MILAN Four months after joining Inter Milan for nearly 30 million euros ($31.52 million), Brazilian striker Gabriel Barbosa is still waiting for his first real chance to show his new club what he is capable of.
Inter visit Udinese on Sunday as Serie A resumes after the Christmas break, once again raising Gabriel's hopes that he will finally get a look-in.
In a frustrating period, the 20-year-old nicknamed Gabigol has played just 21 minutes in Serie A, split between three substitute appearances.
Those included a one-minute cameo against Sassuolo when he picked up his first yellow card.
It was not supposed to be like this when he left Santos, the same club which recently produced Neymar.
Gabriel, whose made his professional debut as a 16-year-old in 2013, emerged as one of Brazil's great hopes during three seasons at Pele's former club as he scored 57 goals and impressed with his pace, trickery, skill and clinical finishing.
He scored on his Brazil debut against Panama last year, went on to play at the Copa Centenario and won Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro with the under-23 team.
Since joining Inter, however, he has found himself down the pecking order, with coach Stefano Pioli clearly feeling he is not quite ready to make the huge step up from Brazilian domestic football.
"He has ability and talent and, along with his team mates, he'll have the chance to help the team get results," said Pioli.
The player has even had to play down speculation that he could be loaned out during the current transfer window, listing his move to Inter as one of his personal highlights of 2016.
"2016 was a truly marvellous year," he said on Facebook.
"I won the (Paulista championship) title with Santos, was called up to the Brazil squad and won the gold medal at the Olympic Games and then moved to one of the biggest clubs in Europe, Inter Milan. How could I ask for more?"
Just before Christmas, he rubbished suggestions he would return to Santos on loan.
"Obviously I hope to play more but I am happy and realise it will take some patience," he told reporters. "I train every day to improve and every day I feel more settled. Plan A is to stay at Inter and make my mark here the way I did at Santos.
"I think a lot of people are talking nonsense," he added. "It’s a different style of football with great players. I have just arrived at a very young age and there is a hierarchy with experienced players here who have been in Serie A for a long time.
"It’s just a matter of time. No player arrived and immediately went straight into the starting eleven."
($1 = 0.9517 euros)
(Writing by Brian Homewood in Berne; Editing by Clare Fallon)