Roberto Sandry: Santos’ exciting Enzo Fernandez-like playmaker by Alexandre Bovey
Name: Roberto Sandry
Club: Santos FC
Height: 1.74 m
Preferred Foot: Right
The rise of Enzo Fernandez has been remarkable, moving from River Plate to Benfica, winning the World Cup, and then joining Chelsea for a record-breaking fee, all in the space of less than a year. Fernandez’s profile is that of a midfield maestro, a playmaker dictating the tempo of the game, in the mold of Andrea Pirlo or Joshua Kimmich. Despite their latest World Cup frustration in Qatar, Brazil remains stacked with an outrageous amount of young talents, across the whole pitch. If Fernandez represents the present and future of Argentina, a new gem for Brazil might have emerged in the city of Santos: Roberto Sandry.
Born in 2002 in Itabuna, a coastal municipality in the state of Bahia, Sandry inherited his preferred position in midfield from his faher, Nenenzinho. He was named by his parents after the manager Lori Sandri, who spent his career between Brazil and Saudi Arabia, with a brief stint in Japan around the time Sandry was born. After playing in local clubs Ciso and AABB Itabuna, Sandry joined Santos’ youth setup in 2013, at the age of 10. Five years later, at only 15, he appeared with the under-20’s during the 2018 Copa São Paulo de Futebol Júnior. He made his first team debut on 31 January 2019, and also played with Brazil’s under-17’s with whom he won the U17 World Cup that same year (albeit without playing a lot, and mostly from the bench). He has since made 83 appearances for Santos FC, although many of those weren’t as a starter: after starting twelve games in 2020, he only started five games throughout 2021 and 2022. It seems however that 2023 might be better for him, as he has already played in the club’s seven games, six of which he started and with an average of 77 minutes played per game (source: Sofa Score).
Sandry is an outstanding playmaker who runs the middle part of the pitch, as can be seen from his heatmaps for both 2020 and 2023. He has most ofen played as part of two-man center midfield, either in a 4-4-2 or a double pivot in a 4-2-3-1, but this season he has also sometimes occupied the right side of a midfield trio in a 4-3-3, as shown by the heatmap for 2023.
He has always stood out for his passing ability, ball control and carrying, and his defensive aggressivity in the middle of the park. His statistics for 2020 were already impressive for such a young player, but his Fbref report for the past 365 days shows us a complete central playmaker with many similar numbers and qualities as Enzo Fernandez. The main difference with the latter being the ability to shoot from outside or from the edge of the box, something which Sandry so far hasn’t shown. Sitting deeper than more offensive midfielders, he excels at progressive passes (almost nine per 90) and passes into the final third (ten per 90), that is, in the building up of his team’s play preceding a concrete chance, rather than specializing in completing the final pass, dribble or shot like some higher up midfielders – an eight or a ten – could do. But his playmaking ability and vision do create an average of four shooting opportunities per game (shot-creating actions, to be precise), and he also looks very promising for key passes, throughballs, passes into the box and expected assists. Barring serious injury or downturn in form, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t improve his contribution in terms of assists, if he continues playing.
Despite his small size (around 1.73 or 1.74 m), his defensive contribution – with an average of three tackles, one interception and two blocks per game – is also remarkable. We can see an example of this in the February 4 game against Palmeiras, in which he won 8 out of 9 ground duels, made two interceptions and only committed a foul once, which also shows good discipline in challenges and a smart selection and execution of tackles despite such a high volume. In the sequence below, following a long range free kick which ended up in the hands of Palmeiras’ keeper, a quick counter attack is launched with a throw to Real Madrid-bound forward prodigy Endrick on the right hand side. Santos faces the risk of being outnumbered and caught on the break, but Sandry comes out of his central position to face Endrick and executes a clean and efficient tackle to rid him of the ball.
During that game, he also assisted Santos’ only goal with a perfect inswinging cross into the box from a free kick. No midfield maestro worth his salt would be complete without beautiful free kick contributions!
As per his playmaking and tempo-dictating CM role, Sandry is very good at switches and long incisive passes, as illustrated for instance during the January 22 game against São Bernardo, when he completed six out of nine long balls. The pass pictured below created an attacking opportunity from the right hand side by bypassing the whole backline which therefore had to run back toward their goal and concede a corner.
Like Enzo Fernandez when he was at River Plate and Benfica, Sandry’s stats are very impressive for a young player. However, let us keep in mind that these aren’t calculated at a “big five leagues” or Champions/Europea League standard, but for the level of leagues such as the Dutch Eredivisie, the Portuguese Primeira Liga, the English Championship or Brazil’s Série A. Already a very decent level for professional football, but the intensity and requirements of the top European competitions certainly constitute a further step above that. Sandry’s playing time has also been a bit limited (692 min in the last 365 days), implying the question of whether he would be able to maintain this level of performance throughout a 30+ games season at the highest level. And finally, being already a very good playmaker and aggressive defensively, Sandry would do well to complete his overall game with more direct goal contributions, whether through (more) assists, the occasional long shot, or direct free kicks and corners which we’ve seen is already something he’s quite good at. In conclusion, in terms of being a deep-lying playmaker, Sandry is a very promising prospect which smart recruiting teams across Europe will no doubt be looking at in the upcoming transfer windows.