Portugal’s disappointing performance in Brazil added to the perception that the squad is in serious need of renewal. Paulo Bento took a squad with an average age of 28.3 years to the World Cup, making it one of the oldest in the tournament.
And it showed in the results. The Seleção looked in a poor state physically from the start. As a result, several players struggled through injuries and the squad faded in the late stages of matches.
Paulo Bento has started the process of looking to younger players for the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign. Fortunately, there is a wealth of promising Portuguese youngsters that have the potential to make an impact internationally.
With the traditional Três Grandes not always showing a willingness to put their trust in home-grown talent, an increasing number of young Portuguese players are trying their luck in other European leagues at a young age. Many of these players have already made a major contribution at club level.
Olympique Lyonnais goalkeeper Anthony Lopes and FC Lorient defender Raphaël Guerreiro are the children of Portuguese parents who were brought up in France. Both were among the best debutants in Ligue 1 this past season.
Marcos Lopes will also spend this season in Ligue 1, after being loaned to Lille by Manchester City. The young midfielder should get a chance to play regularly with the French club.
Udinese midfielder Bruno Fernandes never received much attention in Portugal and eventually accepted a modest offer from Serie B side Novara. It turned out to be an excellent gamble. Fernandes adjusted to the Italian style of football very quickly and soon earned a move to Udinese, where he became a fixture in the starting XI.
And former Sporting Lisbon winger Bruma showed great promise in limited action for Galatasaray, before his season was cut short due to a knee injury.
Here is a more detailed look at these five Portuguese starlets playing abroad whose progress should be tracked this season.
Anthony Lopes, Olympique Lyonnais, goalkeeper
French-born Anthony Lopes earned the starting berth at the beginning of 2013/14 with the Ligue 1 club at the expense of veteran goalkeeper Rémy Vercoutre. His impressive start to the season also earned him his first international call-up in September 2013. A back injury in early November threatened to end his season, but he returned to action just five weeks later. He was also in Paulo Bento’s preliminary squad for the World Cup, but missed the final cut for Brazil.
Lopes was sensational during Lyon’s run in the Europa League in particular. He made several spectacular saves in the first leg of their quarter-final match against Juventus before the French club was eliminated. He finished the Ligue 1 season with 13 clean sheets in 32 appearances. Although not overly tall at 1.84m, Lopes is blessed with excellent aerial ability and technique. He is yet to receive a cap for Portugal, but with Eduardo and Beto both aging, Lopes could establish himself as an automatic choice for the Seleção very soon.
Raphaël Guerreiro, FC Lorient, left-back
An offensively-gifted left-back, whose star is clearly on the rise. Raphaël Guerreiro was named to Ligue 2’s Team of the Season as a 19-year-old when he played with Caen in 2012/13. He earned a move to French top-flight club FC Lorient last summer and had a very good first season. He has since been selected for Portugal’s U-21 squad on several occasions during qualifying for the 2015 European Championships. At only 20 years of age, he has already established himself as one of the best young talents in Ligue 1.
Guerreiro was born in France and spent some time playing at the famous Clairefontaine academy, which has helped produce some of the country’s biggest names. But make no mistake, his attributes resemble that of the Portuguese game. Guerreiro has good speed, is a good crosser of the ball and was among the leading stats in the French league for interceptions. He still has to work on his tackling ability and positioning, problems that are not unusual for young attack-minded defenders.
Bruno Fernandes, Udinese, attacking midfielder
Fernandes spent some time at Pasteleira and Boavista as a youth player before moving to Novara in 2012. He helped the club achieve promotion to the Italian top flight a year later. This past season at Udinese, Fernandes continued to adjust well to the physicality and competitive level of Italian football. After beginning the season in the club’s reserve squad, he eventually earned a regular spot in the starting XI in November. He impressed with his skill, vision and stamina.
Fernandes played most of the season in the ‘Number 10’ position behind veteran striker Antonio Di Natale, establishing himself as the team’s creative force in midfield. And he was part of the U-21 squad that finished third at this summer’s Toulon tournament. He has proven to be particularly dangerous down the left side and could even play at full-back. Still largely underappreciated in Portugal, the 19-year-old has already established himself as a regular contributor in one of Europe’s top leagues.
Marcos Lopes, Lille OSC, attacking midfielder
18-year-old Marcos Lopes is one of the most talked about teenagers in world football. Brazilian born, he moved to Portugal at a very young age. He has represented Portugal at youth level. Lopes is a product of Benfica’s academy, but moved to Manchester City in 2011. Since then, his reputation has grown steadily. Lopes’ playing style has been likened to former Brazilian international Ronaldinho. He feels most comfortable on the left side of midfield, but has also played further up the pitch.
Lopes became the youngest ever player to score a competitive goal for Manchester City when he found the net in an FA Cup match against Watford in January 2013 at the age of 17. In a January 2014 League Cup match against West Ham, Lopes delivered a perfect cross from the left side to Alvaro Negredo for the opening goal of the match. He would help set up a second goal and was eventually named the Man of the Match. This season, he should get an opportunity at Lille to demonstrate just how good he could be.
Bruma, Galatasaray, winger
Portuguese fans should already be very familiar with this precocious talent. Bruma burst on the scene with Sporting Lisbon in 2013 with his dazzling skill which earned him comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo. He followed that up with spectacular performances at the 2013 U-20 World Cup where he scored five goals in four matches. A contract dispute with Sporting then led to the youngster forcing a move to Turkish club Galatasaray, last summer.
Bruma was primarily used in the Champions League and Turkish Cup matches by then manager Roberto Mancini last season. It was enough to earn his first international call-up in October as a replacement for a suspended Ronaldo during World Cup qualifying. His season came to an abrupt end when he suffered a serious knee injury in January. But Bruma has now returned to action, Mancini has been replaced by fellow Italian Cesare Prandelli, and should the winger stay healthy this season, he could earn a move to one of Europe’s biggest clubs.
By Rui Miguel Martins