Arthur Melo
Arthur Melo is an important member of the Gremio squad that recently won their third Copa Libertadores title Getty Images

Gremio head coach Renato Gaucho concedes it will be difficult to keep Arthur Melo in Porto Alegre amid keen interest in the talented young midfielder from Catalan giants Barcelona.

The likes of Chelsea and Manchester United had been keeping a close eye on the 21-year-old dubbed by some as the next Andres Iniesta, who recently helped his club to win their third Copa Libertadores title courtesy of a man-of-the-match second-leg performance in a 3-1 aggregate victory over Lanus of Buenos Aires. Such impressive form also saw him called up by Tite to the senior Brazil squad for the first time in October for their final pair of 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

Barcelona have since emerged as the leading contenders to bring Arthur to Europe, with Robert Fernandez having observed him in action during both legs of that aforementioned final.

Blaugrana's technical secretary and Andre Cury, a lawyer and the club's representative in Brazil, was reported to have met with his agents in order to discuss a potential switch to the Nou Camp, although the La Liga leaders later apologised after a photo surfaced of Arthur posing next to Fernandez in a Barcelona jersey.

"The pressure has been huge, that's normal," Renato was quoted as saying by Goal when questioned by reporters about the fervent speculation over Arthur's future.

"It makes us happy to have a player that's being watched by European sides. Maybe we don't have a player of his quality but we have others who can replace him. He's helped us a lot, but I think it will be hard to keep him."

Arthur confirmed that he did sit down with Barcelona, but stressed that nothing had been signed and that it was just a "first contact for them to know my family and for me to meet them". Gremio president Romildo Bolzan claimed the Brazilians had sanctioned the meeting on that basis, yet spoke of potential legal action after the uproar caused by the photograph.

He also insisted that there were "no conversation or negotiations open", although admitted that the Tricolor would be unable to prevent their highly-rated creative midfielder from leaving if the €50m (£43.9m, $58.9m) release clause in his contract was met in full.

Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde revealed following Tuesday's (5 December) 2-0 Champions League victory over Sporting CP that he was aware of the situation regarding Arthur, but confessed that he did not possess a great knowledge of the player.

"I know there have been a lot of controversy [regarding Arthur] but I have only heard it from the distance. But the truth is that I do not know the player very well and I can not comment too much about him," he said.

"Of course Barcelona are always attentive to all players that are in any market, in Brazil and Europe. The club are attentive to all these types of questions and this is one more. Whether [the transfer] will be completed or not, I do not know."

Meanwhie, Barcelona's hopes of watching Arthur again next week at the Fifa Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) - where fierce rivals Real Madrid will also be competing - have been scuppered by an injury that forced him off early in the second-leg win over Lanus.