Portuguese footballers to have graced the pitches of Italy: a retrospective

Historically, Portuguese footballers have had a love-hate relationship with Italy. Some of the very best have played in Serie A. However, some genuine talents have failed to make their mark there despite how talented they were, as per the unlucky Tiago Mendes and one of my favourite players of all time, the enigmatic Ricardo Quaresma.

This got me to thinking. Who are the most prolific Portuguese scorers in Italy? I often see lists for a single season or with a single club but never an overall view. This made me very curious, so off I dived into the internet to investigate.

Some names came as no surprise but others threw me for a loop. Let’s start with the big guns, the most famous Luso Iberians to cross the Mediterranean. 

Il Leone di Milano

Rafa Leão has established himself as one the best players in Serie A and one of the most exciting wingers in world football. His last 2 goals were both highlight reel strikes. A trait he has repeated throughout his tenure in Italy. 

Leão arrived in Milan with moderate expectations. Leaving Sporting on the back of the infamous fan violence when Sporting ultras invaded the Alcochete training complex and attacked the players. Never in Stefano Pioli’s wildest dreams did they imagine Rafa would go on to score a ridiculous 53 goals and 47 assists in 199 matches for the Rossoneri. The goal contributions are even more impressive given Leão has mainly been deployed as a winger and a support striker in Italy.

It is not only his stats that impress but Leao often is simply unstoppable, no defender on the planet has been able to slow him down once he engages beast mode.

The human highlight reel has also benefitted from the tutelage of Zlatan Ibrahimovich who took the Portuguese kid under his wing early on. The long-term benefits of this friendship will have nothing but positive repercussions for not only Milan but for our Seleção.

The scariest part of Leão’s game however is that he is only 24. The best is yet to come. A cheeky visit to MostBet to put some hard-earned on Leão becoming top scorer in Serie A in next season could reap big rewards. 

Il Paso Doble

Luís Figo’s career at Inter was pure class. Figo won the Scudetto in every season he played for the Nerazzuri, 4 in total to go along with 3x Italian Super Cups and 1x Italian Cup.

So impressive was Figo’s playing style with the fans that the popular Inter television broadcaster Roberto Scarpini dubbed Figo “Il Paso Doble” for his beautiful step-overs. He said Luís was like an intricate dancer on the pitch.

Figo was mainly deployed as a midfielder by then coach Roberto Mancini but could also be played on the wings where he amassed 11 goals and 29 assists in his 4 seasons at the Giuseppe Miazza stadium.

A Balon d’Or winner in 200 in his Real Madrid days, Figo is always remembered in Italy as an all-time great, a player that comes along once a generation.

Il Maestro

In 1994 six million euros was all it cost Fiorentina to pry Rui away from his childhood club Benfica, who were on the verge of bankruptcy. From 1994 to 2000 Rui and Gabriel Batistuta formed the deadliest partnership in Europe. The two terrorised Italian defences earning Rui the nickname of the “prince of Florence”.

His incredible 40-yard passes often stunned football fans and provided the service Batistuta had been lacking during his first two seasons in Florence. When Rui arrived in 1994, Batistuta finished top scorer in Italy. The club went on a 15-match unbeaten run and Batistuta scored in 11 matches straight. Rui would often attract multiple defenders to him allowing his teammates to roam into wide open positions.

“The Maestro” Rui Costa played 277 matches for Fiorentina and 192 for AC Milan. His total career numbers are 61 goals, 93 assists, 469 games, 1x Champions League, 1x UEFA Supercup, 3x Italian Cups, 2x Italian Supercups and 1x Scudetto.

I’ve read numerous accounts, stories and autobiographies but there was one quote which I thought would provide the best idea of how Rui was seen by his peers:

“I’m not Zidane and I’m not Rui Costa, but I have qualities, I can create assists, but I have to step up a level to become like those two” - Clarence Seedorf


April 3rd 2018, Champions league quarter-final in Turin, Real Madrid v Juventus. Ronaldo scores an outrageous overhead bicycle kick goal against Gianluigi Buffon. In an instant the entire stadium fell silent. Then in an act of pure class by the Juventus faithful, Ronaldo who was playing for Madrid received a standing ovation. It was at that moment CR7 decided he wanted to play for the “old lady”. 

Indeed, the reaction all over the world to the most sensational goal Ronaldo ever scored - and there are a lot to choose from - said it all. Soon Juventus fans would be applauding him again, but as one of their own.

101 goals and 22 assists in 134 appearances is insanity. 2x Scudettos, 2x Italian Supercups, 1x Italian Cup, but the most treasured of titles eluded him with Juventus: the Champions League.

There is no doubt in my mind if Ronaldo had joined Juventus just 2 to 3 years prior they would have won. Much of the blame for the loses to Madrid in 2016/17 and 2017/18 fell on the shoulders of striker Gonzalo Higuain. Unfair but that’s football at times.

Ronaldo was supposed to be an upgrade in that department and statistically he was. However, an aging squad, loss of key players and perhaps simple fatigue contributed to Juve not being able to lift the trophy. Regardless, CR7’s time in Italy can only be seen as a huge success. Fabio Cannavaro put it best when he dubbed Ronaldo the “coach saviour”.

I’ve covered the most famous Portuguese players in Italy but what about the surprises? Let’s take a look.

Dany Mota

Born in Luxembourg to Portuguese immigrant parents, Dany Mota Carvalho is living the dream of every Portuguese kid born outside of Portugal.

Dany began his career in Serie C with Virtus Entella. A club who may play in the most beautiful town in Italy, (Chiavara). 

There, Dany was rampant, 18 goals in his first season culminating in promotion for his club. Then 14 more in Serie B the following season. 

This form caught the eye of Juventus who bought the player and sent him to their U23 squad. Juventus recognised Dany needed playing time so they loaned him to a club in Serie C. That club was FC Monza.

A special clause in his contract allowed Monza to buy the player if they were promoted, which they duly achieved. Not only did they get promoted to Serie B, but with Dany’s pace, vision and scoring touch they repeated the promotion the following season and joined the big boys in Serie A. 

Monza currently sit in 10th spot and in my humble opinion along with Bologna are the must watch clubs in Italia. Dany has 82 goals total in Italy but specifically 30 goals and 21 assists in 122 appearances for Monza. He currently is only 25 and just this week was called up to the Seleção.

With his iconic goal celebration and positive attitude the best is yet to come from Dany.

Sérgio Conceição

The fiery current manager of Porto is often forgotten in talks about great Portuguese players. There could be many reasons for this: club loyalty; not enough time at one club; or simple ignorance. Sérgio played most of his career as a winger but was also deployed as a defensive mid in Italy, a country that loves deep-lying midfielders ala Pirlo and Sérgio’s passing range, aggressiveness and speed made him a natural.

Bagging an impressive 20 goals and 32 assists across three clubs, I am left wondering what could have been if he had just been more careful in his club choices and less apt to explode at the slightest provocation (i.e. his time in Belgium). Regardless, when he was on Sergio could be unplayable, as demonstrated with his famous hat-trick for the Seleção v Germany at Euro 2000.

Miguel Veloso

With movie star good looks and lethal dead ball skills Miguel surprised me with his 247 matches in Italy, where he continues to this day with Pisa.

Almost a player out of time, Miguel could never be described as “speedy” but his vision, high IQ and pinpoint accuracy allowed him to enjoy a long career in Italy as a regular starter for Genoa and the fantastically named Hellas Verona.

Miguel chipped in with 10 goals and 27 assists, all while being deployed as a deep midfielder or defensive mid where he also had high averages for blocks, steals and tackles. 


Born with a name like Norberto Bercique Gomes Betuncal could not have been easy and at some point he assumed the much easier on the tongue nickname of Beto.

So what if I told you Beto has a better goals per match average than Nuno Gomes at Fiorentina? Impressed? What if I also told you Udinese finished 12th in the 2021/22 season with Beto often being left alone up front. I am not implying Beto is as good as Nuno “Golos” Gomes but Beto is still only 25. His career is just beginning and in only 65 matches he managed 22 goals.

That his recent move to Everton has not worked out thus far has left many of us tracking his career scratching our heads, but hopefully he can show his worth or return to Italy where he had much success. The ability is there, the size and strength is there, let’s hope he continues to grow and goes onto a rich career like Nuno Gomes, and not fall off the earth like Nelson Oliveira (of course as I wrote this Nelson scores a goal for Braga, go figure).

Bruno Fernandes

Our boy Bruno has been a household name here at PortuGOAL long before he made the move to Old Trafford. Many of the regular rabble were loudly calling for his call-up to the Seleção due to his impressive displays for Udinese, Sampdoria and Sporting. 

Statistically his time in Italy was good: 25 goals and 18 assists in 163 games. Also consider Bruno was 17 when he joined Novara. Not a traditional path for a Portuguese footballer. To me it shows Bruno has a warrior spirit. 

A poster child for the ups and downs of football. Even though Bruno impressed with his consistent displays he never really exploded in Italy. Bruno can be impatient and loves to attack, which are both attributes not often associated with Italian football.

I believe he would still be in Italy if one of the big 8 clubs came calling but for whatever reason they didn’t and Bruno chose Sporting, which was the best career decision of his life. 

Footballer success is often dictated by timing and a fair amount of luck and I believe there is a timeline out there where Bruno joined Inter or Juventus and became a club legend. Still, it was in Italy that Bruno was forged in fire and was able to join Sporting as the burgeoning superstar and then onto Manchester United as a world-class player.

Honourable mentions

There are so many others I wish I could cover but the article would go on forever, but an honourable mention must go to Paulo Sousa, Bruno Alves, Nuno Gomes, Rui Barros, Jose Vidigal, Fernando Couto and Mario Rui who have all rampaged down the pristine pitches in Italy to much success.

Italy remains a top destination for Portuguese footballers and fans alike. Viva l’Italia and Força Portugal sempre!

By Val Carvalho

(all stats were pulled from https://www.transfermarkt.com/ however the opinions are my own, obrigado)