Generation Next is our regular feature on Just Football profiling the best young talents in the world. And here’s another to keep an eye on – Atalanta’s bustling midfielder Franck Kessie… Last summer, when Genoa former coach Gian Piero Gasperini made the move to Atalanta, after seven wonderful years spent in Liguria (interjected by spells […]
We’ve reviewed and graded 2015/16’s most exciting young talents to watch in the Netherlands, England, Spain, Italy, France and Germany on Just Football. Now we’re announcing the Just Football 70 Class of 2016/17 – the lowdown on the 70 best young players to watch in Europe this season.
After a week of analysis here’s the final instalment, The #JF70 2016/17 – Portuguese Primeira Liga edition, our pick of the 10 best young players to watch in Portugal this season, as selected by Portuguese football expert Jan Hagen…. (NOTE: Criteria for selection = 22 or under as of 1st September 2016 and must not have appeared in previous editions.)
Previously: #JF70 Class of 2017 – Intro: What is the #JF70? | Part 1: Netherlands top talents | Part II: Serie A | Part III: France’s Ligue 1 | Part IV: La Liga | Part V: German Bundesliga | Part VI: English Premier League
The #JF70 – 10 best young players to watch in Portugal Primeira Liga 2016/17:
(FC Porto, 19 years old)
Lopetegui and Porto president Pinto da Costa went to watch an Under-17 game during the summer of 2014 and young Rúben Neves immediately caught the Spaniard’s eye. The newly appointed Spain manager Lopetegui told the Porto boss that he wanted Neves in the first team’s pre-season training the very next day. Pinto da Costa later revealed that he had to check if Neves was even a Porto player at that point.
Lopetegui clearly has an eye for talent as Rúben Neves was a regular in Porto’s midfield in 2014/15. The then 17-year-old midfielder impressed a whole nation, standing out as an incredibly smart footballer. He’s calm on the ball, good at reading the game and positions himself very well. His technique is also great, allowing him to play as a deep-lying playmaker or holding midfielder.
Neves has broken record after record since breaking into Porto’s first team. Since the summer of 2014 he’s become Porto’s youngest player and goalscorer in the Portuguese league, the youngest Portuguese player in the Champions League (beating a certain Cristiano Ronaldo), youngest ever captain in the Champions League and the youngest player to ever participate at the Under-21 Euros.
After establishing himself as a starter under Lopetegui and delivering stand-out performances in the Champions League, Rúben Neves had a dip in form as we approached 2016. When Porto, who haven’t won a title in three years, parted ways with Lopetegui in January it meant trouble for the Portuguese midfielder.
Since the Spaniard’s departure Neves has struggled to force his way into a very strong Porto midfield under new managers José Peseiro and the recently-appointed Nuno Espírito Santo.
Despite limited opportunities at Porto lately, there’s no doubt the future holds big things for 19-year-old Rúben Neves.
(Benfica, 22 years old)
The Swedish centre-back has a had a fantastic 2016 so far. Victor Lindelöf joined Benfica in December 2011, but his chances in Benfica’s first team were rather limited. A Benfica ‘B’ regular for the past three seasons, the centre-back really made the most of his opportunity when called into action in late January.
Benfica had a major crisis in defence as captain Luisão and third choice centre-back Lisandro Lopez got injured at the same time. From the ‘B’ team Lindelöf was the natural choice to team up with Benfica’s solid Brazilian Jardel in the heart of defence. This happened at a crucial part of Benfica’s season, with upcoming fixtures against rivals Porto, Liga leaders Sporting and Zenit in the Champions League.
Luisão’s injury may have been a blessing in disguise. There’s no one questioning Luisão’s legendary status in Portuguese football and what he has done for Benfica, but the 34-year-old had become a liability. Dropping your captain and one of the biggest legends in Benfica’s history however was probably never an option for newly appointed Rui Vitória.
Lindelöf replaced Luisão with ease and put in flawless displays against Porto and Zenit. The young Swede was even awarded Man of the Match in Benfica’s win versus Sporting, which saw The Eagles overtake their bitter Lisbon rivals in first place. Benfica never lost that position and would celebrate their third straight Liga title at the end of the season, much thanks to Lindelöf’s introduction.
Victor Lindelöf, or Iceman as his teammates call him, is a centre-back who combines strength with pace. He bears some resemblance to former Benfica servant Ezequiel Garay. Although not so dominant in the air, they’re both excellent with the ball at their feet. He’s calm, sometimes a bit too much, and needs to work on his positioning, but he has established himself as one of the best defenders in the Primeira Liga in record time. A move to a bigger league is imminent for Iceman.
(Sporting, 21 years old)
A quick, Portuguese winger with sublime technique. You’ve heard it all before, haven’t you? Luís Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, and now Gelson Martins. What they all have in common? They’ve all graduated from Sporting’s brilliant academy.
Gelson Martins got his breakthrough at Sporting last season, featuring in 43 games. Although most of them came as an impact sub, it was easy to see that the young winger possesses some extreme qualities.
His technique is absolutely astonishing to watch and the tricks and skills he has in his locker have amazed watchers of the Primeira Liga. The secret to the Sporting winger’s amazing technique comes from watching Robinho, according to the player himself. Gelson used to watch the Brazilian forward as a child, he says, and always tried to copy every skill in the street, using rocks(!).
The 21-year-old does need some polishing on his end-product, but with the guidance of Jorge Jesus there’s few limits to what Gelson’s future hold.
(Porto, 20 years old)
Portugal have longed for a quality striker ever since Pedro Pauleta retired from international football after the 2006 World Cup. Eder will forever be one of Portuguese football’s biggest heroes following his extra-time winner in the Euro 2016 final, but he is hardly world-class. Porto striker André Silva might be the answers to the Portuguese people’s prayers.
In 2011 Porto signed Silva, who at the time mostly played out wide, from Padroense for a mere €1000. He has since excelled in Os Dragões’ youth teams, scoring 9 goals in his first 10 games of the season for Porto ‘B’ last year.
After an impressive season in the Segunda Liga, the 20-year-old started five of Porto’s final six games of last season, including the Taça de Portugal final against Braga. Despite the young striker netting twice, Porto lost on penalties.
Under new manager Nuno Espírito Santo, André Silva has established himself as an undisputed starter upfront. The emergence Silva has seen Vincent Aboubakar leave the club, but the young striker has quickly repaid the confidence put in him by scoring in Porto’s first three games of 2016/17.
A hard-working striker with great fighting spirit, e never gives up and is dangerous on the ground and aerially. He may have picked up a trick or two from Jackson Martínez’s time at Porto, because his movement and positioning is like a true poacher.
Silva has already been rewarded with two caps for the Portuguese national team, following his great start to the season. He was unable to find the net, but if the youngster can continue his development it won’t be long until he smashes them in for Portugal, too.
(Benfica, 19 years old)
André Horta started his career with Benfica, playing for their futsal team before moving on to football. Horta spent seven seasons with the reigning champions, before he was released as a 14-year-old. He then joined Vitória de Setúbal’s youth set-up, but he later revealed that as a huge fan of Benfica his love for the club almost made him give up on football altogether when released in 2012.
Luckily the energetic midfielder continued to pursue a career in football. At V.Setúbal he got his career back on track and made his Primeira Liga debut at 17. He broke into the first team at 18, and although his side almost suffered relegation Horta personally had a good season. Benfica bought him back from V.Setúbal this summer.
Back at his childhood club, André Horta fits in as a natural replacement for the newly-departed Renato Sanches. Horta doesn’t provide much assists or goals, but, much like Renato, he adds energy, flair and power, making him a great box-to-box player.
After scoring on his debut for Benfica in the Supertaça vs Braga, emotions took over and the quiet 19-year-old started crying on his brother Ricardo’s shoulder after the final whistle. It’s been a long road for Horta, but he’s finally where he belongs; in the middle of the park at his favourite club.
(Sporting, 22 years old)
Rúben Semedo joined Sporting as a 15-year-old from Clube Futebol Benfica (not to be confused with SL Benfica, their fierce rivals) and was handed his competitive debut as a 19-year-old.
Never one of Sporting’ most talented players, he has never given up on his dream of winning titles with the club and has always worked hard. Semedo’s physique was never a problem, as he’s tall and got incredible strength, which has always given him a huge advantage as a defensive midfielder and, mainly, centre-back. It’s the mental part of the game that’s been challenging for him – especially positioning.
Shipped to V.Setúbal on loan last season, Semedo impressed massively. Suddenly the 22-year-old did all the right things, which saw him called back to Sporting in January, six months early. After his departure V.Setúbal collapsed like a house of cards, which almost got them relegated.
Back at Sporting Rúben Semedo went straight into Jorge Jesus’ line-up and hasn’t looked back, starting 17 out of 19 games. He now looks like a complete defender; strong, quick, good in the air and can handle the ball pretty well.
He’s awfully aggressive, though, which is something that makes him a bit of a liability. He picked up 3 red and 12 yellow cards last season, but if there’s one man who can help Semedo contain himself it’s Jorge Jesus.
(Porto, 21 years old)
Otávio is the only Brazilian on the list, which really speaks of the turn Portuguese football has taken over the last few years. If this list was made 4-5 years ago most of the players on it would have South American passports, but Portuguese clubs have really opened their eyes for home grown talent recently.
Os Três Grandes (Benfica, Sporting and Porto) especially have began to take advantage of their phenomenal academies, which has resulted in a boom of talented young Portuguese players in the Primeira Liga.
There’s still plenty of South Americans in Portugal and the most promising of them all is certainly Otávio. After spending 1,5 years on loan at Vitória de Guimarães the winger came back as a new player this summer. Last season was his definitive breakthrough in the Portuguese league, as he scored 6 and assisted 9 goals in 25 Liga games for Guimarães. At times he was absolutely outstanding – his performance in the fierce Minho derby away at Braga was memorable.
Gifted with a lovely right foot, Otávio is a typical playmaker with superb technique and great vision. Thriving on the left wing, he can also pose a threat through the middle. He has already provided 2 assists in his first five starts at Porto and there’s certainly more to come from the 21-year-old.
The Primeira Liga lost a great artist when Nico Gaitán left Benfica for Atlético Madrid this summer. Luckily, Otávio is quite similar in style to the Argentine magician, so hopefully the neutrals won’t miss Gaitán too much.
(Benfica, 20 years old)
Alex Grimaldo joined Benfica last winter after six-and-a-half seasons at Barcelona. The Spaniard wanted a new challenge, and despite heavy interest from several clubs Benfica sealed Grimaldo’s signature.
The full-back only got four starts for Benfica last season following his transfer, but you could see it was just a matter of time before he would demote European Champion, Eliseu, to the bench. Grimaldo possesses great pace, unstoppable attacking will and a left foot of gold.
Grimaldo got the nod at the start of this season after Eliseu was granted an extended vacation following Portugal’s success at the Euros, and he has done very well. It’s hard to imagine the Spaniard losing his place at the moment.
The long-term deal he signed with Benfica might be cut short, though. The left-back hasn’t even played a double-digit number of games for Benfica, but, as with every talented youngster in Portugal, he’s already being linked with a move.
— Benfica Stuff (@Benficastuff) December 29, 2015
(Boavista on loan from Sporting, 22 years old)
Iuri Medeiros was born at the Azores, but was brought to the Portuguese mainland at age 11 to join Sporting’s youth set-up. Naturally gifted with brilliant technique and a wonderful left-foot, it’s hard to not grow fond of the winger.
After several seasons at Sporting B, Iuri finally got the chance to prove himself in the top flight, following a loan move to Arouca in the second half of 2014/15. He impressed, notching 3 goals and 5 assists in 17 games for the newly-promoted club. The following season he was one of the best players in the league during a year on loan at Moreirense. He recorded 8 goals and 12 assists in 29 Liga games – remarkable numbers for a player who isn’t playing for Os Três Grandes.
Despite a terrific season at Moreiense and a whole pre-season at Sporting, Iuri didn’t manage to convince Jorge Jesus to keep him in the squad. Iuri is a marvellous player to watch, but he isn’t as hard-working as Jorge Jesus wants his wingers to be. On deadline day the 22-year-old was loaned to Boavista, where he’ll spend the next 10 months.
Capped 50 times at youth level for Portugal, Iuri Medeiros will go on to have a great career, either at Sporting or elsewhere. His talent is simply too good to be fighting in the lower part of the table.
(Porto on loan from Atlético Madrid, 19 years old)
Not a very familiar name for those who doesn’t follow the Portuguese league on a regular basis, but Diogo Jota is a real gem. The 19-year-old has seen his career skyrocket after his competitive debut for Paços less than two years ago.
Jota is a very versatile player who masters almost every attacking position. Striker, winger, attacking midfielder; just tell him where to play and he’ll deliver. Consistency is definitely one of his strengths.
Jota is always a goalscoring threat as he’s a great finisher and can score from almost any position. He mainly played as a creative winger at Paços, scoring 14 and assisting 10 goals in 41 Liga games. Not bad for a teenager. Had it not been for Renato Sanches’ stunning rise, Diogo Jota would have easily run away with the Primeira Liga’s Revelation of the Year last season.
A move abroad might have come too soon for Diogo Jota, but an immediate loan to Porto, Jota’s hometown, seems to be just what the doctor ordered. It’ll be exciting to see what he can produce under the guidance of Nuno Espírito Santo.