Marcos Lopes is steadily building on his promise as one of the most exciting young talents to come along in quite some time. Lopes first made headlines when he scored on his senior debut for Manchester City in an FA Cup match against Watford just over two years ago.
Since then, he has continued to add to his burgeoning reputation. Last summer, Lopes played a leading role in helping Portugal to the final at the UEFA European Under-19 Championship in Hungary, where they lost to Germany. Currently on loan at French club Lille, he has taken his game to another level since returning from injury in January. PortuGoal takes a closer look at 'Rony' Lopes.
The Lopes family relocated to Portugal from Brazil in search of a better life when Marcos was still a toddler. He would turn up to practice at his local football team wearing the jersey of his favourite player, Brazilian striker Ronaldo, which led the coach to call him Rony for short. It stuck. Marcos is now called Rony by family and friends and even uses the nickname for his official twitter account.
It was not too long before his precocious talent caught the eye of a big club. At the age of 11 he joined Benfica’s youth system where he stayed for the next five years, before upping sticks and emigrating for the second time in his young life. We are in the year 2011 and the move was to none other than Premier League giants Manchester City.
After two seasons with the club’s reserves, anxiously awaiting his opportunity in a multi-million pound squad, his big chance came in January 2013. He enjoyed a remarkable senior debut, scoring a goal only minutes after coming on as a substitute in an FA Cup match against Watford, thus becoming the youngest player ever to score for the English club at 17 years and eight days.
Making a splash at Man City
Manuel Pellegrini also gave the youngster a start in a January 2014 League Cup match against West Ham. Lopes again responded in magnificent fashion, creating two goals on the way to being named Man of the Match. His performance earned lavish praise from the Chilean coach, and he began training regularly with the senior squad, but as the huge-money signings continued to be made, it was almost impossible to see any meaningful first-team action, and in July Lopes was loaned to Ligue 1 club Lille for a season.
He had a bright start in France, scoring his first goal against Nantes in September, only to suffer a serious hamstring injury against Bastia a few weeks later, then aggravating the injury when making his comeback, ruling him out until mid-January. Upon returning to action, though, Lopes has been making up for lost time with sparkling displays. The match against then leaders Lyon in particular, would make the football world stand up and take notice. With Lille trailing 1-0 at half time, Lopes singlehandedly propelled his team to victory with an extraordinary individual performance, providing a perfect assist for the equaliser before firing a left-footed strike past Anthony Lopes. Lille would hold on to win 2-1, with Lopes telling Portuguese sports daily Record: “It was the best performance of my career.”
Born in the city of Belém in northern Brazil, but brought up in Portugal, the choice of which national team he will opt for has been the subject of much speculation. Lopes has played for Portugal at several youth levels, including U21, but officials from the Brazilian national team have contacted him about switching allegiance. When asked about his international future Lopes has generally indicated he is happy to represent Portugal, the country that gave him and his family a chance to improve their lives. Statements given to Brazilian publications suggest he has not totally closed the door on his native country – although these declarations could be put down to mere politeness.
He remains eligible to play for Brazil and Portugal at senior level, and a certain level of doubt will remain until he makes his debut for one or other in an official competitive match. Many in Portugal have called for the Seleção coaching team to cap him quickly to prevent the risk of losing such a gem of a player.
Speed, skill, bravery
Lopes’ greatest strengths are his dribbling ability and ball control which are breathtaking to watch at times. He also possesses good speed which allows him to draw many fouls. His tactical awareness is improving as he continues to adjust to the competitive level of Ligue 1.
Simon Curtis is ESPN’s Manchester City correspondent, never missing a game of the Citizens, as well as being part of the PortuGoal team. After the youngster’s extraordinary display against West Ham, Curtis gave a glowing appraisal of what he called a “prodigious talent.”
“His main attributes are his faultless close control, great speed off the mark, speed of thought, eye for a pass and courage (he clattered happily into a couple of 50-50 balls with giant West ham defenders and chased down the keeper in a 40-60 ball in the opposition’s favour). Was still going strong at the end,” Curtis said.
He reads the game extremely well for such a young player, and he demonstrated against Lyon that he has the ability to take control of a match. Lopes opened up the Lyon defence with his movement and passing, creating space for his team-mates to run into. And he can score goals as well. He has a particularly strong left foot and a quick release to go with it.
It is difficult to find any real weakness in his game. That said, the 19-year-old is only now starting to play regularly at a high level and as a result, he is still evolving into a complete footballer. He needs to continue to work on his consistency and discipline. Last summer, at the UEFA European Under-19 Championships, he scored a brace in the opening match against Israel, but his influence waned as the tournament went on. In a recent match against Saint-Étienne, Lopes lost possession and flew hard into a tackle, receiving the first red card of his senior career.
Portugal’s main man?
It’s fair to assume that the few flaws ‘Rony’ displays will be ironed out with experience. And with such an armoury of assets in his favour, it is not completely far-fetched to speculate that Portugal’s current star turn may be succeeded by his near namesake in the not-too-distant future.
Name: Marcos Paulo Mesquita ‘Rony’ Lopes
Date of birth: 28 December, 1995 (19 years old)
Place of birth: Belém, Brazil
Weight: 68 Kg
Current club: Lille OSC (on loan from Manchester City)
Position: Attacking Midfielder
Portugal caps: 0
By Rui Miguel Martins