In the summer, the editors of Futebol Factory and PortugalFutbol.net put together a list of 10 players that could make a positive impact at club level for the first time. Now that the season has finished, we decided to assess each player’s progress and assign a final grade.
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
When Raphaël Adelino José Guerreiro scored the winning goal in the last minute of added time against 2014 World Cup Runners-up Argentina, not only did the Old Trafford crowd stand in attention, but so did a nation, as another young revelation emerged from A Seleção’s second Golden Generation. Continue reading
10 Portuguese Players Who Could Break Out This Season
Portugal is once again producing quality young footballers at a scale not seen since the ‘Golden Generation’ that emerged in the late 1990s.
But at no time has there been more Portuguese youngsters playing abroad in Europe’s top leagues. Only three of the ten players on this list will be playing in Portugal this season.
Please note, this list includes only players that have yet to establish themselves as national team players but who we believe can conceivably do so during Euro 2016 qualifying. Both Bruma and André Gomes have received call-ups but have yet to establish themselves as regular players.
Here now is a list of 10 Portuguese young stars to watch this season.
Ruben Vezo , Central Defender, Valencia FC
Last season was probably the best debut season Ruben Vezo could have asked for. He was definitively promoted to Vitória de Setúbal’s first team after two successful seasons with the club’s under-19 side. And it only took him half a season to catch the eye of La Liga giants Valencia. After making 12 appearances for Vitória de Setúbal , the central defender was off to Spain. Used primarily as a backup at Valencia for the rest of the season, Vezo still managed to appear eight times, scoring once.
This season, under new manager Nuno Espirito Santo, Vezo should play a more prominent role, especially considering Ricardo Costa and Jeremy Mathieu have left the club. Vezo will now compete with Nicolas Otamendi and Shkodran Mustafi for playing time, two well-established internationals. This is no easy task, but Vezo has the tools to develop into a solid defender. And at only 20-years-old, he has plenty of time to reach that potential.
Raphaël Guerreiro , Left-Back, FC Lorient
Having been born and raised in France, it could be said that Raphaël Guerreiro is a bit different from other players on this list. Born to a French mother and a Portuguese father, Guerreiro’s allegiances thus far lie with Portugal, despite never having played in the Portuguese league. He is already an established first-team player at French side Lorient. Despite having played only one season in top-flight, Guerreiro is already viewed as one of the most promising left-backs in Ligue 1.
It appears that little will change this season, with many touting him for another good campaign. With another successful season under his belt, larger clubs will surely come knocking for Guerriero’s services. He has reportedly drawn interest from Premier League clubs West Ham and Liverpool . If he can manage to stay healthy, Raphael Guerreiro could be the subject of a bidding war next summer.
André Gomes, Midfielder, Valencia CF
The 21-year-old midfielder began making a name for himself in Benfica’s reserve squad with some dominant performances at the beginning of the 2012-13 season. He would make his senior debut with the club that season in a Portuguese Cup match against Freamunde, scoring a goal in a 4-0 victory. His performances would earn him some playing time in the Champions League as well.
Gomes has exceptional technical ability and is versatile as well. He played in defensive midfield last season with Benfica, but his attributes are better suited for an attacking role. After being heavily linked with a move to the Premier League in January 2014, his rights were sold to an investment fund for €15 million. Gomes will be part of a resurgent Valencia side this season.
João Teixeira , Midfielder, Benfica
Few would have expected João Teixeira to have been as involved in Benfica’s pre-season as he has been, playing mainly as an anchor man in the midfield. Teixeira made 28 appearances for Benfica’s B team last season, but only 16 of those were starts. Still only 20-years-old, Teixeira has been a welcome surprise in Benfica’s otherwise underwhelming pre-season.
With the team’s first-choice holding midfielder, Ljubomir Fejsa out injured for the foreseeable future, Teixeira is now creating competition for Ruben Amorim. Benfica manager Jorge Jesus has a history of nurturing young talent, as he did with Andre Gomes. And should Teixeira be given a first-team role this season, look for big things.
João Mário, Midfielder, Sporting Lisbon
João Mário has long been viewed as a top Portuguese prospect. The midfielder has been at Sporting since he was 11-years-old, but has only managed one first team appearance so far. After spending the entire 2012-2013 season playing for Sporting’s B side, João Mário was loaned out to fellow Primeira Liga outfit Vitória de Setúbal for the second half of last season. He immediately earned a regular place on the team and managed to make 15 league appearances.
His performances were enough to earn him the ‘Young Player of the Month’ award for January and February, ahead of the likes of William Carvalho, Ricardo Horta, and Bebe. João Mário was recalled to the Sporting senior squad this summer and he appears to be in contention for a starting position. His work this pre-season has not gone unnoticed. Former Sporting midfielder Luis Vidigal delivered a glowing recommendation for the player in a recent interview. ‘ It is only a matter of time before Marco Silva realizes the value of João Mário,’ Vidigal said.
Bruno Fernandes, Attacking Midfielder, Udinese Calcio
Unlike most players on this list, Bruno Fernandes never played for one of the ‘Big Three’ of Portuguese football. In fact, the Udinese midfielder never even played for a club in Portugal’s top division. The former Boavista youth player accepted a modest offer from Italian club Novara in 2012. He has adjusted well to the Italian game, helping Novara to promotion the following season and earning a move to Udinese last summer.
Fernandes started last season in Udinese’s reserve squad, but eventually earned his way into the starting line-up. He impressed with his vision, technical skill and creativity, playing mainly in the ‘Number 10’ position behind the striker. Fernandes would make 24 Serie A appearances, scoring four goals. And he is finally receiving some recognition in his home country, having been selected for the U-19 and U-20 youth squads.
Tozé, Attacking Midfielder, Estoril-Praia
A supremely-gifted attacking midfielder who will be officially on-loan for the next two seasons at Estoril. The 21-year-old is a graduate of FC Porto’s youth academy and has been a regular player for Portugal at every youth level. He was dominant last season playing for Porto’s reserve squad in the Segunda Liga, scoring 21 goals in 40 appearances.
As well as having an eye for goal, Tozé has a well-rounded game. He is technically skilled and is versatile as well. He could play in the centre of the pitch, as well on the wings. He should receive more playing time with Estoril, who will be playing in the Europa League this season. Current manager José Couceiro, did an excellent job with a young squad at Vitória de Setubal last season. Tozé appears ready to make the next step.
Marcos Lopes, Attacking Midfielder, Lille OSC
Perhaps the most talked-about teenager in world football. Marcos Lopes first made a name for himself as a Benfica youth player, before leaving for Manchester City in 2011. He would score in his first ever appearances for The Citizens in a January 2013 FA Cup match against Watford, only minutes after coming on as a substitute. He continued his dominant performances for Manchester City’s youth squad.
Lopes played for Portugal this summer at the U-19 UEFA Championships, helping his country to the final where they eventually lost to Germany. An attacking midfielder, with exceptional technical ability and vision, Lopes feels most comfortable on the left side of the pitch. His style of play has often been compared to Ronaldinho. The 18-year-old will spend this season on loan at Ligue 1 club Lille.
Ricardo Horta, Winger, Málaga CF
19-year-old Ricardo Horta was one of the top revelations last season in Portugal’s Primeira Liga. The supremely talented winger is a former Benfica youth player, who moved south to Vitória Setúbal in 2011. He started playing regularly for the club last season, eventually helping them finishing a better than expected seventh in the league table. Horta would score seven goals for the club along the way.
It came as no surprise when La Liga club Málaga signed him this summer. Horta has not wasted any time impressing his new fan base. He scored a beautiful long-range goal in the pre-season against Australian club Perth Glory in late July. And he has dazzled fans with his exceptional skill, making him one of the top young players to watch this season in La Liga.
Bruma, Winger, Galatasaray S.K.
Once hailed as ‘Portugal’s next big thing,’ Bruma’s career has stalled due to a serious knee injury sustained last January. The timing for the winger’s injury could not have been worse. He was just beginning to find his feet at Galatasaray with a series of positive performances in both the Turkish league and the Champions League.
Bruma was selected to the national team for the first time in October 2013, just a few months before his injury. Any hopes he had of representing his country at the World Cup were all but finished. But Bruma is now healthy and back playing football. He had a positive pre-season, which is something that his new manager Cesare Prandelli should take note of. At only 19-years-old, Bruma already has the tools to become an elite player and soon.
Following Portugal’s abysmal World Cup campaign, many are calling for an entire squad overhaul. And whether or not that will happen is anybody’s guess. Paulo Bento has earned quite a reputation for favoritism, consistently choosing the same players time and time again. While these players have performed well for Portugal in the past, many of their performances recently have been far from their best. For instance, for this World Cup, Bento called up players such as Helder Postiga, Nani, and Eder, none of whom played regularly at all last season. Some would argue that players such as Postiga, Nani, and Eder don’t deserve to play for the national team due to a lack of playing time at their clubs, and that players who play club football more regularly should earn the call instead. Essentially, Paulo Bento is rewarding mediocrity. The competition for places on the team has dwindled to nothing. Good performances won’t earn a call-up.
Many Portuguese fans have felt this way recently, and many feel the World Cup highlighted the holes in Paulo Bento’s plan. With Paulo Bento to stay in charge until at least Euro 2016, a change in coach does not look likely. The only think fans can hope for is a change in mentality from Bento. At the heart of this change should be a re-evaluation of the squad: determining which players deserve a place in the team, and discarding those who don’t.
So, here are 12 players who deserve a place in Paulo Bento’s squad, in no particular order.
Lima has played in Portugal ever since the 2009-2010 season, when he joined Belenenses from the lower divisions in Brazil. After a successful first season at Belenenses, Braga purchased the striker, who became a cult figure at the club. In his second season at Braga, Lima truly came of age. In 30 appearances, Lima scored 20 times, helping Braga to an impressive 3rd place finish, and also finishing as the joint top goalscorer in Portugal. As a result of his scoring exploits, Benfica came knocking. And in the two seasons he has been at Benfica, Lima has managed 34 goals in 56 appearances. Portugal has a long-standing striker problem ever since the retirement of Pauleta. Hugo Almeida, Helder Postiga, Nelson Oliveira, and more recently Eder have all been given chances, but none have truly won over the position. Though Lima was born in Brazil and has only been in Portugal for five years, naturalization is certainly an option. Lima isn’t getting any younger, however. At 31, Bento may have to act sooner rather than later if he wants Lima in the national team.
In the past two seasons, fans of Sporting Lisbon and the Portuguese national team have witnessed Cedric Soares realize his potential. Always regarded as one of Portuguese football’s brightest prospects, Cedric has made the starting right-back spot at Sporting his own. The defender helped Sporting to an impressive 2nd place finish this season, playing in 28 matches for the club. And still only 22, Cedric has the time to develop further and to become an important member of the Seleccao for years to come.
Arguably Sporting’s finest player last season, his exclusion from the Portuguese team for the World Cup left many with a bad taste in their mouths. In the mold of a stylish no. 10, Adrien Silva is a creative spark behind Sporting, and a huge reason that the team finished as high on the table as they did. His call to the national team last season shows that Paulo Bento is not averse to his inclusion in the team, but a place in the starting eleven may be a bit harder to achieve. Bento is known to favor a three-man midfield of Veloso, Moutinho, and Meireles, which worked wonders at Euro 2012. Since then, that combination has fallen flat many a time. And with Bento not even willing to change his midfield trio with the inclusion of proven talent William Carvalho, a place for Adrien may be a long time off.
Sporting Lisbon employed much the same tactic last season as Portugal does currently. Both teams play a 4-3-3, with virtually the same midfield set-up. William Carvalho provides the defensive anchor, Andre Martins provides some tenacity and creative spark, and Adrien does the dirty work, while also popping in with some creativity. Andre Martins enjoyed a solid season at Sporting, which was his first in the top flight that saw him perform regularly. With two senior team caps under his belt, Martins has already been in and around the team, and at the very least can provide cover for the ageing Raul Meireles and Miguel Veloso.
Bento made a bold decision with his team selection this summer. Instead of choosing a natural left-back as back-up for Fabio Coentrao, Bento chose utility man Andre Almeida, who is capable of playing almost anywhere in midfield and defense. Almeida is a right-footed player, who Bento employed at left-back. A series of mediocre performances followed from Almeida, who while solid, lacked any attacking acumen going forward. Antunes, on the other hand, is equally adept at attacking and defending, a quality that he has showed at Malaga, where he has won a starting spot at left-back. And he is no stranger to the national team. Having appeared for the team after an impressive U-20 World Cup showing in 2007, Antunes fell off the radar after an ill-fated move abroad to Roma. But after finding his way back to Portugal, Antunes earned a move to Malaga, where he has flourished, appearing 36 times last season alone. His performances have not gone unnoticed, with West Ham reportedly naming Antunes as one of their top targets.
Jose Fonte, despite being somewhat of an unknown in English football, has become one of the driving forces behind Southampton’s baffling rise to the English Premier League. Fonte became a regular for Championship side Crystal Palace after leaving Sporting before the 2007-2008 season. Establishing himself as a started, Fonte spent three seasons at the club before agreeing to a move to Southampton, who were at that time playing in the third tier of English football: League 1. Many were taken aback by this decision, but few will fault the defender now. Two seasons in League 1 saw them promoted to the Championship, and after only one season, the team earned passage into the English Premier League. During the entirety of this revival, Fonte maintained a starting position, and has kept it during his two seasons in the Premier League. And he hasn’t only kept it. He’s become one of the club’s finest performers. Last season, whoscored.com rated Fonte at 7.21, making him the second best performer for Southampton. Though he is 30 years old and not getting any younger, stats like that are hard to ignore. Once again, he at least deserves to earn a call to the team.
Portugal has been gifted with talented goalkeepers in recent years. Players such as Vitor Baia, Ricardo, and Eduardo have graced the spot in between the sticks in recent years, and more recently, Rui Patricio has rightfully made the starting spot his own. And even after Patricio’s injury at this World Cup, backup goalkeeper Beto slid in an performed with confidence and skill. Of the three goalkeepers that Bento called on this summer, only two are still playing regularly in a top league. Beto was instrumental in Sevilla’s Europa League win last season, and Rui Patricio is one of Sporting Lisbon’s shining jewels. Eduardo, on the other hand, played well for Braga last season on loan from Genoa, but has transferred to Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia. The point of this is not to say that Dinamo is not a good team, but rather to point out that the Croatian league is not anywhere close to being a top league. It’s not even comparable to, let’s say, the French league. And now we come to Anthony Lopes, who was Lyon’s starting goalkeeper last season, appearing 32 times in the league. And this season, it looks as if not much will change. With Lopes playing regularly against players like Ibrahimovic and Falcao, why not call him up to the team, even if it is to serve as a back-up.
Guerreiro deserves to be considered for the National Team. I highlighted the left-back in an article last week, and the reason is clear. Guerreiro is playing regularly for a team in the top division in France, and is only 20 years old. There is a chance that he could switch alliances and choose to play for France, a move that would be devastating for Portugal. He won’t take the starting spot from Coentrao, and no one is expecting him to. But he certainly deserves a chance in the team, even if it is initially just to tie him down to Portugal.
You may be wondering why Quaresma was included on this list; a player who has dozens of caps for Portugal. The reason is simple. Paulo Bento chose to leave Quaresma at home this World Cup, instead choosing Vieirinha, who had just come off a season ravaged by injuries. While Quaresma’s seasons recently have been lackluster, once the winger arrived at Porto in January, he looked a different player. And 10 goals in 24 appearances later, many were left scratching their heads when Bento left Quaresma off the team. Quaresma could have surely brought something to the team, at the very least as backup. While he is 30 and will soon be 31, Quaresma still possesses a skillset that can be of use to the team.
Few were expecting for Diogo Figueiras to have the impact last season that he did. After an impressive 2012-2013 debut season for Pacos Ferreira, Figueiras earned a move to Spanish club Sevilla. Still a virtual unknown, the right-back managed an impressive 22 first team appearances for the Spanish club, helping the team as they won the Europa League. With first-choice right back Coke a possibility to leave, Figueiras will look to build on what was a very solid first season at Sevilla. And one way he can build on his season is to be rewarded with a call to the National Team, something that he undoubtedly deserves. He is certainly capable of providing competition for Joao Pereira.
Another member of Sevilla’s impressive Europa League winning squad last season, Daniel Carrico is enjoying something of a revival after a horrendous season in England. Once viewed as Sporting Lisbon’s golden boy, Carrico was given captaincy at the Portuguese club at just 22. But the center defender’s form dropped as Sporting muddled through some of their worst seasons in history. As a result, Carrico was sold for close to nothing to newly promoted Premier League side Reading. At Reading, Carrico only managed a handful of appearances, and a loan deal to Sevilla for the 2013-2014 season was arranged. In his season at Sevilla, Carrico became one of the club’s most dependable performers, with his performances earning him a permanent move this summer. Long thought of as one of Portugal’s most up and coming defenders, few will argue that Carrico reached the potential that many saw in him during his Sporting years. But few will argue that Carrico’s season last time out was one of his finest. And not only that, but he is versatile. Capable of playing both at center back and defensive midfield, versatility is something that Paulo Bento looks for. So Paulo…nudge nudge.
Often labeled as Manchester United’s biggest flop, many English football fans assumed that Bebe’s career was a joke and that he had very little to offer the world of football. Oh how they are wrong. Rightly derided in England, Bebe’s time at Manchester United, though not abysmal, was certainly not worthy of the price that the club paid for his services. But a good decision on their part was to loan him back to Portugal. A semi-successful loan to Rio Ave during the 2012-2013 season was followed by a hugely successful loan to Pacos Ferreira last season. At Pacos, Bebe finished the season as the top scoring Portuguese player in the league, which is even more impressive when one considers that the winger was playing for a team who had to avoid relegation via a playoff. Following arguably his most impressive season yet, Benfica are extremely close to signing him, and you can expect that he won’t be loaned out.
Raphael Guerreiro has risen out of obscurity to become one of the most promising left-backs in French football. Entering just his third professional season, Guerreiro is a well-established squad member at Lorient, where he locked down a starting spot last season, amassing 34 league appearances in total. And all at 20 years old. Those statistics alone point toward a bright future, so much so that other teams have begun to take interest. West Ham were said to be considering a bid earlier this summer, while some fans are clamoring for Liverpool to consider Guerreiro.
It hardly bears repeating that the Portuguese National Team disappointed this summer at the World Cup. Since the team’s exit from the tournament, the conversation around the team has shifted to questions of “what went wrong?” While there are many legitimate reasons one can speculate upon (see PortuGOAL’s article), for the purposes of this article, I would like to highlight one issue that may sometimes be overlooked: Rotational Dynamism. It sounds like a bear doesn’t it? Well, let me explain what I mean.
One criticism of this Portuguese team and of Paulo Bento for some time now is a lack of new players selected to the squad. If a team finds success, there is still a need for change, so as to combat inevitable stagnation. The sport of soccer needs some level of surprise and dynamism, and one way for teams to achieve this is to introduce new players into a team. The lack of new players into the Portuguese team has long been one of the chief criticisms aimed at Paulo Bento, and is one of the factors that many speculate contributed to Portugal’s crash this summer. So…the solution is an obvious one: give new players opportunities in the team. And Raphael Guerreiro is the player to choose.
With a full season under his belt in a top division, he can at the very least provide much-needed cover for the team. Few will argue that Fabio Coentrao is Portugal’s man at left-back, and that his starting position is not up for debate. Guerreiro is certainly good enough to provide cover for Coentrao, and Portugal needs to tie him down as soon as they can. Born in France, the defender is eligible for both France and Portugal, and though his loyalties thus far have lied with Portugal, the longer he stays out of the team’s picture, the harder it may become to keep him away from the French team.
For more information on Raphael Guerreiro, take a look at this scouting report by our friends at Futebol Factory.