In a short period of time, Rúben Neves has emerged from FC Porto’s youth academy to become one of the global game’s most prodigious talents. At the age of 18, he has already made 54 senior appearances at club level.
Neves is a naturally-gifted footballer, with a rare combination of technical skill and awareness. He has every tool needed to become a staple for the Portuguese national team for years to come. PortuGoal takes a closer look at the Porto prodigy.
Neves was a Portista from an early age and joined the academy of the Portuguese giants at the age of eight. He moved steadily up the ranks as a defensive midfielder.
In July 2014, Neves was named in Julen Lopetegui’s pre-season squad and quickly earned praise from coaches and pundits with some great performances.
“Rúben Neves has extraordinary mental qualities, to go along with technical and tactical skills. He is a player who has the ability to read and understand the game, and then react,” Luís Castro, manager of Porto’s reserve squad, said at the time.
It was enough to earn him a place in the starting line-up in the club’s first match of the Primeira Liga season against Marítimo. And it would be a dream debut.
It took him only 11 minutes to score his first goal at senior level, becoming the youngest player to do so in the club’s history at 17 years and five months. Neves received a standing ovation from the crowd when he was substituted late in the match.
It was the first of many impressive milestones for him. Just five days later, he broke Cristiano Ronaldo’s record as the youngest Portuguese player ever to play in the Champions League, when he started in FC Porto’s 1-0 victory over Lille.
His season almost came to a sudden halt when he injured his right knee in a collision with Alex Teixeira in a December 2014 Champions League match against FC Shakhtar Donetsk. Luckily, there was no serious damage and he was out for weeks instead of months.
But after returning in January he had lost his place to Brazilian Casemiro. He was relegated to a second-string role. This season, Neves has established himself as an undisputed starter for Lopetegui’s club and has continued to grow as a player.
In October, he was handed the captain’s armband for the first time in a Champions League encounter against Maccabi Tel Aviv, becoming the youngest captain in the history of the competition.
In November, he was called to the senior Seleção for the first time, as an injury replacement for João Moutinho. Neves was a late substitute in Portugal’s 1-0 defeat against Russia. He followed that up with an excellent display in a 2-0 win against Luxembourg just a few days later, playing the entire match.
Strengths, Weaknesses and Style of Play
Neves possesses an ability to think and react quickly, with an excellent passing range and vision. His ability to complete long-distance passes to his teammates is breathtaking. According to football statistics website WhoScored.com, Neves completed 85.8% of his passes in the group stage of the Champions League this season. He is naturally right-footed, but has demonstrated good ability with his left foot as well.
He does have an aggressive side to his game, but does not accumulate many yellow cards. He excels at interceptions and breaking up opponent’s attacks. At times, he has struggled with man-marking, but he compensates with excellent positioning and an innate understanding of the game.
Neves is not known for scoring goals or piling on assists. His goal just minutes into his first senior match in August 2014 remains the only time he has netted in his Porto career so far. However, being a regular goal-scorer is not expected for the type of player he is.
Teammate Cristian Tello has compared him to Sergio Busquets, but Neves offers a little more offensive prowess. With Danilo Pereira doing much of the defensive work in midfield for Porto this season, Neves has often played further up the pitch as a deep-lying playmaker.
In a recent interview, he compared his style of play to Italian international Andrea Pirlo. “I have always been inspired by Pirlo. He plays the same position and has a similar style as me. He likes to have the ball,” he says.
“We cannot only think about attacking. Defending well, starting attacks from the back, and disrupting opponents is a big part of the game today.”
If Neves continues on his current trajectory, he could make the Portugal squad for Euro 2016. A solid second-half of the season could just be enough to tip the balance in his favour.
Name: Rúben Diogo da Silva Neves
Date of birth: 13 March, 1997 (18 years old)
Place of birth: Mozelos, Santa Maria da Feira, Portugal
Current club: FC Porto
Position: Defensive Midfielder
Portugal caps: 2 (0 goals)
By Rui Miguel Martins