Two weeks ago, PortugalFutbol announced Part I of the Primeira Liga’s Top 10 Under 24 from last season. In Part I, we announced who were the honorable mentions, and promised the full list to follow. These are ten of the best under-24 Portuguese players from last season playing outside of the “Big Three.” The data has been gathered and the decisions made. Here’s the list. Continue reading
Some players come into the spotlight because of playing for a big club. Their performances may not be any more noteworthy than other players’, but they continue to get press recognition because of the club that they play for. As a result, there are sometimes players whose solid performances fly under the radar; players who do not get as much hype. In Portugal, there has become a domination from teams known as “The Big Three.” Made up of Sporting, Benfica, and Porto, the “Big Three” has not been as clearly defined in recent seasons (Pacos Ferreira finished third in 2012/2013, Braga has risen to prominence, as has Estoril). This past season, however, “The Big Three” were back again with Benfica finishing 1st, Sporting 2nd, and Porto 3rd. As stated above, players from clubs outside of the “Big Three” in Portugal sometimes don’t really rise to prominence until they earn a move to one of the “Big Three” or abroad. That’s not to say their performances aren’t worthy of recognition. So, Portugal Football has decided to list the…
Top 5 Under-24 Liga Zon Sagres Players from the 2013/2014 Season…Outside the “Big Three”
The very fact that Joao Mario tops our list despite only spending half of a season at Vitoria Setubal says a lot. A center midfielder by trade, Mario is widely regarded as one of Portugal’s top prospects. In his 15 league appearances for Setubal, Mario helped his team to notable draws against Benfica and Sporting, and played a large role in the team’s impressive season. His performances were impressive enough to earn him a starting spot with the Portuguese Under-21 team and a role in Sporting’s first team for this season.
The oldest on our list, Andre Andre has become an irreplaceable part of Rui Vitoria’s side. Andre has garnered attention abroad from his performances this season, and it comes as no surprise. The center midfielder made 37 appearances in all competitions, leading the team through a campaign both in the Liga Zon Sagres and the Europa League. Dinamo Zagreb are said to be interested in Andre, but if he gets another solid season under his belt, there will likely be larger clubs interested.
Bebe was the laughing stock of English football after his ill-fated move from Vitoria Guimaraes to Manchester United in 2010. And to a certain extent, he still is. But not in Portugal. Bebe was on loan this season at Pacos Ferreira from Manchester United. Though the side struggled, barely managing to avoid relegation, Bebe shone. The Manchester United man struck 12 times for the team in only 27 appearances. These statistics are even more impressive when you consider that he scored these from his primary position out wide. His scoring exploits made him the highest scoring Portuguese player in the league last season, and Manchester United have opted to take him on their pre-season tour most likely as a result of his performances. But Manchester United will have to fend off interest from Benfica, who are reportedly very interested in acquiring his services.
Last season was possibly the best debut season Ricardo Horta could have hoped for. A product of both Benfica’s and Vitoria Setubal’s youth setups, Horta was promoted to Setubal’s first team this season. After impressive performances early in the season, Horta was awarded a starting spot and never looked back. Finishing the season with seven goals in 34 appearances on the wing, Horta was named to the Portuguese Under-20 team’s Toulon Tournament squad, scoring the deciding goal in the third place match against England. Malaga are said to be very interested and extremely close to signing the player, and it comes as no surprise. And he’s only 19!
A product of Benfica’s famed youth academy, Danilo Pereira first rose to prominence at the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup, where he performed admirably in Portugal’s midfield, helping them to a second place finish. A move abroad ensued, and after some more spells abroad, Pereira ended up at Maritimo last season. Pereira appeared 28 times for the Madeira-based club, helping them to a mid-table finish. His performances drew the interest of Sporting, who many speculate see him as the natural successor to William Carvalho.
Soon after Portugal’s fine showing at last summer’s U-20 World Cup, Nelson Oliveira publically stated that Portuguese clubs need to focus more on youth, rather than on foreign imports. This point is a very important and relevant one in Portugal at the moment. Benfica have been accused of buying their success from Argentina; Braga from Brazil. While at one time or another there are Portuguese is the starting eleven for the top four in Portugal, the majority of the players on the pitch are non-Portuguese. This has been cause for concern, especially since Sporting, Benfica, and Porto have three of the best youth academies in Europe, and even the world. Those talented players, who are mostly Portuguese, are not receiving the playing time once they graduate from the academy. Instead, they look abroad for opportunities, which has ruined many a young player’s career. There are three reasons for the support of these Portuguese players that will be highlighted here.
Sporting Lisbon U19 5-1 Liverpool U19
In the 2011-2012 edition of the Nextgen Series, which essentially a U-19 Champions League, Sporting Lisbon have been destroying all opposition in Group 2. The team was pitted against Liverpool, Molde, and Wolfsburg, and has yet to disappoint. Sporting is now first in the group with 16 points and has scored more than any other team in the competition. Last week, Sporting took on Liverpool in their final match of the group. The Portuguese team proceeded to decimate their English opposition, winning 5-1. Betinho picked up two goals (one of them a spectacular bicycle-kick), while Filipe Chaby, Gael Etock, and Edgar Ie all scored a goal apiece. The performance was that of complete domination by the Lions, which brings up the question of how to harness this talent. These players are of arguably the same caliber as those from the past. For Portuguese clubs to be successful, they need to incorporate these players into the first team. In theory, if these players graduate into the first team, Sporting Lisbon have the capability of being better than Liverpool. This will only happen if clubs in Portugal change their ways. The Sporting Lisbon Academy has been known to produce some of the world’s finest players in Nani, Ronaldo, and Luis Figo, and it appears that that trend will continue. The test will come when they graduate from the academy.
Portugal’s showing at the 2011 U-20 World Cup
Many were blown away when Portugal reached the final of the U-20 World Cup last summer, defeating the likes of France and Argentina in the process. Nelson Oliveira emerged as one of the stars of the tournament. His four goals won him the award for second-best player of the tournament. Mika, Portugal’s goalkeeper, won the best goalkeeper of the tournament also. The Portuguese players put in impressive performance after impressive performance, and won many plaudits accordingly. Of the 21 Portuguese players, 16 of them were plying their trade in Portugal at the start of the tournament. That’s a decent number: a little over three-quarters. Danilo Pereira, Mario Rui, Pele, and Sana, who all starred for the team during the tournament, played overseas. Three of the players (Danilo, Sana, and Mario Rui) were all bought from Benfica following the expiration of their contracts. Many of these players have gone on to enjoy a successful season this term, many of them on loan abroad from a Portuguese team.
For the sake of the Portuguese National Team
Portugal don arguably three of the finest youth academies in the world, so it makes sense that they should be used to their fullest to nurture young Portuguese talents for the future. What would have happened if Quaresma, Figo, or Nani had left the academy to go to, let’s say, Chelsea. Their careers would most likely have been ruined. Let me remind you of a certain player called Fabio Paim. Paim was touted to be the next Ronaldo when he broke on the youth scene at Sporting half a decade ago. When Chelsea came calling with a lucrative offer, Paim pounced. Now, Paim is playing in the Angolan League. The talent that was evident has all but vanished. The only way that the Portuguese National Team will flourish is if the young stars are encouraged to stay in the country. If the coaches give the youngsters a first-team role, they will be encouraged to stay, and thus the profile of soccer in the country will be raised. When looking at the Spanish league, one will notice the large amount of Spanish players in the teams’ starting elevens. This has been a contributing factor to Spain’s rise to European and international domination. The big teams in Spain use, and rely on, Spanish players. In Germany, the story is the same.
The Portuguese National Teams is arguably flourishing more now than in recent history, with the U-20 team reaching the final of the World Cup, and the Senior team romping at every given opportunity. While the team has been successful as of late, the only way that the success can be built upon is if young Portuguese players are given opportunities in the league, instead of abroad. Then, and only then, the Portuguese National team will truly be a world-class team.