With well over 200 foreign-based Portuguese footballers plying their trade across the globe, PortuGOAL selects a starting line-up of the 11 players who have made the most crucial contributions to their side during the 2018/19 season.
Football is a squad game however, and therefore it is also important to give recognition to those that narrowly missed out on a place in the chosen eleven, and some of the lesser-known exports thriving far and wide carrying the Portuguese flag.
Anthony Lopes (Lyon)
It is rare for a goalkeeper to be named a club’s Player of the Year by supporters, especially when the team is stacked with exciting forward talent. Anthony Lopes is one of those rarities, after winning 40% of the votes during Lyon’s annual poll taken back in December in recognition of his continued growth at the French club.
Lopes, in his 7th season at the club, was also issued the award of Best Goalkeeper of the group stage of the Champions League by L’Equipe. The 28-year-old’s form continued into the latter stages of the season, notably with a fine performance as Lyon beat Marseille 3-0 in May to edge towards securing 3rd place and a Champions League spot.
Rui Patrício has enjoyed a solid debut season in the English Premier League with Wolverhampton Wanderers, impressing as Nuno Espírito Santo’s team have adapted seamlessly to the top flight, while José Sa made himself a crucial member of Pedro Martins’ Olympiakos side and the Greek club wasted little time in making his loan deal permanent at the end of the campaign.
There can be few more popular players at their club in European football right now than PAOK Thessaloniki captain Vieirinha. The experienced right-back helped PAOK to their first Greek Super League title in 35 years and a first-ever double after they lifted the Greek Cup a week later. PAOK managed to go the entire league campaign unbeaten, finishing five points clear of Olympiakos.
Vieirinha, who has often been deployed at left-back this term, aided his team’s cause with six goals during the season, including one in a 3-1 win over Olympiakos and a stunning long-range effort against Panaitolikos in March. The Portuguese saw his season end prematurely with a serious knee ligament injury in April, but such is the high affection in which Vieirinha is held, he was introduced as a stoppage-time substitute in the following game to soak up the team’s title-clincher.
Vitorino Antunes (Getafe)
Getafe were the surprise package in La Liga, coming within a fraction of causing a sensation by finishing 4th and claiming a Champions League spot. The Madrid outfit held a top four place for much of the latter stages of the season, and experienced left-back Vitorino Antunes was a crucial part of the team’s intense playstyle.
Antunes, who has played in Italy, Greece and Ukraine in a well-travelled career, epitomises coach Jose Bordalas’ resolute and tenacious team mentality. The 13-time Portugal international’s tireless running up and down the left led to him contributing three assists during the season as well as a goal in an impressive 3-0 win over Espanyol, before Antunes saw his season cut short by injury in April, much to Getafe’s regret.
Pedro Mendes (Montpellier)
French football has been the source of much coverage in the Portuguese Abroad section this season, and Pedro Mendes continues to quietly make himself one of the league’s more highly-rated centre-backs at Montpellier. The 28-year-old is a key man in coach Michel Der Zakarian’s side and a 6th place finish represents a solid performance from the 2012 Ligue 1 champions.
Swiss born Mendes has always been a man touted for the top, having joined Real Madrid in at the age of 20, before embarking on spells with Sporting, Parma, Sassuolo and Rennes. His tough-tackling and uncompromising style feels well suited to French football, where he was nominated on the shortlist for a defensive spot in the Ligue 1 Team of the Season.
José Fonte (Lille)
José Fonte was also nominated for the Team of the Season shortlist in Ligue 1, marking a remarkable career revival for the 35-year-old. Fonte had left English club West Ham United for Chinese side Dalian Yifang in February 2018 after a hugely disappointing spell in London, and many would have expected never to see the veteran stopper at the highest level again.
However, Fonte returned to Europe with Lille last summer and his signing has proved to be a masterstroke by Christophe Gaultier’s side. As well as providing leadership – Fonte serves as vice-captain – the former Sporting and Benfica man contributed three goals from defence as Lille surprised many to finish runners-up to Paris Saint-Germain.
Bruno Alves is another wily Portuguese defender refusing to let age slow him down, having recently extended his contract with Italians Parma after an impressive campaign, during which he has caught the eye with stunning free-kicks and trademark red cards. Fellow veterans Camora (CFR Cluj) and Jorge Teixeira (Sint-Truiden) have also enjoyed solid seasons in Romania and Belgium, while Pedro Rebocho managed an impressive eight assists from left-back in Ligue 1 with hapless bottom-placed Guingamp and will be in-demand this summer. João Cancelo may have struggled with consistency and the ability to convince Juventus boss Max Allegri, but the Portugal right-back has shown his class at various points during the campaign.
Rúben Neves (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
When Rúben Neves surprisingly signed for ambitious Championship outfit Wolverhampton Wanderers for around €18m in the summer of 2017, the fee represented a club record and the highest amount paid by a second-tier outfit in England. Two years later and it would be extremely difficult to find anyone associated with the West Midlands club who does not feel it was a bargain.
Having helped Nuno Espírito Santo’s Wolves to promotion in his first season, Neves has become a pundits’ favourite this year in the Premier League. The 22-year-old’s eye-catching range of passing and penchant for long-range goals have led to speculation that there could be bigger things in store for the former Porto midfielder.
João Moutinho (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
The decision by Wolves to add classy former Sporting and Porto midfield maestro João Moutinho to their ranks last summer always felt a wise one. With a squad containing a large contingent of Portuguese talent and several young players, the arrival of Moutinho for a modest fee reported to be in the region of €5m was thought to be great value for some added experience and guile on Wolves’ return to the top flight.
Playing alongside younger compatriot Neves, 32-year-old Moutinho has been invaluable for his new team. The Seleção star was involved in all 38 of his side’s Premier League outings and chose a perfect match for his only goal – an equaliser at Old Trafford in a 1-1 draw against José Mourinho’s Manchester United. Moutinho was duly recognised with the club’s Player of the Year award as voted by Wolves fans.
Ricardo Pereira (Leicester City)
Also making the adaptation to English football look easy is Ricardo Pereira, who arrived at Leicester City from Porto for a hefty €25m fee last summer. A virtual unknown to many fans in English football, Ricardo has become a household name and a player held in high regard after a hugely consistent debut campaign.
Ricardo has been largely deployed at right-back but has carried out an attacking role high on the right (convenient for slotting into this team) with equally impressive results. His opening goal for the club against Everton and a stunning winner against Manchester City were personal highlights on the field, while the end of the season brought esteemed recognition with both the club’s Fans’ Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year awards.
Bernardo Silva (Manchester City)
The 2018/19 season has certainly been the coming of age year in England for Bernardo Silva at Manchester City. The former Benfica man has admitted that his struggle to nail a place in Pep Guardiola’s side during his debut campaign left the Portuguese midfielder fully focused on preparing himself for this season.
The results have been emphatic with the 24-year-old often cited as the most consistent member of Guardiola’s back-to-back title-winning side. Bernardo’s work-rate, intelligence, skill and creativity have been invaluable to the champions and there was little argument when he was named City’s Player of the Season and shortlisted for the Premier League’s PFA Player of the Year.
William Carvalho may have been expected to make this team when he left Sporting for Real Betis last summer. The Portugal midfielder took his time to adapt to Spanish football, but a strong end to the season has led to links with English Premier League clubs resurfacing. Xeka’s role in Lille’s outstanding year in France was rewarded with a contract extension, while veteran Nuno Morais scored 15 league goals – ten from the spot – for Cypriot champions APOEL.
Elsewhere, Tiago Rodrigues was an inspiration for CSKA Sofia as they ran perennial champions Ludogorets desperately close in Bulgaria. Cafú and André Martins were among the best performers for Polish powerhouses Legia Warsaw and although his powers may be fading, Ricardo Quaresma still contributed 11 assists – the second highest in the league – with Besiktas in Turkey.
Diogo Jota (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
Another Portuguese who joined Wolverhampton Wanderers when Nuno’s men were in the second tier, Diogo Jota was a key figure in helping the team achieve promotion. However, the diminutive forward found the step up to the Premier League challenging during the opening few months of the season.
Things changed when Jota scored a late winner against Chelsea at Molineux on matchday 15, opening his account for the season. From that moment the former Porto man has been a sensation, with a hat-trick against Leicester and goals against Manchester United in league and cup personal highlights for Jota, who has forged an excellent striking partnership with ex-Benfica man Raul Jimenez.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus)
Cristiano Ronaldo swapped Real Madrid for Juventus last summer after nine years in the Spanish capital. One year and 28 goals later, Ronaldo continues to demonstrate that he has no intention of letting his advancing years slow his relentless quest to further build on his legacy.
Ronaldo scored 21 goals in Serie A as Juve successfully defended their domestic crown, but there is little doubt the 34-year-old was brought in to make the difference in the Champions League. Ronaldo kept his end of the deal, scoring a sensational hat-trick to overturn a 2-0 deficit against Atletico Madrid and bagging in both legs in Juve’s elimination at the hands of Ajax.
Owing to his own high demands, Ronaldo will regret not topping the Serie A goalscoring charts, while some have suggested Juve have not progressed as a team this season. However, the Portugal captain is entitled to feel he has delivered on his responsibilities. As Juve skipper Giorgio Chiellini succinctly put it, with Cristiano Ronaldo in the team, you always start 1-0 up.
Had this team been decided back in February, Flávio Paixão’s exploits in Poland would have made him an inclusion tough to dispute, as 13 goals from 21 league matches helped Lechia Gdansk to top of the Ekstraklasa. Paixão’s influence dwindled during the closing stages as Lechia finished 3rd, but the well-travelled striker ended with 15 league goals – including six winners – and helped Lechia to win the Polish Cup.
Rafael Leão has been one of the more encouraging stories regarding emerging young Portuguese talent, catching the eye particularly in the middle of the season with Lille in France, while Gonçalo Guedes ended Valencia’s campaign in promising fashion after a year largely blighted by fitness issues.
Manager: Nuno Espírito Santo (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
Although other Portuguese coaches have won titles this season, including Vítor Pereira in China, Paulo Fonseca in Ukraine, Pedro Caixinha in Mexico and Rui Vitoria in Saudi Arabia, the extent to which Nuno Espírito Santo’s Wolverhampton Wanderers side have reflected their boss on the field in England has been remarkable.
As well as guiding Wolves to an impressive 7th place finish in the Premier League, making their return to the top flight look far easier than it is in spite of investment, former Porto boss Nuno has drawn praise for his tactical preparation and man-management as well as his likeable and affable demeanour away from the pitch. Now an honorary doctor of sport as issued by the university of Wolverhampton, Nuno is a man cherished by his club and his adopted city.
By Sean Gillen