MID-SEASON REPORT: 10 Portuguese Players Who Could Break Out This Season

Andre Gomes has been a revelation this season for Valencia. Photo: John Sibley / Reuters

Andre Gomes has been a revelation this season for Valencia. Photo: John Sibley / Reuters

There is no question that the Portuguese national team is in a transitional phase. The Selecção’s group stage exit in Brazil just reinforced the claim that the squad will look very different in the next few years. There has perhaps never been a time in recent memory when the country has had so many promising young players.

In the summer, we chose ten that we thought would be able to make a positive impact at club level this season. Since then, four of these players have made their debuts for the senior Selecção, to go along with André Gomes and Bruma who had been selected before. This article will look at the progress of each player and will assign them a grade based on their development so far. Continue reading

Rúben Pinto Joins Paços Ferreira on Loan

Ruben Pinto - Benfica BBenfica B midfielder Rúben Pinto has joined Primeira Liga side Paços Ferreira on loan until the end of the season to fill the void left by Ruben Ribeiro, who has joined Gil Vicente on loan. Pinto played the first half of this season for Benfica’s B team, which competes in Portugal’s second tier, the Segunda Liga. A captain at Benfica B, Pinto will now get his first taste of top-flight soccer at Paços. Continue reading

Mario Rui Thriving in Italy

Mario Rui in action for Empoli. Photo: Getty Images

Mario Rui in action for Empoli. Photo: Getty Images

Few of the players in Portugal’s squad which finished as runners-up at the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup have experienced success. Out of the squad of 21, only two have earned caps with the senior national team, and only Cedric Soares has really shown the promise of a bright future. One player, however, is beginning to show his true colors, despite not being one of the more talked about players in the 2011 team. Mario Rui has enjoyed a successful start to the season at Empoli in Italy’s Serie A, winning a starting spot at left-back. His performances have established himself as one of the most important members of the squad. Continue reading

Goncalo Guedes Attracting Interest

Photo: Getty Images Europe

Photo: Getty Images Europe

17 year-old Benfica prospect Goncalo Guedes is attracting strong interest from abroad, with the likes of Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal, PSG, and AC Milan all said to be following the youngster. Guedes plays mainly as a striker, which is a position that the Portuguese National Team has not had filled adequately since Pauleta retired in 2006. Much is expected of young Guedes, so much so that he is seen as a possible replacement for Franck Ribery at Bayern. Those are some big shoes to fill, which begs the question: who is Goncalo Guedes? Continue reading

2014 U-19 European Championship Preview: Portugal

Portugal U19 vs Lithuania - 2013The UEFA U-19 European Championships have long been a showcase for some of the brightest young talent in Europe, and this year looks to be no different. Players such as Daniel Sturridge and Mesut Ozil have shone in the tournament in the past, and more recently, players such as Paul Pogba have found success. And while each team is playing to win, there is an added benefit.  The top three teams from each group earn passage into the following summer’s FIFA U-20 World Cup. It was how the Portuguese qualified for the past two U-20 World Cups (in 2011 and 2013), and there is the hope that they can emulate that success again.

The Portuguese Under-19 Team will begin their European Championship campaign tomorrow, as they face Israel in their first match. This Portuguese team is much heralded, and is widely considered as one of the favorites coming into the tournament. And for good reason. The team has three of possibly the brightest Portuguese Under-19 prospects in the country in Andre Silva, Tomas Postawski, and Marcos Lopes. Silva is the spearhead of the team’s attacks, scoring 6 in qualification. Currently on the books at Porto, Silva split his time between Porto’s B team and the U19 team. Despite this, the striker managed 15 goals in 20 appearances for the U19 team and scored three for the B team. All at 18 years old. Another Porto prospect, Podstawski, who also holds Polish citizenship, appeared 24 times for Porto’s B team last season, following a stellar season with Porto’s U19 team. And finally, we come to Marcos Lopes. Widely believed to be “the next big thing” in Portugal, Rony Lopes, as he is called, has gained notoriety as a result of his performances at Manchester City. After impressive performances for first the club’s development squad and then the reserve squad, Lopes made his debut in City’s first team during the 2012-2013 season. Brought on late into an FA Cup tie against Watford, Lopes scored a tap-in from close range following a save from the opposition goalkeeper. This goal, scored just after Lopes’ 17th birthday, made him the Manchester City first team’s youngest ever goal scorer in a competitive match. But he hasn’t stopped there. More impressive performances in cup ties this season at Manchester City have earned him a season-long loan move to French side Lille OSC.

This Portuguese Under-19 side will face stiff competition in their quest for victory. On paper, one may dismiss the opposition joining Portugal in Group A, but upon further inspection, Portugal may face some challenges. Alongside Portugal in Group A are Israel, Austria, and Hungary. The threat that both Austria and Israel face is the strength in defense. In the six games Israel  and Austria each played in qualifying, each only conceded three goals. In the same amount of games, Portugal conceded six, against teams like Wales and Norway. Clearly, Portugal’s strength is in attack and not in defense. But one can hope that with players of the caliber of Podstawski, Lopes, and Silva, Portugal’s attacking prowess will greatly outweigh the defensive expertise of their opponents in Group A.

This competition is also known for being largely unpredictable. For instance, last year’s edition saw Serbia crowned as champions. Not many predicted a victory from a nation such as Serbia over teams like Spain, France, and the Netherlands. So, while Portugal is considered favorites to win the tournament, and some would argue have the tools at their disposal for victory, it’s all up in the air.

Porto Sells Tiago Ferreira

photo courtesy voetbalkrant.com

photo courtesy voetbalkrant.com

Tiago Ferreira 

Porto to Zulte Waregem

Porto B‘s long-serving captain Tiago Ferreira has been sold by the club to Zulte Waregem, a Belgian Pro League club. Ferreira, who has captained the B-team for two seasons, is seen by many to be one of Portuguese football’s top prospects. Only 21, the center defender has two seasons with Porto B under his belt, as well as appearances at two FIFA U-20 World Cups and a couple of U-21 caps. Much is expected of Ferreira, so the question goes begging: Why let him leave?

The answer is a simple one, rooted in a fundamental change in big-club operations in recent years. Ferreira has signed with the Belgian team on a 4-year contract. Though it has not been confirmed, it may be assumed that this transfer is similar to that of Josue. Josue was an equally precocious talent during his youth days at Porto, but was sold to Pacos Ferreira. Under the agreement of sale, Porto retained the right to purchase back Josue at a set price whenever they wanted to. And after two seasons at Pacos, Josue was re-purchased by Porto, where he was largely in the first team. It proved a successful tactic for Porto, who could viably develop their prospects who were not yet developed enough for the first team. And it is more advantageous than a simple loan, as selling a player to a club and having the player stay at that club for more than one season allows him to settle in better and become a valued member of the team.

So, why Zulte? Why not another team in Portugal? There is no easy answer to this, but one may speculate that Ferreira was sold to Zulte due to the club’s rising stature in European football. The club greatly benefited from the presence of Thorgan Hazard, the brother of Belgian star Eden, over the past two seasons. His 14 goals last season helped the club to a 4th placed finish, earning them a Europa League qualification play-off tie. So with Europa League football a strong possibility at a club where Ferreira can conceivably nail down a starting position, this move was an ideal one for Porto. Who knows? If this goes well, we could very well see Tiago Ferreira playing for the Seleccao in two years time.

Luis Martins Loaned to Gil Vicente

Luis Martins - Benfica

Luis Martins

Benfica B to Gil Vicente (Loan)

Benfica B’s left-back and captain Luis Martins has been loaned to Liga Zon Sagres side Gil Vicente until the end of the season. The defender featured briefly in Benfica’s campaign last season, making four appearances in the league, and one in the Champions League. This season, however, with the inclusion of B teams into Portuguese football, Martins was demoted to the B team, in the Liga Orangina, and made captain. His performances for the team have been stellar. From left-back, he has already scored two goals, and he has led the team to success in the league. Now, it is evident that his skills warrant playing in a higher league. Gil Vicente have come knocking, and Martins will likely be a fixture in the side for the remainder of the season.

Opinion: How B Teams will Affect Portuguese Football

The Liga Zon Sagres high-ups announced that, starting next season, Benfica, Porto, Sporting, Braga, Maritimo, and Vitoria Guimaraes will all have the ability to add their B teams into the Liga Orangina, which is the Portuguese second-tier. Existing teams in the Liga Orangina won’t be booted out, but the league will grow by six teams. This bit of news comes as a surprise at this time, as B teams have not been fully utilized in recent years in Portugal. Now, however, the six largest teams in Portugal (at least by the federation’s standards) will have the option of sending their players down a division, instead of sending them out on loan. This is an obvious advantage, but there are some less obvious disadvantages.

During the past few years, the smaller clubs playing in the Liga Zon Sagres have benefited from taking players from the big three on loan. One of the more recent and relevant examples is Adrien Silva. The midfielder didn’t quite have what it took at Sporting Lisbon, so he was loaned out to Academica for this entire season. He has since flourished at the mid-table club. Next season, he will almost certainly be a part of the first team at Sporting, courtesy of his fine performances and overall development while at Academica. Without these players, the “smaller” clubs in the league would suffer. With the inclusion of the B teams in the Liga Orangina, the top clubs won’t necessarily be looking for Liga Zon Sagres clubs interested in loaning a player not developed enough for first-team action. They can simply keep him in the squad, and let him develop at the B team, without the hassle of loaning him to another Liga Zon Sagres club. Also, with the big clubs not having to babysit the fringe players by looking for loan moves for them, the big clubs can grow in size. These clubs now won’t have to be concerned with the size of their team, as they can send these players down to the B team to gain experience and ready them for first team action. This may cause a total split between these six clubs and the remaining clubs in Portugal. Many would argue that there is already a split, and if the B teams were to be added to the Liga Orangina, the big clubs would get bigger, and the small clubs would get smaller.

Its not all bad, however. In terms of nurturing Portuguese talent, the inclusions of the B teams will be beneficial. Instead of sending a player out on loan, the club can now send the player down a division and have him play for the B team. The player can still train with the first team, which may prove to be quite valuable to his development, while still getting in minutes with the B team. In other words, youngsters coming out of the youth academies now have a viable option for playing time. Instead of looking abroad for opportunities, the youngsters can continue to develop at the B team. Also, who’s to say that the smaller Liga Zon Sagres clubs won’t still get players on loan from the big clubs? If a player is developed enough for the first team at, let’s say, SL Benfica, but he doesn’t quite fit in to the formation, or doesn’t yet gel with his teammates, Benfica will search for a Liga Zon Sagres club to loan him to. Some players are simply too skilled and experienced for the Liga Orangina. Because of this, loans will still be made to clubs like Academica and Olhanense, and football in Portugal, at least in this sense, won’t be affected for the worse.

The inclusion of B teams into the Liga Orangina for Benfica, Porto, Sporting, Maritimo, Braga, and Vitoria Guimaraes may turn into a great move. It also may not. There is no way of knowing how this decision will affect football in Portugal next season, but one thing is for certain: it will make it more interesting.

Andre Andre Returns to Varzim

Andre Andre has returned to Varzim after a half-season stint with La Liga outfit, Deportivo. The midfielder moved from Liga Orangina side Varzim to Deportivo B in the summer, and has since worked his way into the first team. Although he did not play a single game for the first team, it should still be looked at as quite an accomplishment that he went from playing in the second division in Portugal to playing in one of the top few leagues in the world. Andre Andre has now joined Varzim on a year-and-a-half deal.