Another Portuguese football season is in the books, with Porto making most of the headlines thanks to a second “dobradinha” in three years. The Dragons were worthy winners, but that is only part of the story from the Bwin Liga.
Walking football encyclopaedia Zach Lowry along with Long Ball Futebol podcast brothers Albert and Barney discussed the 25 best individual performers in Portugal in the campaign that has just finished, over a three-part podcast, which is reproduced below.
As a bonus, PortuGOAL asked each of them to select their most improved player and their favourite player. For an in-depth roundup of the main protagonists in Portugal 2021/22, kindly read and listen!
Cortalinhas Episode 26: Part One - Primeira Liga 2021/22 Top 25 Players… FC Porto’s present and future talents
Barney’s most improved player: Samuel Lino
Fortunately for me the player I feel has improved the most this season is also my favourite player. The first time I watched Samuel Lino was in a Gil Vicente game which they lost 1-0 away at Porto at the beginning of last season. Samuel Lino had already scored 2 goals in 3 games and had had a couple ruled out by very close offside decisions. In this game, against arguably the most organised team in the league, he again caused multiple problems against Pepe and Mbemba, regularly putting them on the back foot, worrying them with every attack, and creating a few good chances - he would do everything but score in this game. For a player in a team who, at that point, I knew very little about, I was completely gripped. It was a feeling I only usually get watching football live but even on the TV I felt like you could see the magic Samuel Lino had. He finished the season with 9 goals in 33 games having played the majority of the season as a central striker. My main takeaway from watching him last season was that this guy was skilful, he could dribble, he wasn’t afraid to take a man on, but if I was to describe him in one word it would be raw.
What we have seen this season is a honing of Samuel Lino’s skill set by Ricardo Soares which he has done with a number of players in his Gil Vicente squad (I almost picked Fujimoto as my most improved player having seen him go from a winger to box-to-box midfielder this season). Soares worked out that Lino’s best skill was his ability to manipulate defenders to get an inch of space, whether that space is for him to dribble into or to get a shot away it doesn’t matter. Moving Lino from the centre of the pitch to out wide on the left meant he had that extra second to collect the ball, set himself, attack the opposition’s defence and make them move. I’ve always said that when you watch him, he will take a shot on a second before you expect it. You think he’ll take an extra touch, he’ll get that bit closer to goal but that’s what’s so dangerous about him. You give Lino an inch and he’ll take a mile.
As I write this Samuel Lino has 12 goals in 33 games, already an improvement from last season, but it is his 5 assists compared to 0 last season tell the rest of the story in terms of his development this season. His work rate on the left-hand side is easy to gloss over and naturally doesn’t make the cut in all the “Welcome to Atletico Madrid” videos that are now on YouTube. You will regularly see him dropping back and helping the defence but he is most effective once Gil Vicente regain possession and he is able to drive them up the pitch. Their success this season has come from how quickly they attack and Samuel Lino is a big factor in that, cutting in from the left-hand side and slipping through Fran Navarro or Fujimoto.
I fell in love with a swift, nimble, skillful striker. My heart will be broken, when he leaves, by a dynamic, elegant, clinical winger.
Barney’s favourite player: Claudio Winck
Though Samuel Lino is my favourite “favourite player” I have several others I would gladly talk about. The one who sticks out the most at the moment is Marítimo right-back Claudio Winck. I have always been a sucker for a full-back. Usually it’s because of the absence of glamour in the role, it’s the position no one wants to play. Porto are likely to win the league having played Marcano, Pepê and Bruno Costa several times in the full back positions. There are very few standout players in those positions, left-backs Abdu Conte and Fali Cande have earned moves to France so far this season, Grimaldo has been excellent for Benfica, but at right-back it’s hard to pick out any notable performers. Maybe that’s why Claudio Winck has caught my eye.
For me he is Mr Consistent. He’s always looked solid defensively - even more so since Vasco Seabra has taken over - but take his tackling, take his stamina and work ethic and throw in a few lovely lovely goals and that’s why he’s my favourite player.
As a fan, seeing your hard-working full-back appear in space on the edge of the box, receive the ball, and find the back of the net… there’s nothing better. That’s exactly what Claudio Winck did against Braga to get Maritmo an important win earlier this season. He’s scored 4 goals so far, 2 were in losses but his other 2 have earned Marítimo 4 points this season. Four valuable points that have steered Marítimo completely clear of the relegation zone.
Playing right-back for Marítimo used to be the epitome of “absence of glamour” but Winck brings a touch of class and a reminder why I am such a sucker for a wingback.
Cortalinhas Episode 26: Part Two - Primeira Liga 2021/22 Top 25 Players… Sporting CP, Benfica and SC Braga top players
Albert’s most improved player: Evanilson
The obvious candidate in my eyes for Most Improved Player has to be Matheus Reis at Sporting, but seeing as I’m sure one of either Zach or Barney (or both) will choose him, I’ll go for a different option, but a player that no less deserves praise for his improvements on the field this season, in Porto’s Evanilson.
Thinking back to the beginning of last season when Evanilson signed for Porto just days after Benfica signed Darwin Núñez, it was impossible not to see the two club’s new strikers as comparable. Both clubs had invested fairly heavily in young, South American strikers, and both clubs were hoping that theirs was going to be the next big thing. Cut to 10 games into the season and Darwin Núñez has played the majority of every game, only scoring 1 goal but his impressive 5 assists and general positive performances had caused a real buzz. It didn’t take long before links to Barcelona emerged, despite the Uruguayan barely unpacking his bags. Comparatively, Evanilson’s start to life at Porto can best be described as slow. In the same time period Evanilson only managed a handful of appearances, one goal, and hadn’t shown much of the potential that his signing had suggested.
Evanilson’s season wouldn’t improve much in the end, he spent the most of the 20/21 campaign riding the bench, making cameo appearances in the last 10/15 minutes of matches, and netting just 3 goals for the campaign. He found himself a firm 4th choice striker behind Mehdi Taremi, Moussa Marega and Toni Martínez. It was perhaps a blessing for Evanilson then when it was decided that it would be best for both parties if Marega moved on to pastures new (in this case, Saudi club Al Hilal). This would prove to be fortuitous for Evanilson who found a new path into the starting XI with Marega no longer in the picture, and Martínez hardly staking his own claim for a starting spot.
The result has been regular football for Evanilson this season, as he’s found plenty of opportunities to play alongside Taremi in Sérgio Conceição’s preferred 4-4-2 formation. To say he’s repaid Conceição’s faith would be an understatement. His goal contributions have increased dramatically, with one game of the season left he’s set to finish the campaign on at least 14 goals and 4 assists, and he’s now talked about as the promising young striker that we hoped he’d be when he signed from Fluminense almost two years ago. A fan favourite, the most valuable thing he seems to have gained this season is the trust of his manager. Conceição clearly believes in the young Brazilian, and you can see in his performances that he’s playing with a confidence that support from his manager, and fans, has instilled in him. Whilst he’s not quite talked about in the same bracket as Darwin (yet), his transformation from 4th choice striker mis-fit of last year, to confident, reliable first-team player this year, makes him my most improved player of this season.
Albert’s favourite player: Kiko Bondoso
This is a tough one. What does it mean to be my ‘favourite player’? The player I think is the best? The player whose journey I respect the most? The player I’d most like to sit down with over a coffee? For me, it will never be just about ability - although my choice is undoubtedly a wonderful, underrated player - but about my affinity with the player himself.
A part of me still dreams of making it as a footballer, maybe if the right person walks past my weekly 5-a-side game and spots one of my audacious long balls, or crunching slide tackles, I could still make the grade. At 25 years old however, I think that particular dream is probably unlikely. But for Kiko Bondoso of Vizela that the dream came true. Signed by Vizela in September 2019, Bondoso had spent all his career before then playing in the regional leagues and the Campeonato de Portugal for Moimenta da Beira and CR Ferreira de Aves. When he joined Vizela they were in the Campeonato de Portugal (then the 3rd tier), the highest level Bondoso had ever played at. What followed was not only an incredible story for all those following Portuguese football, but I’m sure beyond the wildest expectations of Bondoso, as Vizela achieved two consecutive promotions to make it to the Primeira Liga.
For those that followed Vizela’s meteoric rise through the leagues, Bondoso stood out as a player to watch, a diminutive playmaker with a left foot that could unlock any defence, and someone that could make their mark on the Primeira Liga. He has done so and more, in my opinion. His performances at this level all season have shown that he not only deserves to be playing Primeira Liga football, but that he could play for one of the bigger clubs in this division with ease. Bondoso’s talents (mainly passing ability, close control, and dribbling) are perfectly suited for the modern game, and his 6 goals and 6 assists mean he has more goal contributions than the likes of Vitinha, Roman Yaremchuk, Everton, and other more valuable, higher paid, and higher rated players.
The main reason for my appreciation of Bondoso however will remain his story. From the regional leagues to lighting up the Primeira Liga, he gives hope to the rest of us that no matter what level you play at, maybe, just maybe, the dream is still alive.
Cortalinhas Episode 26: Part Three - Primeira Liga 2021/22 Top 25 Players… Featuring Samuel Lino, Zé Carlos, Estupiñan among many other players from the rest of the teams in the Primeira Liga
Zach’s most improved player: Samuel Lino
I’m tempted to go with a Porto player here, but whilst Fábio Vieira, Vitinha, Diogo Costa and Evanilson are all intriguing options, I’m going to Barcelos and picking Samuel Lino. The Brazilian put up impressive numbers last season with 9 goals in 33 appearances but nevertheless struggled to find consistency in his performances.
At 22 years of age, he has gone up another level under Ricardo Soares this season and has been a driving force in Gil Vicente’s fifth-place finish, qualifying for Europe for the first time in the club’s 98-year history. He has provided 12 goals and 5 assists and found the back of the net against Benfica and Porto, scoring a brace at Tondela at the weekend to secure European football for the Gilistas.
Zach’s favourite player
I may be a bit biased here as someone who has an exclusive interview coming out with him on Breaking The Lines, but André Franco has been one of the breakthrough sensations of the Primeira with 11 goals and 4 assists for Estoril. After playing a sporadic role in their promotion and run to the Taça de Portugal semi-finals last season, Franco was thrust into a starting role after playmaker Miguel Crespo was sold to Fenerbahçe in the dog days of the summer transfer window and did not disappoint.
Franco began the season on fire, scoring four minutes into the opener against fellow promoted side Arouca in a 2-0 win, and he’d proceed to find the back of the net in the following weeks against Paços de Ferreira, Gil Vicente, Boavista and Santa Clara. After a strong start that saw Bruno Pinheiro’s side occupy fifth place for a long stretch of time, Franco opened 2022 by scoring vs Porto and Vitória but suffered a dry spell after Chiquinho – Franco’s partner in crime in attack – was sold to Wolves. Nevertheless, after returning to the score sheet on March 20 against Benfica, Franco has found the back of the net in each of the past two matches and at 24, he could be set for a big move soon.