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Scout's Notebook: Cabral

In the third part of our series looking at the strengths and weaknesses of Sunderland's rumoured transfer targets we take a look at Cabral of FC Basel.


Adilson Tavares Varela, or Cabral as he is more commonly known, is not a name that was linked with Sunderland until it was announced in the Swiss press last week that he had signed a 4-year-deal with Paolo Di Canio's side. FC Basel then look to have confirmed the midfielder's move, via their official Twitter account, before their last game of the season on Saturday.

With Cabral's move to Sunderland looking like a certainty, what do we know about him and what kind of player can we expect?

Cabral is the son of Cape Verdean immigrants who arrived in Switzerland when he was just seven-months-old. The 24-year-old, who holds Cape Verde and Swiss citizenship, started his football career with the FC Moudon and FC Etoile Broye youth sides, initially as a striker before converting to his now familiar central midfield role.

He then joined Lausanne-Sport in 2001 and progressed through the youth ranks before making his debut in the 2005/06 season as a substitute in a 5-4 win against Winterthur. Despite a couple more substitute appearances that season he didn't make his breakthrough into the side until the following season, where he made 23 appearances in the Challenge League (the Swiss equivalent of the Championship) and impressed enough to earn a move to FC Basel.

Cabral struggled to make an impression in his first season at Basel, with their manager Christian Gross rarely using the midfielder. At the beginning of the following season, a lack of playing time meant he jumped at the chance when he was offered a loan move to Sevilla 'B' in Spain's Segunda Division. A move which Cabral says was vital in his development;

The year in Spain has changed me. Before leaving, I tended to do everything for show, I did not know what a healthy lifestyle was, I was going out with friends, using bogus excuses to miss a workout.

But when you're young and you've got the money ... I did not know anything.

In Seville, I found myself alone in a country that lived football, which breathed football. When I returned to my studio, I said hello, and the only answer I heard was the echo of my voice. There was only one point that I cried.

But I got it, if I wanted to succeed, I had to live football as a religion.

He then explains just how much football, his wife and friends kept him on the straight and narrow;

Football saved my life, I could have gone wrong.

Seville changed me, but it is also thanks to Nora, whom I met shortly before leaving [for Seville].

She came to see me there as much as possible. I owe her a lot, she calmed me before I lost it. She has ambitions for this life of mine. When I met her, she did not know much about football, or even that I played. She thought I was playing football like everyone else, with friends. She did not choose me for my picture.

I also know that I have some friends here, who took care of me, who told me to go home rather than stay to smoke or drink.

After 22 appearances for Sevilla Atlético, he returned to Basel to find Christian Gross replaced by Thorsten Fink. With a change of manager and an all-round improved game thanks to his year in Spain, Cabral finally started to make an impression in Basel's first team and has been a regular ever since.

However, despite being a regular and putting in impressive displays it seemed that Cabral's first team spot was always under threat from new arrivals, regardless of how well he had been playing. Cabral spoke of how he was supposed to lose his place every season;

Every time it was said that it will be difficult for me but then I still play at least twenty matches in the league as well as playing in the Champions League.

Due to his style of play, which we'll come to shortly, he never received the plaudits that his performances on the field warranted. Feeling under-appreciated, he started considering his options with his contract running out this summer. A situation Bernhard Heusler, the Basel chairman, fully understood;

I can quite understand that he carefully considered his options, he is at an important point in his career.

This season he has been very impressive.

Basel expressed their desire to keep the midfielder and faced competition in the form of Napoli, Udinese, Lazio and Porto but it was Paolo Di Canio's Sunderland who eventually won the race for his signature.

With all that being said, what kind of player is Cabral?

He's a holding midfielder by trade but is capable of filling in at centre-back. Cabral is a no-frills and uncomplicated kind of player, who you'll usually see patrolling just in front of the back four. Comfortable on the ball, without doing anything flashy. He will look to play the simple pass more often than not but will occasionally try and play a ball over the head of the opposing full-backs for the wingers to run onto, with mixed success.

Due to his position, he will undoubtedly be compared to Cattermole and Tiote but he is more disciplined than both. Less likely to charge after the ball than Lee Cattermole, Cabral will stick to his role in front of the back four and will usually display good judgement on when to run out of position to deal with a potential threat. He is also less likely to jump into tackles than Cheick Tiote, preferring to use his strength to ease players off the ball.

That does not man he cannot tackle, in fact by April of 2013, Cabral had made more tackles (47) than any other player in the Europa League.

Cabral's tactical discipline also meant Basel could allow one of their two central defenders to surge forward on occasion, safe in the knowledge that their holding midfielder would drop back into central defence until they returned from their foray forward.

In 222 senior appearances, Cabral has only scored 5 goals and provided 4 assists, a tally which would not surprise anyone who has seen him play. Very rarely will he show any attacking intent, preferring to protect the defence and give his team's attacking players a base to build on.

He does pick up his share of cautions though, with 44 yellows and 5 red cards to his name, but has never received a straight red in his entire career.

Cabral sees Sergio Busquets as a similar type of player as himself;

I do not complicate the game, my position does not allow for extravagances.

Sergio Busquets is certainly not the player of FC Barcelona that is spoken about the most. But for me he is the most important.

Something that the Basel coach, Murat Yakin, agrees with;

He plays an important role in the axis of the team, he is super interested and keeps asking me how he should move.

He has become the major player, who has developed because of the way he interprets his defensive job.

Although he is an accomplished holding midfielder, we now come to the biggest downside with Cabral and the current Sunderland squad, who could effectively partner him?

With goals and creativity already hard to come by in the Sunderland midfield, it would be difficult to fit in either Cattermole or Colback alongside him due to their lack of attacking prowess. Alfred N'Diaye could be effective in a box-to-box role but, despite often finding himself in good positions, his passing vision and goalscoring ability leave a lot to be desired. Then we have Gardner, Larsson and Vaughan, all of which must have a question mark over their future at the club.

That leaves either a change of formation or further activity in the transfer market. Whether we switch formation and maybe adopt a diamond shape in midfield, with Cabral in front of the defence and Sessegnon behind the striker(s), or bring in a more accomplished midfielder with a good range of passing and/or capable of getting in amongst the goals remains to be seen but this will be a problem that is sure to be at the forefront of Di Canio's mind.

To sum up;


  • Reads the game well
  • Very disciplined on and off the pitch
  • Lots of European experience


  • Will show no attacking intent
  • Question marks over whether he can be effective considering current Sunderland squad

As with our other imminent Bosman signings, Valentin Roberge and Modibo Diakité, Cabral looks to be an astute purchase by Sunderland. However his success or failure may come down to who we utilise alongside him.

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