It is inevitable. Emerging Portuguese talent in Liga NOS really only see one option if they want to blossom into the best player possible: leave Portugal for greener ($$) pastures. It is hard to argue with them; as England, France, Spain, Germany and Italy can offer tougher competition, European glory, extra exposure, and of course, more money. Still, knowing when to go, and where to go, become the ultimate factor in determining your success as a player. As we have seen, some players leave Portugal and become world greats, while others leave Portugal and become forgotten. Let us take a look at five recent Portuguese departures, and how the move has worked for them.
Departed Portugal: June 2015
Cédric enjoyed an inspiring ride while playing in Portugal. The Sporting product was loaned to Académica de Coimbra for his season as a 20-year old. His year in Coimbra was productive, becoming a regular in the starting 11 and even winning a cup trophy with the club. Truthfully, when he left Coimbra, the club had a tough time replacing him, and have since been relegated. His return to Lisbon was received with almost universal acclaim, as he began to gain admirers from abroad and eventually left for Southampton in 2015.
His time at Southampton has been on the constant incline. Praised by Southampton supporters for his consistency, Cédric has improved nearly every aspect of his game over two seasons. Having to compete for a starting spot during his first season, Cédric has become one of the first names on the team sheet for Southampton. Not only has he flourished into a great defender, but his real threat comes when he storms down the wing in the attack. His ability to get forward, and his intrinsic crossing capability have become intimidating components of his game.
He has begun to attract attention from real giants of the sport, with rumors of Barcelona and Manchester City interested in his services. While it is likely that Cédric stays in Southampton, the reality is that he has become an above-average right back in a very distinguished league. A move to a bigger club would be a well-deserved statement of competency. Nelson Semedo has received a wave of admiration as the future of the Portuguese defense; but it is difficult to see anyone over powering Cédric for the starting spot. While he has some things to work on yet, Cédric has a bright future for his club and country.
Departed Portugal: June 2015 (officially)
Destination: Barcelona via Valencia
André Gomes was only in Portugal briefly. Rising to prominence at Benfica, Gomes was an exciting young prospect for the Lisbon club. After a youth career with Benfica B, and a short stint with the senior squad, Gomes was loaned to Valencia in 2014. In terms of his age, the then 21-year old Gomes had a successful spell in Catalonia. Accordingly, after two seasons with Valencia, one on loan and one as a permanent member, he caught attention from Valencia’s neighbors to the North: FC Barcelona.
It is difficult to grade André Gomes, admittedly. What is the most important aspect to value? Is it his playing time, his form, or his development? His playing time has been unexpectedly good, with a (surprising) long leash from Luis Enrique. However, his development has been largely stagnant. Supporters of the club have publically called for the benching of Gomes, and it is difficult to see him cracking the first team this season as Barcelona will be under the tutelage of new manger Ernesto Valverde. It is difficult to completely dismiss Gomes’ time in Catalonia, as he has undoubtedly been gaining great experience playing alongside Messi, Macherano and Iniesta as well as many others. However, as proven in the Confederations Cup, his development has been a major disappointment and it is challenging to see him as a major contributor for Portugal in the years to come.
Departed Portugal: August 2016
Destination: Inter Milan
João Mario was a revelation at Euro 2016. Dynamic, quick, and intelligent, João Mario gained international attention during Portugal’s run to glory. Emerging at Sporting, João Mario enjoyed domestic success and became an important member of the Sporting midfield. Furthermore, he was an essential piece of Portugal’s youth squads, playing alongside Bernardo Silva throughout his development. He was part of the celebrated Under-21 side that finished as runners-up in the 2015 Euro Cup, scoring twice on their road to the final. He completed an expensive, high profile move to Italy shortly after Euro 2016.
Life is difficult sometimes at world-renowned clubs (ask Renato Sanches) like Inter Milan. João Mario had to compete for playing time mainly with the Argentine veteran, Éver Banega. Still, Mario proved that Inter had bought a good player, putting in many solid performances and scoring three times for the Italian giants. Overcoming a couple of injury spells, Mario was able to put together inspiring stretches for Inter. Whenever he was passed over and left on the bench, in lieu of Banega, he usually came on as a substitute and looked encouraging. Being early in his Italian career, it is difficult to be harsh on Mario, and there is still much to be hopeful for in his development. It is conceivable, with Banega going back to Spain this upcoming season, that Mario becomes a fundamental part of the Milan outfit this season.
Departed Portugal: May 2016
Destination: Bayern Munich
Strength, pace, vision, youth, aspiration. Renato Sanches has everything you would want in a prospect. Breaking onto the scene with Benfica in the late fall of 2015, Renato hit a thirty-yard screamer to announce his presence to world football. By January he was an integral part of Benfica’s midfield, contributing game winning goals and receiving global applause. By summer, he had played a key role in Portugal’s Euro Cup triumph, wining the Young Player of the Tournament award. That summer he also became the most expensive player ever to leave the Portuguese league, with Bayern Munich the suitors.
Renato arrived in Bavaria with plenty of hype and a lot to prove. Unfortunately, after a couple of early chances, Renato failed to impress and was given very minimal time on the field. In a campaign that saw Bayern Munich become champions of Germany, Renato only saw the pitch a handful of times. His development has been stunted, proven by his omission to the Confederations Cup roster this past summer. He has been recently linked with a loan move back to Benfica, but where he ends up remains to be seen. Renato did not have a great first season in Germany, and his World Cup hopes hinge on him seeking football elsewhere this upcoming season.
Departed Portugal: January 2017
Destination: Paris Saint-Germain
Gonçalo Guedes is another young Portuguese star playing at a high profile club. He made the switch over to Paris after rising through the Benfica ranks. A raw talent, Guedes usually lines up as a winger or forward. During the last January transfer window, he became a prized asset and had interest from some of Europe’s biggest clubs.
His prospects for playing time were always going to be weary. Cup-tied from competing in the Champions league, his only real hope was to feature in league matches for the 2016 French Champions. Competing with players like Julian Draxler and Ángel Di María, Guedes found it difficult to crack the starting eleven. Nevertheless, he proclaimed to the Portuguese that he was still on form as he featured in the Under-21 side this summer, putting in some impressive displays. This is a massive season for him in Paris, as a young player desperate for playing time. While not receiving a lot of match time, Guedes has stayed on form and will enter the season with profound determination. There is still plenty of time to put final judgment on his transfer to France.
Grade: 5/10* (so far)