Sporting lost their opening Champions League match against Real Madrid on Wednesday, but the team left a positive impression at the Santiago Bernabeu, none more so than 21-year-old winger Gelson Martins.
Gelson continued his flying start to the season with a dazzling display in the Spanish capital, leading to gushing praise from the local press.
“A constant nightmare for Real Madrid’s defenders”, “a memorable display”, “a recital” were some of the phrases used by Spain’s newspapers to describe his performance.
PortuGOAL looks at the reaction triggered by the Portugal U21 international’s dribbling skills.
Gelson first came to attention in Portugal in successive youth tournaments for the national team in 2014 (U19 European championships) and 2015 (U20 World Cup), scoring goals and shining brightly in both tournaments.
Jorge Jesus’s vow
When Jorge Jesus became Sporting coach last year he immediately stated he had big plans for the Cape Verde born wide player. The coach backed up his promise by giving him 42 appearances despite the fact he only turned 20 shortly before the start of the season. The skilful and speedy winger responded to the faith shown in him by scoring 7 goals in all competitions.
This season he has built on that form, starting every one of Sporting’s five games in 2016/17, scoring two goals and providing three assists.
Another indication of Gelson’s standing in the eyes of coach Jorge Jesus is that he is an automatic starter despite the heavy investment made by the Lisbon club, above all in the attacking sector. For the time being expensive new recruits such as Lazar Markovic, Joel Campbell, Alan Ruiz, André Souza and Luc Castaignos are behind Gelson in the pecking order.
Even accounting for his excellent start to the new campaign, it is fair to say the uninhibited nature of his football at the home of the current Champions League holders in midweek took everyone aback, not least the Spanish press.
“Gelson astounds the world with a superstar display at the Bernabeu,” wrote Marca. “He was a constant nightmare for Sergio Ramos, Varane and especially Marcelo. It was a memorable display from a 21-year-old player unknown in Spain.”
Both El País and AS were similarly impressed. “A Cape Verdean who maintains the fabulous tradition of the great wingers produced by Sporting’s youth academy. Today Gelson was a constant nightmare for Marcelo and his team-mates,” wrote the former, while the latter said “it seemed like he was Figo’s son.”
In its match report Catalan newspaper Sport stated “Gelson gave an authentic recital”.
Back in Portugal Gelson features heavily in today’s sports press, with A Bola running a big feature on the new golden boy of Alvalade. The paper labels Gelson “The Heir” to the great wingers that have been produced by the Lisbon club: Futre, Figo, Simão, Quaresma, Ronaldo and Nani. It is pointed out that four of these wingers went on to enjoy great success in the Spanish capital (see image, right).
O Jogo goes so far as to say that Real Madrid have now earmarked Gelson as a future transfer target, speculating that the Merengues will make their move next summer.
That may be jumping the gun, but should Gelson maintain his current rate of progression, it is not fanciful to imagine him becoming the next Alcochete nurtured player that earns Sporting a huge windfall. One month ago João Mário was sold to Inter Milan for a fee that could rise to €45 million. Gelson’s buyout clause is €60 million.
Shades of Ronaldo 2003
Gelson’s performance on Wednesday has drawn comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo’s famous match for Sporting against Manchester United in 2003. The Madeiran’s display in that pre-season friendly was so mesmerising it persuaded United manager Alex Ferguson to take the then 17-year-old to Old Trafford that very summer, reportedly after several of the English team’s players had implored the Scot to seal the deal.
Were Real Madrid’s players similarly enamoured with Gelson? Real Madrid left-back Marcelo certainly won’t forget him in a hurry. “Gelson gave me a hard time,” admitted the Brazilian international after the match on Wednesday. Watch this space.
by Tom Kundert