saw him emerge as a deadly forward. Bonatini shone at Portuguese side Estoril, where he hit 20 goals in 37 games during the 2015/16 campaign after initially arriving on loan the season before.

However, in June last year, he made a surprise move to the middle east. And there again, he stood out. Such that only four players racked up more goals in the division. He notched 15 goals in 36 appearances as his club comfortably finished in first place.

But perhaps the biggest shock was when Wolves came for his services in August. Nuno Espirito Santo had linked up with the super agent, Jorge Mendes, in a bid to save Wolves’ ailing fortune. Two-time Premier League champions, Wolves finished in a shameful 15th place the previous season. And surprisingly, Bonatini was the man elected to spearhead the new era.

And that big decision appears to be yielding dividends. Whilst he’s not particularly a standout striker or someone you would immediately label as top quality, Bonatini flaunts an incredible track record of getting the job done. So far, so good, he hasn’t disappointed with 10 goals and four assists in just 14 starts for the club. Interestingly, he’s notched six of those in his last six matches.

Bonatini scored in every October fixture, against Aston Villa, Preston, QPR and Norwich. He struck twice against Preston North End which meant he averaged more than a goal a game throughout the month. He has continued that hot streak in November, putting him on the verge of equalling a post-war club record for scoring in consecutive games if he nets against Reading next time out.

Put in perspective, Bonatini has had a hand in almost half of the 29 goals scored by Nuno’s team, who are flying high on the summit of the Championship. He currently leads the division’s goalscoring chart. More startlingly, he’s garnered more goals than his more-celebrated compatriots in the upper echelon of English football.

Bonatini’s fine form saw him scoop the league’s Player of the month award for October, sweeping 56% of the fan vote.

About the Author Toby

An unrepentant soccer freak other freaks call geek.

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