Sporting’s youth academy has gained a reputation for developing many of Portugal’s most promising young talents, with Luís Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo the most famous examples. Attacking midfielder João Mário appears to be the next one to follow in that tradition.

In the opening months of the 2014/15 season Mário has emerged to become a starter in Sporting’s midfield, he has played regularly in the Champions League and has not looked out of place, and has also received his first caps at full international level for Portugal.

Blessed with technical ability and innate football intelligence, João Mário could just be the No10 that the Seleção has lacked since the departure of Deco in 2010. Although he is still far from the finished article, the young midfielder has demonstrated that he has the talent to develop into an elite player for club and country. 

 

 

Career path

João Mário was born in Porto and joined the academy of the Dragões in 2002, along with his older brother Wilson Eduardo. Two years later, their mother relocated to Lisbon and the brothers also moved south to Sporting’s youth system. Mário steadily moved up the ranks at the club and started making a big name for himself in Portugal’s youth squads, playing for every level from Under-15 to Under-21, amassing 77 appearances in total.

He began training with Sporting’s senior side during the 2011/12 season under the then-manager Domingos Paciência, and made his first appearance in a Europa League match against Lazio. However, he remained primarily with the junior set-up, captaining the club’s U-19 squad which won the national championship that season. In 2012/13, he was promoted to the club’s B-team which plays in Portugal’s second tier.

In January 2014 Sporting and Mário made a decision that would provide an important boost to his development, with a loan to Vitória Setúbal agreed for the second half of the season. It proved to be the challenge he needed. Mário’s talents were now on full display on a bigger stage as he and Vitória thrived in a strong finish to the season. It was enough to catch the attention of Portugal manager Paulo Bento who named him in the provisional squad for the World Cup, although he did not make the final cut.

The following season he was back at the Alvalade. With new Sporting coach Marco Silva beginning with André Martins in the playmaker role, alongside William Carvalho and Adrien Silva, the 21-year-old Mário had to wait for his chance. He got his break when given a start in a Primeira Liga match against Gil Vicente on 21 September. He seized it with both hands, providing two assists in a 4-0 victory.

Mário has been a regular starter for the club ever since, scoring his first goal for Sporting against Marítimo on 26 October. October was a memorable month for Mário, who made his full international debut for Portugal on the 11th, coming on as a late substitute for Cristiano Ronaldo in an international friendly against France, almost immediately winning a penalty. 

“Things have happened really quickly and it is incredible to have come on in place of Cristiano [Ronaldo]. I feel very proud and now I will continue to work hard in order to prove that I deserve to stay here. Unfortunately we did not get the win but this was an important moment in my life,” João Mário told the press after his debut.

 

Strengths, weaknesses and style of play

João Mário is an attack-minded midfielder who is blessed with an impressive range of skills and exceptional vision. He knows how to elude defenders and find open space, and possesses a calm demeanour one would not expect of such a young player, rarely making a poor decision on the pitch. He is not afraid to test the goalkeeper from distance, his delivery is quick and accurate, and he is comfortable passing and shooting with both feet.

Mário’s skillset and excellent reading of the game allows him to pull the strings in midfield and dictate the terms of a match, a quality that sets him apart from some of the high-quality midfielders Portugal have produced of late like João Moutinho and Raul Meireles. These two players formed the backbone of the Portugal midfield under Paulo Bento, but they were not full-fledged playmakers, rather box-to-box midfielders who also tracked back and defended. João Mário, in contrast, tends to sit back and look for an opportunity to break forward and start an attack.

Rui Costa and Deco performed the role of playmaker in the past for Portugal. But since the latter’s retirement from international play in 2010, the Seleção have primarily relied on a trio of box-to-box midfielders for creativity. This worked well for much of the Bento era, but recent performances suggest that Fernando Santos needs to inject some young blood into midfield, and João Mário could just be the solution. 

It is very difficult to find a real weakness in his game because he is such an evolved and finely-tuned player. He does not have much aerial ability or a strong physique. This is just not part of his game. Mário is more of a finesse player. He still has to work on his consistency, from match to match and also within games. But this is something likely to come with training and playing time.

Former Sporting and Portugal midfielder Luís Vidigal is certainly excited about the player’s potential, telling Portuguese radio station Rádio Renascença in July: “João Mário is a rare breed in Portuguese football. We are in the presence of one of the best midfielders Portugal has ever produced.”

 

Fact file:

Name: João Mário Naval da Costa Eduardo

Date of birth:  19 January 1993 (21 years old)

Place of birth: Porto, Portugal

Height: 1.77 m

Weight: 73 Kg

Current club: Sporting Clube de Portugal

Position: Attacking Midfielder

Portugal caps: 2 (0 goals)

 

By Rui Miguel Martins

For more from Rui (twitter: @futebolfactory) check out Futebolfactory.com. 

Comments (6)

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Great article. Spot on !

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Great article about a very good young player. Another reason why this site is great. JM could really develop into a top level player. He is already close but needs more time and regular play in order to fully get there. Sporting is starting...

Great article about a very good young player. Another reason why this site is great. JM could really develop into a top level player. He is already close but needs more time and regular play in order to fully get there. Sporting is starting to play near that top level and Champions League and Europa League exposure can do wonders for his experience and skill.

Didn't know he was born in Porto. Maybe this was a missed opportunity for FCP.

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Hoping that in the new year we can slowly transition over to Joao Mario and other midfields rather than having both Tiago & Joao Moutinho out there...2015-2016 will definitely be time to start giving our youngsters their time

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A nice read. It's good to see young central mid players start to come up through the ranks. We have Joao Mario, Marco Lopez and Bernardo Silva in #10 roles with Andre Gomes and William Carvalho sitting in front of the back four. All still young...

A nice read. It's good to see young central mid players start to come up through the ranks. We have Joao Mario, Marco Lopez and Bernardo Silva in #10 roles with Andre Gomes and William Carvalho sitting in front of the back four. All still young with a lot left to learn, but with great promise. Hopefully, their careers won't get derailed by injuries or egos.

My biggest concern with Joao Mario, is the instability at Sporting. My prediction that BdC's reign will finish in a blaze of ruin, seems to be smoldering. I do feel that the fans and club needed someone with his fandom, but he just hasn't proved to have the necessary management acumen to truly push Sporting forward. His rhetoric has been very divisive, and in some instances damaging to the club. The latest in regards too Marco Silva, being out the door is troubling. It's out right ridiculous in how it's being mentioned how there will be "just cause" so the remaining of the contract won't be owed.
Sporting is off last campaigns pace, but they sit one point from third and four from second. This is a new manager to not only Sporting, but to the profession itself, having started in 2011 with Estoril. Should patience be given? Should have he been hired at all? There should be smarter people, then myself, making those decisions. What I do feel is that it's being handled badly.

How long before BdC anoints himself manager? Due to the man, not so silly questions, which underlines the problem.

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Sporting management are up to the same old stupid tactics with news reports that Bruno Da Carvalho is about to fire Marco Silva. You can not build a strong team if you continually change leadership. All Sporting fans need to strongly support...

Sporting management are up to the same old stupid tactics with news reports that Bruno Da Carvalho is about to fire Marco Silva. You can not build a strong team if you continually change leadership. All Sporting fans need to strongly support Marco Silva and voice opinion directly to Sporting management.

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So great that Joao Mario is finally getting the acclaim that his talent deserves. I have sort of liked the fact that he goes about his business quietly and their isnt too much hype over him, but his talent is certainly there and he is a top...

So great that Joao Mario is finally getting the acclaim that his talent deserves. I have sort of liked the fact that he goes about his business quietly and their isnt too much hype over him, but his talent is certainly there and he is a top player! I have always thought that he is the best creative center midfield player in his generation. And I continue to believe that. The rank in sporting's team that he holds now is totally deserved and I remember calling for him long before he even got that spot. Joao Mario is a complete midfield playmaker in my opinion, and just as the article points out its even hard to find a so called weakness in his game. They guy is class and you see it in every part of his play. And his intelligence is amazing. He has the skills to hog the ball if he wanted to and just run and dribble players, but he is already mature and wise enough to know when and how to play the game and that is amazing!


This makes him even more of a threat because he is not a one dimensional player, and defenders can never think oh he is going to play this way and only look to block his dribbles cause he can and will simply control the ball and spot a run and play and excellent pass just as well. And he can finish as well too! As said in the article maybe a lack of an "imposing" physique may be his weakness, but I actually think that Joao Mario is strong as well. Well as strong as you need to be for a central attacking midfielder. Back when Joao Carlos Teixeira was still in Sporting he played number 8 when Joao Carlos played 10 too, so he is a tough guy who knows how to handle himself in the action of midfield too. He is a very athletic player, good strength and good speed too, so he can always evade challenges with his turn of pace.

Joao Mario is a game changer and sure there are others who have potential like Bernardo Silva and Marcos Lopes, the problem with them is that they don't play regularly as yet and they often play out of position. Many times I've watched Marcos Lopes he plays on the wing, and I do not like that. Bernardo Silva when I watched him in the U19 tournament was the central midfiel playmaker, but he hardly plays now so those two need to earn starting spots and play regularly. To me Joao Mario is the best creative center midfielder of his generation, and in this time. Right now Joao Mario and Andre Gomes play different positions but Joao Mario can also play as a 8 and regardless of position in my opinion Joao Mario is a better player than him.


Joao Mario's been doing a great job and just needs to keep it up and naturally he will get better and better. He has a good mature mentality too and seems to be a level headed guy outside the field as well and thats what you like to see, for a player to make the most of his talent.

Relating to what some people have been saying about Sporting's managemt, sure there is a little friction now but I don't see that as a bad thing. Marco Silva sure he has had some promising achievements in his career so far and has shown talent yes, but he must push on and mature and step up to an even greater level demanded by Sporting. I am not content with Sporting being in 4th or 5th spot. Marco Silva has been handed practically the same squad as last season with the exception of Rojo. The team had built chemistry and strenght already finishing 2nd, and in my opinion should be pushing on to achieve a finish just as good if not better. He has all the same talents for the most part and even new additions with Joa Mario, Nani, Paulo Oliveira etc. with added depth. So I was always concerned by some results this season and of course BdC as President is concerned as well. Sporting is 10 points behind Benfica already. That margin must not be allowed to get bigger. In all honestly Marco Silva is doing maybe sorta good or okay, but not great, he needs to do better! Plain and simple.

As far I I know he is continuing as yes stability is important, but I can understand BdC's frustration because of the scenario I described before. This is a team that considering Benfica's weakening with the vast star losses and Porto's huge transitioning period, Sporting should be capitalizing on this and be up or close to the top of the league right now, yet we are not, and Marco Silva needs to accept some blame for that. Yes we support him , but we want to acheive certain targets as well, and we expect him to step up and and be as great as he can be and for Sporting to be at a certain level. There is a whole half a season to play still, so there is still time, but I am okay with BdC putting a little fire under Marco Silva to just keep him inspired and knowing that we are hungry for certain targets.

Sporting is and should be top two that is what we need to work towards time for us to pull our weight and be consistent and win games we ought to win. We have the talent so lets do it!

Forca Sporting!

Hope everybody had a Merry Christmas and all the best for the New Year!

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