Portugal’s performance at the FIFA U20 World Cup and UEFA U21 European Championships strengthened the perception that Portuguese football is on the ascendency once again.
Andre Gomes, William Carvalho and Bernardo Silva are just some of the players that have established themselves over the past few seasons. The editors of FutebolFactory.com and PortugalFutbol.net have compiled a list of ten players who they think could make a big breakthrough this season.
José Sá, Maritmo, Goalkeeper
The 22-year-old was excellent this summer at the U21 UEFA European Championships as Portugal’s first-choice backstopper. He conceded only one goal in five match in the tournament before losing to Sweden on penalties in the final.
Sá has only appeared in 11 matches with the senior squad over the last two seasons and has spent most of his time with Maritmo B in the Segunda Liga. Manager Ivo Vieira could turn to Sá if last season’s first-choice Romain Salin falters.
Tobias Figueiredo, Sporting, Centre Back
Long touted as one of Sporting’s finest youth prospects, Tobias Figueiredo began to establish himself in the second-half of last season with the club. From January forward, Tobias managed 12 league starts, which helped him earn a place on the Portuguese squad for the U-21 European Championships.
This season, Tobias faces strong competition at Sporting, now that the club has purchased experienced defenders Naldo and Ewerton. However, he could manage to earn some more playing time under Jorge Jesus, especially in Cup competitions.
João Cancelo, Valencia, Right Back
A product of Benfica’s youth academy, João Cancelo joined Valencia on loan from the Portuguese club last summer. After playing a back-up role in his first season, Valencia purchased Cancelo for €15 million this summer. This season, it remains unclear Cancelo will play a bigger role at the club.
An attacking full-back by trade, Cancelo is just as comfortable going forward and attacking as he is in one-on-one defensive situations. The 21-year-old was also part of Portugal’s U-21 European Championships squad this summer.
Rúben Neves, FC Porto, Defensive Midfielder
It was a dream start to his career for the then 17-year-old last season. He earned a start in Porto’s first match of the season, scoring a goal against Marítimo, becoming the youngest goalscorer in history for the club. He made his first appearance in the Champions league just days later.
However, the emergence of Casemiro and a serious knee injury in December threw his season off course. The 18-year-old has talent in abundance and should have the opportunity to play a bigger role with the club this season.
João Teixeira, Benfica, Midfielder
Last summer, Teixeira was impressive during Benfica’s pre-season, and all signs were pointing towards then-coach Jorge Jesus giving the midfielder a place in the first team. Teixeira was instead relegated to the B team, where he still managed to be one of their top performers.
With Rui Vitoria now in charge at the Luz, it is unclear where Teixeira will fit in the pecking order. Teixeira has been a key figure for Benfica B for over two seasons now, and a promotion to the senior team cannot be far away.
Carlos Mané, Sporting, Winger
The 21-year old has been part of the supporting cast for the club over the last few season. Last year, he managed an impressive nine goals in 41 appearances for Sporting in all competitions. Nani’s departure leaves the door open for Mané to establish himself this season.
Mané comes from a long tradition of skilled wingers that have emerged from the club’s famed academy at Alcochete. He could play on both flanks and has developed a reputation for scoring quality goals. He should flourish in Jorge Jesus’ preferred 4-4-2 formation which will allow him more freedom to drift inside.
Bruma, Real Sociedad (On loan from Galatasaray), Winger
An exciting prospect who burst on to the scene with some electrifying displays for Sporting in 2013. A contract dispute eventually lead to him moving to Turkish club Galatasaray that summer. Two full season’s gone and the talented winger has yet to live up to his immense potential.
A move to La Liga club Real Sociedad could be exactly what he needs. Manager David Moyes developed the reputation for nurturing young talent during his days with Everton. And the Basque club should improve on their 12th place finish from a year ago after some quality signings.
Gonçalo Guedes, Benfica, Winger
Another supremely talented winger. The 18-year-old made his first appearances for Benfica last season but spent most of the campaign with the B squad where he was named the Breakthrough Player of the Season in Portugal’s Segunda Liga.
With Eduardo Salvio facing a long recovery time because of a knee injury, Guedes could see more playing time this season. Benfica’s new manager Rui Vitoria spent some time with the club’s youth academy in the past and could give Guedes and others a chance to flourish.
Ivan Cavaleiro, AS Monaco, Winger
Cavaleiro spent last season on loan at struggling La Liga side Deportivo but still managed more than a few positive moments. He was named to the Team of the Tournament at the U-21 UEFA European Championships and soon after signed with Ligue 1 club AS Monaco.
The club is managed by former Braga and Sporting manager Leonardo Jardim, and boasts several Portuguese internationals which should help Cavaleiro adjust to the new situation. Early signs suggest that Jardim has every intention of making the winger an integral part of his Monaco machine.
Gonçalo Paciência, Académica de Coimbra (On loan from FC Porto), Striker
For some time, the Portuguese National Team has been seriously lacking a quality striker. Since the retirement of Pauleta, Portugal has used several players with Hélder Postiga being the only one to provide any real consistency. Paciência offers the best long-term hope.
He will spent this season on loan at Primeira Liga club Académica, his first full season in top flight. Many Portuguese fans will be watching intently to see how he performs. If he can replicate some of his performances at youth level where he is a prolific goalscorer, Portugal may just resolve their striker conundrum.