(Sporting Lisbon / Portugal)
Sporting Lisbon are a football club with one of the most advanced and well-equipped youth academies in Europe. Over the years, several top names have graduated from the famous Academia Sporting including Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Figo, Nani, Ricardo Quaresma and Simao Sabrosa.
Top managers like Luiz Felipe Scolari and Jose Pekerman have also gone on record describing it as one of the best academies in the world. The current Sporting squad features many players that have come through the ranks to make it into the first team, and the likes of Joao Moutinho and Miguel Veloso are fast becoming household names tipped to make big money moves to traditional European powerhouses in the not so distant future.
Another Sporting player that could soon be thrown into that category is Yannick Djaló.
Born in the West African Republic of Guinea-Bissau, Djaló spent most of his early life in Lisbon and was spotted and signed up to Sporting Lisbon’s ranks as a youngster. A naturally skilful and lightning fast forward who can also play down the flanks, Djaló impressed the coaches at Sporting enough to be touted as a star of the future and by the age of 20 he was deemed good enough to make his debut for the first team, featuring in a league game against Pacos de Ferreira back in 2006. His bursts of pace and raw energy made him an ideal secret weapon for Sporting manager Paulo Bento, who often brought him off the bench to trouble tired defences late on in games.
In the early part of his career as a Sporting first team player Djaló sometimes proved frustrating. Fans and occasionally teammates would get irritated by the youngster’s invariable tendency to overplay. He would often over-run the ball for example, or lose possession trying to be too clever instead of keeping it simple. His finishing, for a player in his position, also left a little to be desired.
But the key thing to remember about Djaló then is that he was still learning his trade at the highest level, and as such some of the early criticisms of him were a bit unfair. In a football world in which the likes of Messi and Ronaldo are practically the finished article from a ridiculously young age, it is important to bare in mind that most young players are still blossoming at such an early stage of their career and need ample time to polish their skills.
As it turned out, a lengthy injury during the 2007/2008 season actually seemed to benefit Djaló’s development, and upon his return to first-team action he hit four goals in three games including both goals in a 2-0 win over Sporting Braga. His absence from the limelight during four months on the sidelines seemed to lend him a cooler approach, with less pressure on his shoulders, and rather than forcing things his style of play became far more free and natural, which only paid dividends.
Signs of improvement are already there this season too. Djaló scored both goals in Sporting’s 2-0 Portuguese Super Cup win against defending champions FC Porto and his good form earned him a first call-up to the senior Portugal squad back in August 2008.
Yannick Djaló is a player with bags of talent. In some ways, like amongst other things his sporadic ability to frustrate, he reminds me of another Sporting Lisbon youth product, his great friend Nani. Skilful, creative, immensely pacy and full of clever feints and shimmies that baffle defenders. In Sporting’s recent 5-2 loss to Barcelona, Djaló was one of the home side’s shining lights. To take it to the next level he perhaps needs to improve on his finishing and decision making. But having said all that, the fact remains that Yannick Djaló has such natural ability and vast potential that in the future he just might end up being another illustrious name reeled off when people speak of the great players to come through the youth system at Sporting Lisbon’s famous academy.