Portugal’s U21 side exited the European Championships in Poland despite winning two of three group stage games. With the senior side knocked out of the Confederations Cup by Chile in the semi-finals, attention now turns to World Cup qualification and the future of the Seleção.
It’s a good opportunity to think about which players might make the next step in their careers and press for inclusion in Fernando Santos’ side.
PortuGOAL picks out the three players who did most to enhance their burgeoning reputations in Poland, and could be pushing for a place in the senior side at next year’s World Cup, plus a further five who cannot be discounted from winning a seat on the plane to Russia 2018.
Career so far: 22-year-old Armindo Tué Na Bangna, better known as “Bruma”, was born Guinea-Bissau and moved to Portugal at an early age where he joined Sporting Clube de Portugal’s academy. He scored more than 80 goals for the club’s youth sides and made his senior debut for Sporting in February 2013, aged 18.
After a successful U20 World Cup in Turkey the following summer where he scored five times in four games, an ugly contract dispute with Sporting was eventually settled and Bruma signed a five-year deal with Galatasaray for €10m. Suffering a cruciate ligament injury soon after, he struggled for two years in Turkey before Real Sociedad took him on loan for the 2015-6 season.
Despite displaying the electrifying pace and dribbling skills he is renowned for, Bruma failed to make an impact in Spain and returned to Galatasaray. His return to Turkey proved fruitful however, a sensational season saw him contribute 11 goals and 6 assists in 30 appearances for the Istanbul side. Whoscored.com awarded Bruma the highest player rating in the Super Lig last season (7.69), the most man of the match performances (9) and the most dribbles per game (4.4). It was no surprise when RB Leipzig came calling for his services.
U21 Euro 2017 performances: Bruma came on at half time against Serbia and made some incisive surges into the box against a tiring defence. Coming off the bench in the second half against Spain, Bruma unleashed a spectacular left footed volley from distance which flew into the net to get Portugal back into the game.
The speedster flourished in the starting 11 against Macedonia, cutting inside the defence before unleashing an unstoppable shot into the far corner to open the scoring. Ruthlessly attacking Macedonia’s right back, he set up Paciência with a golden opportunity before the pair combined for one of Bruma’s trademarks, the old fashioned 1-2. Paciência returned the ball to Bruma who made space for himself and shot just wide, the left winger a constant threat before scoring his second goal in stoppage time with a composed finish. A deserved Man of the Match performance, he was simply too good for Macedonia.
What now for club and country? Bruma recently completed a €12.5m move to German club RB Leipzig, who incredibly finished second in their debut Bundesliga campaign last season and will now compete in the Champions League. Under the tutelage of sporting director Ralf Rangnick and manager Ralph Hassenhuttl, Bruma is in the perfect environment to flourish and realise his potential. Rangnick said that: “Bruma fits perfectly with our football and the physical facilities to our game… He is fast, technically strong and has an extreme pull to the goal. We are glad that we could sign a player with such talent for us… Bruma will expand our options in the offensive game and give us even more flexibility in the number 10 position.”
His ugly exit from Sporting and recent comments from Igor Tudor, former manager at Galatasary who raised doubts about his attitude, saying “I have never seen someone behave like Bruma. It might be the way he was raised. He crossed a line” are reasons for concern. For Bruma’s, Leipzig’s and Portugal’s sake let’s hope these incidents are simply learning curves because the move to Leipzig appears a perfect fit.
Nani (30) and Ricardo Quaresma (33) still have much to offer Portugal, but fast, tricky wingers with an eye for goal are not something the Seleção have in abundance. If Bruma can improve his decision making and continue his upward trajectory at Leipzig, it might not be long before Fernando Santos gives him a shot at the big time.
Career so far: Edgar Ié, ironically, has followed a very similar path to Bruma. Also born in Guinea-Bissau, he moved to Portugal and joined Sporting CP’s youth system at the age of 14 in 2008. Barcelona saw potential and signed him in 2012 for the Barca B team, Ié describing the move at the time as “an honour and a dream come true.”
Frequent injuries hampered his ability to demonstrate his potential in Catalonia however, and despite starting 28 games in the 2014-15 season he was released. A frequent fixture in the Portuguese youth squads, Ié was signed by Villareal in August 2015 but couldn’t break into the first team, returning to Lisbon with Belenenses in December 2016. Known for his speed and ability to play multiple positions, he started 12 games for Belenenses in the second half of last season, eight at right back and four in central defence. Despite the small sample size, Ié averaged a very respectable 3.4 tackles per game.
U21 Euro 2017 performances: Ié improved game by game in Poland, looking nervous in the opening exchanges against Serbia but going on to contribute to a clean sheet in the 2-0 victory. Against Spain Ié displayed his talent, awareness and ability to read the game with a miraculous goal-line clearance and coped well throughout.
In the second minute against Macedonia he showed his prowess in the attacking area, beating his marker from a corner and powering a header into the net to open the scoring. Throughout the tournament Ié frequently displayed confidence in his ability to bring the ball out from the back and initiate attacks, outshining his central defensive partner Rúben Semedo during the opening two games.
Showing good anticipation in defence, he used his reading of the game and speed to put pressure on defenders as soon as they received the ball. We also saw frequent examples of his sound tackling technique that contributed to his high statistical output at Belenenses.
What now for club and country? Ié has endured a turbulent time since securing his dream move to Barcelona in 2012 as he is yet to play a full season in top flight football. The 2017-18 season shapes up as a vital one for Ié. At 23-years-old he needs to hit the ground running at the Estádio do Restelo and remain injury free. It will be interesting to see if manager Domingos Paciência continues to rotate Ié between right back and centre back. Ié’s speed and ability to play the ball forward from central defence are coveted attributes in the modern game, his performances in Poland perhaps enough to persuade Paciência to persist with him in the heart of defence.
One thing is certain, if Ié rapidly improves at Belenenses they will not be able to hold onto him, as president Rui Pedro Soares recently acknowledged: “We know there’s a market for players like Edgar Ié.” Portugal are in desperate need of centre backs to replace Bruno Alves (35), Pepe (34), Jose Fonte (33) and Neto (29). With no standout candidates staking their claim, everything is set for Edgar Ié to take his chance, fulfil his potential and have a long, successful career for club and country.
Career so far: Rúben Neves has been at the Estadio do Dragão since the age of eight, making his senior debut for Porto aged just 17. He became the youngest scorer in the club’s history, later earning the title of youngest club captain in Champions League history and the youngest Portuguese to feature in the competition.
Neves has been a regular feature at Portuguese youth levels, often as captain, starring at the 2014 Under-17 European Championships in Malta alongside Renato Sanches. Praised for his leadership qualities, positional sense and passing range, Neves’ career is at a crossroads. Last season was a disappointment at Porto, starting just six top flight games under Nuno Espírito Santo. Understandably finding himself behind Danilo Pereira for the defensive midfield position, Neves was also behind central midfielders Hector Herrera and André André and we shouldn’t forget Porto recently paid €20m each for central midfielders Gianelli Imbula and Óliver Torres. Rúben Neves’ career at Porto has definitely stagnated, and given Porto’s well documented financial woes club president Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa could be temped to cash in.
U21 Euro 2017 performances: One of the youngest members of the squad, Rúben Neves started all three of Portugal’s games at the European Under-21 Championship in Poland. He almost opened the scoring against Serbia with a volley off the post, executing a perfect pirouette in the second half which highlighted his skill and confidence. He controlled the game from his deep midfield position in an assured performance.
Picking up an early caution hindered his effectiveness against Spain but he bounced back with a strong showing against Macedonia. Neves showed a willingness to take men on, bursting through the middle to shoot from distance or setup teammates and prove he can excel as a box to box midfielder. Neves’ experience and composure defies his young age. Throughout the tournament he broke up opposition attacks, positioned himself in space, found time to make the right decision and use his impressive range of passing to find open teammates.
What now for club and country? New Porto manager Sérgio Conceição could offer the young midfielder increased playing time and persuade Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa not to sell. However, with two years left on Neves’ contract, other options in his position and financial worries at the Estadio do Dragão, that seems unlikely. Porto have already offloaded their best attacking prospect in years, André Silva to Milan for €38m, and there is a high chance Neves could also leave this summer.
Porto will demand a substantial fee for Neves, and it’s probably in his best interests to leave Porto if the rumours surrounding potential suitors are correct. Chelsea, Liverpool and Juventus are reported to be the leading contenders for his signature. If true, the best option for his development and playing time might be joining Jurgen Klopp at Anfield. If he moves on, Neves will want to avoid the idleness that has affected Renato Sanches and Gonçalo Guedes. With William Carvalho and Danilo Pereira both 25 years old, he faces stiff competition for a Seleção opportunity and could be well advised to establish himself as a complete box to box midfield player instead of primarily a defensive midfielder.
Rúben Neves certainly has all the tools to emulate the likes of Toni Kroos and Marco Veratti, and having just turned 20 in March, time is definitely on his side to become a world class player and add to his two senior caps.
A Benfica youth product, João Cancelo was sold to Valencia in 2015 for €15m and has become an important player at the Mestalla. Alternating between right back and right wing for Valencia, Cancelo was one of the outstanding performers in Poland with consistent and assured performances at right back. The 23-year-old has five senior caps to his name, and despite competing with Cédric Soares and Nélson Semedo for the right back position, his versatility could see him become a regular part of the senior Seleção squad (for whom he has already 5 caps and 3 goals) in the coming years.
Daniel Podence is a Sporting CP youth product who was recalled from his loan at Moreirense and given opportunities in the second half of last season. The diminutive attacker showed Jorge Jesus enough to suggest he has a future at the Alvalade, with his performances in Poland certainly enhancing that view. Drifting across the front line, Podence caused havoc with his speed, trickery and incisive passing, setting up Guedes’ goal against Serbia and hitting the post early against Spain. In the final game against Macedonia Podence was impressive, pouncing on a through ball and striking instinctively for a well-deserved goal. It’s a long way from here to the Seleção, but Podence certainly has bags of potential.
Renato Sanches enjoyed a rapid and remarkable start to his career. After his first season at Benfica where he won the Primeira Liga, Taça da Liga and made his full international debut, the 18-year-old was selected for the successful Euro 2016 campaign in France. The youngest Portuguese to play in an international tournament, he forced his way into the starting 11, became the youngest player to win a Euro 2016 Final and was voted Young Player of the Tournament. Bayern Munich paid €35m for his services but he struggled to break into Carlo Ancelotti’s superstar side. Omitted from the Confederations Cup squad as a result, Sanches joined Rui Jorge’s U21 squad in Poland. Coming off the bench against Serbia, he set up Bruno Fernandes with a delightful assist late on, earning a start in the next two games but failing to impose himself by his usual high standards, substituted on both occasions. Sanches is at an important moment in his career.
Gonçalo Guedes spent his youth career at Benfica and broke into the first team in 2015-16. Earning over 50 caps for Portugal at youth level the 20-year-old has been capped twice for the senior side. Signed by Paris St Germain for €30m in January, he followed a similar path to Renato Sanches, namely a young, relatively inexperienced player making a big money move to a European powerhouse. Guedes showed his class early on in Poland, heading in the first goal against Serbia and using his high quality dribbling and upper body strength to full effect. He was unable to make much of an impact against Spain and wasn’t required against Macedonia. Hardly featuring in Paris despite the hefty fee, Guedes faces stiff competition from the likes of Julian Draxler, Ángel Di María and Javier Pastore. There is plenty of time yet but Guedes’ career hangs in a precarious position.
Starting his career at Boavista, Bruno Fernandes left for Italy in 2012 where he enjoyed consistent spells as an attacking midfielder with Novara, Udinese and Sampdoria. Fernandes captained the U21 side in Poland and displayed his leadership qualities, composure and ability to initiate and finish attacks, perfectly highlighted with a classy finish in the final minutes against Serbia. His suspension in the final game against Macedonia was noticeable. Turning 23 in September, Fernandes has just returned to Portugal with Sporting CP signing him for €8.5m on a five-year-deal. It appears he will be given ample opportunity by Jorge Jesus and could soon become a vital player, especially if the rumours surrounding Adrien Silva’s departure prove to be true. Fernandes plays in a position where Portugal have depth, but can join the conversation if he excels at the Alvalade.
by Matthew Marshall (Twitter: @noobzcorp)