The club season is nearing its climax, but the thoughts of many top footballers will already be on Euro 2020, with the delayed competition set to take place in the next few months. Therefore, form at this time of the season is crucial. A bad run, or worse still injury, can ruin your dreams of featuring, whilst a productive spell could see you play a part on the biggest stage.
For a country like Portugal, it’s complicated though. The strength in depth available to Fernando Santos means, in theory, he should have plenty of huge decisions to make. However, the experienced boss must feel a degree of loyalty to those that made history five years ago, and some big names pick themselves. So, the reality is that there are a lot of good players competing for a few positions.
But one man who seems increasingly deserving of a place in the squad in the eyes of the boss, judging by the latest callups by Santos, is Pedro Neto.
The Wolves winger has been a real breakthrough star this season, becoming a talisman for Nuno Espirito Santo’s side as he has reached double figures for goal contributions in the league. They may not seem the most eye-catching numbers, but a quick glance at the latest English Premier League odds shows Wanderers are 7/1 to finish in the top half. Basically, Neto is thriving in a poor team.
CLOSE!— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) December 21, 2020
Pedro Neto nearly netted one after carrying it a long way, but Nick Pope wasn't letting it past. The goal hunt continues.
Burnley 0-0 Wolves
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Logic would suggest that putting the talented 20-year-old in a team that contains the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva and Cristiano Ronaldo, to name just a few, would bring his game on a lot. Of course, we are not suggesting that Neto will be a key player in the tournament, but he can have a role to play from the bench.
Firstly, the left-footer would arrive with no ego. Just being part of the group would be an achievement at his age, so he would not disrupt the atmosphere if he wasn’t in the first XI. That may seem like a trivial issue, but it’s crucial that every Portuguese player is committed, and having someone on the bench who may be upset because they aren’t playing could negatively impact the dynamics of the group.
Then, and more importantly, you have the qualities that Neto can bring as a sub. His direct dribbling style and raw pace make him a real threat on the counter-attack. This is how his Wolves side play domestically, and it could be very useful in tight games that Portugal may be leading. With matchups against Germany and France in the group stage, that match scenario is a reasonable probability, even before we talk about the knockouts.
That’s not to say he is a one-dimensional player, though, because Neto would also be a very useful option when chasing a game because of the width he can provide. Boasting someone of Ronaldo’s aerial prowess means you need players who can deliver quality crosses, which Neto is capable of.
Given his young age, there may be a temptation to earmark Neto for future tournaments. After all, there will be a hope that the former Braga man can be a key figure for the national team for the next decade and beyond.
Plus, the horrible ‘Group of Death’ that Portugal have landed themselves in means that Santos may be leaning towards going with experience. The games against France and Germany are going to be high-pressure, so that’s an understandable thought process.
2 - Portugal have won two of the last four competitive international tournaments that they've appeared in, with their previous triumph coming at EURO 2016. Formula. pic.twitter.com/24UBSefw6x— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 9, 2019
However, Neto is excelling against high-quality opposition on a weekly basis in England, and his fearless approach to the big games is refreshing to see.
With that in mind, he appears to be the perfect wildcard for Santos to pick this summer. Every squad has a surprising decision and given the vast array of talent in the final third available to the coach, there’s no denying Neto would be a risky choice, even though he has been picked for the upcoming squads.
Ultimately though, his enthusiasm and quality make Neto an exciting option for Portugal, and he could play a role as the Seleção look to replicate their heroics from 2016.