Gonçalo Guedes. Touted by many to be the heir to Cristiano Ronaldo’s godly throne, the 20-year-old has received plaudit after plaudit since his arrival at the Mestalla, with many even regarding him as the standout performer in La Liga thus far in the 2017/18 campaign.
With three goals and five assists to his name in just seven La Liga appearances, it’s blindingly obvious as to why experts and colleagues alike are championing the forward as the ‘the next big thing’.
However, despite his blistering start to the season, Guedes’ future hasn’t always been so propitious. After a €30 million move to French giants Paris Saint Germain in January, many of the Guedes faithful were left scratching their heads as to why the young starlet would go to a club with infinite talent and experience at its disposal. Such concerns were brought to bear as the former Benfica man spent the remaining six months bench-warming for the French giants.
It wasn’t until June of last year, at the U21 European Championships that Guedes’ talents were on display again. Despite Portugal’s early, unexpected exit, Guedes was arguably Portugal’s finest player, and while his parent club were busy spending ludicrous amounts on players who operate in his position, Guedes was showing the rest of Europe what he was capable of. And right on cue, Valencia came knocking with a one-year-loan deal.
Fast forward to November and it’s safe to assume that the tenacious forward has the world at his feet. This past week alone, Guedes has scored his first international goal for Portugal and was included in WhoScored’s European Team of the Month for October – which is no small feat, especially at the tender age of 20.
The Benavente native has a unique arsenal of skills. He plays with a sense of belief that the sky’s the limit once the ball arrives at his feet: he produces intricate one-twos that tear crater-like-gaps into defences, he scores with power, finesse and confidence. So much so, that he even resembles a certain 32-year-old 5-time Ballon d’Or winning Portuguese forward in his early days every so often.
Despite oozing confidence and performing so efficiently in front of goal for Valencia, Guedes’ end product hasn’t always been so stellar. In 39 appearances for the reigning Liga NOS champions Benfica, he only managed five goals, although his performances in the first half of last season suggested was on the cusp of making good on his immense promise.
Moreover, countless young players who possess a similar arsenal of skills often fail to turn eye-catching performances into goals and/or assists. Although the numbers are not spectacular, yet, at 20, Guedes is clocking up goals and assists and also performing adequately defensively.
His robust physique is arguably his saving grace. Once the youngster gets into his stride, the opposition have an arduous time trying to out-muscle him – and that’s only if they are athletic enough to catch him. Possessing such athletic abilities makes him a defender’s nightmare – just ask the several players in La Liga who have ended up on their backsides when trying to dispossess him.
However, his ever-growing repertoire doesn’t end there. His ability to read the game and pick a pass is developing week after week, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that he’s managed five assists this season. His assists have been impressive to say the least, but it’s the manner in which these plays were orchestrated that are nothing short of breath-taking.
With several of these assists, Guedes utilized countless of his attributes: raw pace, a tenacious desire to penetrate the defence and a constantly improving ability to play an accurate, composed pass to his teammate. Certainly, there are aspects of his game that need fine-tuning. As seen in the diagram below, Guedes’ average passing accuracy is 76%, which is by no means exemplary. In addition to this, the Seixal academy graduate has been notorious for drifting in and out of games – something which he appears to have eradicated of late, but needs to maintain in order to progress. Having said that, these are discrepancies that a rapidly learning footballer can hope to iron out as he gains experience.
Image via Fussball Radar
World Cup 2018: What role is Guedes likely to play?
Given that the current crop of Portugal’s players is arguably its finest to date, it’s difficult to say definitively what role the youngster will play. However, in Portugal’s recent friendlies versus Saudi Arabia and the United States, Guedes was the standout performer amongst an experimental squad which overcame the Saudis 3-0 and drew 1-1 with a young, adventurous USA side. His performances were typical of his football this season, wreaking havoc almost every time the ball was at his feet with penetrating runs, incisive passing and deadly finishing.
Guedes performs best when he’s operating on the left-hand-side, and has accumulated a WhoScored rating of 8.29 in his six appearances for Valencia operating in this manner (the highest rating of any Portuguese player plying their trade in Europe).
However, despite his swashbuckling performances in this position for Los Che, it’s highly unlikely that he will bench Inter Milan’s João Mário, who of late has made that position his own for the reigning European champions. This begs the inevitable question: If Guedes continues to produce such scintillating performances, how will he fit into Portugal’s starting eleven?
Unfortunately, attempting to give a definitive answer would be naïve and probably incorrect. One could argue that Guedes would thrive as a second-striker alongside Ronaldo, which is an exciting prospect to say the least. However, André Silva’s record in a Portugal shirt is phenomenal, not to mention the partnership and understanding that has blossomed between the latter and the Portugal captain. Forcing André Silva out of his starting position would again be very difficult for the Valencia loanee.
Despite the uncertainty regarding whether or not Gonçalo Guedes will play a key role for the European champions this summer, Seleção fans can take comfort in the fact that Guedes will almost certainly be included in Fernando Santos’ 23-man squad, providing he maintains his high level for the remainder of the season.
Needless to say, Guedes does not appear to be slowing down in any way shape or form, and once he’s able to replicate his club form for Portugal, who knows if another Seleção triumph is on the horizon.
By Marino Peixoto