The summer of 2016 will be fondly remembered for all eternity by Portuguese football fans as the Seleção finally lifted their first trophy, in France. 

With a healthy smattering of young players playing key roles in the triumph, hopes were high that the conquest would usher in a golden era for the national team. That has not changed, and the introduction of fresh blood into the Seleção, such as Porto striker André Silva and Sporting winger Gelson Martins, has arguably made Fernando Santos’s squad even stronger.

However, as the 2016/17 campaign heads into the home straight, a worrying number of Portugal’s Euro 2016 heroes have had seasons to forget, raising doubts as to what kind of shape the Seleção will be in at next year’s World Cup.

 

Renato Sanches followed up a fabulous debut season for Benfica and a huge-money move to Bayern Munich with a string of impressive performances in France, earning him the vote as the best young player at Euro 2016. However, instead of kicking on, Sanches has struggled to make any sort of impact at the German giants, and will be disappointed to have accumulated just 800 minutes in all competitions in Bavaria, with zero assists and zero goals to his name. Still a teenager, Sanches has time on his side, but as many foresaw a year ago, the move to one of the world’s biggest teams packed with world-class midfielders appears to have been premature and injudicious for his development.

Another young Portugal midfielder who completed a high-profile transfer for a huge fee was André Gomes, who moved from Valencia to Barcelona for €35 million with a potential further €20m in add-ons. Used predominantly in a more withdrawn role by coach Luis Enrique, Gomes has had a torrid time at his new club, being targeted by Barça fans for booing after a string of less than convincing displays, both by himself and the team. Enrique has strongly defended the player, but with the coach leaving the Camp Nou at the end of the season, the former Benfica midfielder’s future in Catalonia is racked with uncertainty.

João Mário played all seven games at Euro 2016, which on top of a superb season for Sporting earned him a €40 million move to Italian giants Inter Milan in August. The 24-year-old impressed in the first half of the season, and a return of 3 goals and 4 assists in 28 games to date for the Serie A club shows his time at the San Siro has been far from a failure. However, in recent weeks Mário has been disappointingly relegated to the substitutes’ bench, playing only 55 minutes of football for his club side since February.

Eder’s name will forever be associated with Portugal’s greatest triumph, but the Guinea-Bissau born striker’s wonderful winner in the European Championship final has not triggered a particularly happy season at his French club Lille. Eder has managed just 6 goals in 31 matches, and has had to endure some rough treatment from opposing fans as he travels around France. After the striker was booed by PSG fans at the Parc des Princes in December, the then Lille coach Patrick Collot said: “Eder didn’t make France lose. He made Portugal win. He won the European Championship for his country and we should respect that.”

A pronounced dip in form has attracted criticism for centre-back José Fonte and winger Rafa Silva. The former Southampton centre-back has failed to reproduce his best football since moving to West Ham, while Rafa has done little to justify the €16m transfer fee from Braga to Benfica (a record for a domestic transfer in Portugal). Rafa remains a speedy and tricky opponent for defenders, but his decision making at crunch times has left a lot to be desired. Two goals and three assists in 29 matches in 2016/17 reflect his poor end product.

While failure to hit their best form and/or lack of opportunities account for the underwhelming seasons of the above-mentioned players, it is injuries that have severely hampered the seasons of Pepe (after missing several games with niggling injuries the Real Madrid centre-back’s campaign is now over after breaking two ribs against Atletico at the weekend) and Adrien Silva (the Sporting captain made his second comeback of the season after another considerable layoff on Saturday) and fitness issues have also dictated a stop-start season for Nani after his move from Turkish team Fenerbahce to La Liga outfit Valencia.

One of the key factors behind Portugal finally breaking their trophy duck at Euro 2016 was the happy coincidence that practically every one of the squad members went into the tournament on the back of a highly positive season at individual level. Their bubbling confidence was put at the service of the collective good, enabling Santos to build a formidable team, despite several changes in personnel during the month. To attain more success at the Russia World Cup, the Portugal manager will be hopeful of a far more productive campaign for many of his key players in 2017/2018.

by Tom Kundert

 

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  • Guest - joe

    Thats ok...bernardo silva, bruma, ricardo pereira, nelson semedo, joao cancelo along with a.silva and gelson are having breakout seasons. The team will have way more depth than the euros.

    As far as r.sanches...he just turned 19 this year on the best squad depth wise in the world...but i was against this move..he was better offf going to man utd and the premeir league as the pace and power of the league along with man utd looking to build for future would have suited his playing style and development better..time will tell...he is at his best driving the midefield forward not possesion based football.

    Andre gomes will come good...he needs.more time...and a fire under his butt to be more consistent and confident in his abilities and skills ala valencia ala rui costa!

    I almost forgot about r.guerriero who is only better this season.


    My only concern is center back as the two guys who are so solid together Pepe and fonte are getting older and injuries may play a part this summer and next...without any world class CBs to replace them...as ruben semedo is not quite ready yet to take the mantle.

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  • Guest - George

    Agree with Joe but would like to add a couple more names to the list:

    Danilo's been fantastic for Porto most of the season and that shouldn't be overlooked. The reason why I mention him is not only for depth in defensive midfield but also for versatility as well. He's played right back and center back in the past and while we don't need any help at RB, it's getting to a point where Fernando Santos might be considering converting him to a CB for the national team. I think he could excel there as he's very Pepe-like in his determination and intensity. To me, it's a waste having him on the bench - he's has too much to contribute. Add to that the fact that we have other young defensive midfield options coming through the ranks like Ruben Neves and Joao Pahlninia from Sporting (forgive my spelling), and I think it's a good shout.

    Defensively, I would also like to mention Cedric. He's been outstanding all season for Southampton - very rarely makes mistakes, and when he does, he just brushes it off like it's nothing as he did against Poland at the Euros. He's become so solid defensively that I'm starting to fantasize about what our team might look like in a 3-4-3 system with him at the back on the right and either Joao Cancelo, Nelson Semedo, or Ricardo Pereira ahead of him as a wingback. Add Raphael or Rafa Soares as a wingback on the other side, with, say, a Danilo behind them, and a Pepe in the middle, and I think you could have something really special. It seems to be the trend football is heading in - I think we could pull it off if we wanted to.

    Lastly, I just want to mention the progress of Carlos Mane at Stuttgart and Helder Costa at Wolves. I've always been a fan of both wingers and couldn't be happier at their success. It's a shame Mane's just gotten injured but he's been a big part of the reason why Stuttgart are most likely going to find themselves in the Bundesliga again next season. He strikes me as cool, calm, and mature beyond his years - much like a William Carvalho or Joao Mario - but with a better scoring touch and better creativity. And speaking of scoring touch and creativity - What can you say about Helder Costa?! Dude's looked like a world-beater and has the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, and Spurs interested in him. I know some people will scoff and say that they've only been successful because they're playing in second division leagues but I would argue that the second divisions of both England and Germany are stronger than Portugal's first division, where many of our starters still play. I think both young men, if integrated by Santos by next year, will boost our creativity and scoring significantly, thus taking the pressure off of players like Ronaldo, Andre Silva, and Bernardo Silva.

    I've said enough. Ultimately, I feel like we shouldn't be TOO concerned with what we're seeing. Remember, most of these guys are adapting to a new life. Renato Sanches in particular went from Benfica's B team, to starting for his country at the Euros, to playing for one of the three best teams in the world in Bayern Munich - and he's still a teenager. Those who harshly criticize him (not you Tom - I'm thinking of those labelling him a "bust") are being absurd. It's like criticizing a student who's gone straight from kindergarten to college, and hasn't gotten straight As in their first semester in college, and saying that they aren't smart anymore. Renato's got A LOT of adjusting to do! Add to all this the fact that we should start seeing a few more youngins from the U21s being considered by next year in much the same way they were by Santos last year (I'm thinking of guys like maybe Bruno Fernandes, Rony Lopes, the aforementioned Ruben Semedo and Ruben Neves) and I think we'll be just fine.

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  • Thanks for the comments Joe & George. I originally included a paragraph in the article talking about the great seasons some of the other Euro 2016 heroes were having: Cédric, Rapha Guerreiro & Danilo are probably having the best season of their careers while Quaresma just gets better and better with age. I cut it out because the article's not really about that, but yeah, for sure there's no reason for alarm.

    Portugal's talent well is so deep even if the worst happened and two or three players had to miss out on the Russia WC I don't think it would significantly weaken Portugal (provided one wasn't CR7 of course). Another bonus from this point of view is that I can't see Fernando Santos making the same mistake as Bento at the 2014 WC where he selected a squad of players who were mostly half fit / out of form because of what they'd done in the previous Euro. I think Santos is too intelligent to let misplaced loyalty get in the way of picking the players who will give Portugal the best possible chance in Russia.

    Cheers, Tom

    Comment last edited on about 5 months ago by Tom Kundert
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