Sporting’s famous Alcochete academy has become known for producing many talented wingers over the years. Ricardo Quaresma, Nani, Simão Sabrosa, and of course, Cristiano Ronaldo, are just some that immediately come to mind.
Now, Gelson Martins looks to be the next player to carry on that proud tradition. In his first season with Sporting’s senior squad, the 20-year-old has impressed with his bursts of speed and his skill on the ball.
PortuGOAL takes a closer look at Sporting’s new sensation Gelson Martins.
Martins was born in the former Portuguese colony of Cape Verde, before moving to Lisbon when he was eight years old. He began playing football with Clube Futebol Benfica (an amateur club from the Lisbon neighbourhood of Benfica, not to be confused with the Portuguese giants of the same name) before joining Sporting’s famed academy in 2010. He would rise steadily up the ranks at the club.
In 2014/15, Martins graduated to Sporting’s B squad, playing in 40 league matches, scoring six goals. He also made his debut with the senior squad, playing twice in their Taça da Liga campaign.
Martins’ impressive performances during Sporting’s preparation matches in the summer were enough to earn him a spot in the squad for the Cândido de Oliveira Super Cup season curtain raiser against Benfica on 9 August. He came on for Andre Carrillo, with his club leading 1-0 in injury time in the second half.
In a matter of weeks he surpassed Carlos Mané in the depth chart at Alvalade. Carrillo’s contract dispute and subsequent suspension from the club opened up more playing time for Martins. But, he has justified every minute with some solid displays.
Success with Portugal’s youth squads
Martins has been a regular fixture with Portugal’s youth squads since the U18 level. He was outstanding at the 2014 UEFA European U19 Championships, helping Portugal get to the final, where they lost 1-0 to Germany. He scored one of the best goals of the tournament against hosts Hungary in a 6-1 group stage victory, dribbling past several defenders before slotting into the net.
He was again, a prominent figure for Portugal at this summer’s U20 World Cup, scoring twice in the tournament. He scored an impressive trivela goal in the final minutes of Portugal’s round of 16 match against hosts New Zealand. The young winger was also Portugal’s best player in their quarter-final match against Brazil, which they lost on penalty kicks after a scoreless draw.
Rui Jorge gave him his first U21 cap in September for Portugal’s Euro 2017 qualifying campaign. And a first senior call-up may not be that far off either, given that Seleção coach Fernando Santos has demonstrated a willingness to give young players a chance. That will strongly depend on whether he continues to play regularly, and maintain his positive form.
Strengths, weaknesses and style of play
His tremendous speed and dribbling ability are what catch most people’s attention. This allows him to beat defenders in one-on-one situations. As a classical winger, his style of play bears a striking similarity to Nani.
The comparison is unavoidable. Both players come from Portugal’s large Cape Verdean community and are graduates of Sporting’s academy. They are both skilled wingers, with great vision and ball control. And like Nani, Martins is not known for scoring many goals. As of 20 November, he has only one solitary goal against Vilafranquense in a 4-0 win in the Portuguese Cup.
He told football website Maisfutebol in May that he hopes to follow in Nani’s footsteps. “I always liked Nani. It would be an honour to be his successor [at Sporting]. We will see. Time will tell.”
Martins is also quite versatile. At Sporting’s academy, he was used as a right-back and a central midfielder at times. However, his natural position is winger. He can play on both flanks, but has been more commonly used on the right side at the senior level and with Portugal’s youth squads.
He has fit comfortably in Jorge Jesus’ 4-4-2 formation this season. Jesus is happy with Martins’ contribution, but says he needs to learn how to utilize his skills better within a team system. “Gelson is a boy with a lot of quality. But he does not know how to play with others yet. He plays very well individually but needs to play at a more competitive level,” his manager said after the youngster’s first league start against Nacional in September.
Right now, playing time is crucial to his development. He will need to continue to improve his consistency, especially within matches, and he needs to produce more tangible results in the form of goals and assists. But should he continue to progress as quickly as he has in the last few months, Sporting and Portugal will soon be boasting another top winger within their ranks.
Name: Gelson Dany Batalha Martins
Date of birth: 11 May, 1995 (20 years old)
Place of birth: Praia, Cape Verde
Current club: Sporting Clube de Portugal
By Rui Miguel Martins