Barcelona have begun talks to sign highly rated Gremio central midfielder Arthur Melo, the Brazilian club said.

The 21-year-old was linked with Barcelona in December after being photographed wearing a Blaugrana shirt following a meeting with the Spanish club’s officials, reports Xinhua news agency.

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Real Madrid are also said to be interested in the Brazilian.

“We have started discussions,” Gremio football director Andre Zanotta told Esporte Interativo.

“We have known about Barcelona’s interest in Arthur for some time and they have formalized their interest. We’ve already had a meeting but we are only talking at this stage and still a long way off an agreement.”

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Zanotta said that any deal would not take effect until at least July as Gremio seek to utilise the playmaker during the Copa Libertadores group phase.

Arthur has attracted some of Europe’s top clubs after a sublime 2017 season in which he helped Gremio win the Copa Libertadores, South America’s version of the UEFA Champions League.

In October, the Brazilian club extended his contract until 2021 and inserted a 50 million-euro buyout clause.

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The former Goias youth team player was rewarded for his impressive form by being called up to Brazil’s national squad for their last 2018 World Cup qualifiers in October.

He is not the only Gremio player to attract the attention of European clubs. Luan, who was named Copa Libertadores player of the tournament, is said to have drawn interest from Newcastle United and Liverpool.