Everybody remembers Portugal’s run in the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup. Laden with precocious talent in the form of Bruma, Joao Mario, and Andre Gomes, Portugal’s attack was flashy and effective. Almost all the players on the team played their club football in Portugal, with the exception of two Barcelona B players, Edgar Ie and Agostinho Ca, and Aladje. At the time of the tournament, Aladje was a virtual unknown in the team. Having just finished a season in the Italian fourth division, Aladje’s performances in pre-tournament friendlies and the Toulon Tournament were enough to cement a place in the team, and ultimately the starting lineup for Portugal. His performances at the tournament continued to impress, and during the tournament, he was purchased by Serie A side Sassuolo. Since that time, Aladje has fallen by the wayside. One of Portugal’s most surprising and exciting talents has just disappeared once again.
Born in Guinea-Bissau, Alberto Aladje Gomes de Pina began his playing career in Italy with Padova. After two seasons with their youth team, Aladje was acquired by Serie A side Chievo and immediately loaned to fourth division side Aprila. At Aprila, Aladje got his first taste of professional action, and despite being a center forward, was not very prolific, only managing three goals in 22 appearances. Those returns would be disappointing for a forward who was in their twenties, but one must remember that this was Aladje’s first season as a professional, and that he was 18-19 during the season. The experience of regular playing time surely benefited him greatly during his time at Aprila. And his performances were enough to catch the eye of the Portuguese Football Federation. Due to his father’s Portuguese ancestry, Aladje was eligible to represent the Portuguese teams. And indeed, Aladje began representing the Portuguese teams as early as the beginning of the 2012/2013 season during his time at Aprila. Goals against Slovakia and Australia were enough to catch the attention of U-20 coach Ilidio Vale, who subsequently called him up to the Toulon Tournament squad. After two goals against Mexico in the group stage and another in a 2-1 loss to France, Aladje had established himself as an important member of the team, and one that has been desperately needed in Portuguese teams recently: a striker.
Established as an important part of the team, despite being a relative unknown even in Portugal, Aladje made the trip during the summer of 2013 with the Portuguese U-20 team to the U-20 World Cup in Turkey. The Portuguese qualified from their group with relative ease, defeating Cuba and Nigeria in the process. Aladje started all three matches, and scored in each of the three. Aladje also played 90 minutes in Portugal’s Round of 16 loss to eventual third-place Ghana. Aladje had made an impression on the spectators at the tournament, partially because no one had ever heard of him, and partially because of his raw talent.
Aladje is a very imposing figure on the field. Standing at 6’1″, Aladje fits the role of target man perfectly. With a decent left foot, Aladje is capable of shooting, but is also clever in his movement off the ball, which opens up new channels in attack for his teammates. He showed all of these attributes perfectly during both the 2013 Toulon Tournament and the 2013 U-20 World Cup, and larger clubs began to take notice. During the tournament, Aladje was picked up by newly-promoted Serie A side Sassuolo. At Sassuolo, Aladje was believed to take a back-up position, due to his young age and lack of experience, but soon after joining, Aladje was already involved in first-team action. During the preseason, Aladje helped his team to win the TIM cup, a pre-season cup that pitted Sassuolo against AC Milan and Juventus. Since that time, Aladje has struggled to get into Sassuolo’s first team because of a combination of injury and lack of form. After just one appearance for Sassuolo’s youth team in November, Aladje was loaned to fourth-division side Delta Porto Tolle for the second half of the season, where he scored three goals in ten appearances. This season, with Sassuolo stars Domenico Berardi and Simone Zaza firmly established, Aladje was loaned out to Serie B side Pro Vercelli, where he has only managed one substitute appearance.
Despite huge fanfare following his emergence in 2013, Aladje has slipped back into obscurity. Fans of Portuguese football may have felt that the team had finally found the strong, intelligent center forward that the Senior Team has been lacking for years, but it appears that Aladje may not be that man. This is not to say that Aladje can’t still have a successful career. It looks unlikely, though.