There is no question that the Portuguese league has become the preferred destination for many young footballers looking to develop their as yet unrealized potential, before moving onto a bigger stage.
Many of today’s global superstars such as James Rodriguez, David Luiz and a certain Cristiano Ronaldo got a solid grounding in the Primeira Liga.
Less well known, however, is that outside Portugal’s Big Three some of the more modest clubs often have gems in their ranks, who later go on to find fame and fortune abroad – strikers Diego Costa (Braga) and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (Campomaiorense) being two prime examples.
PortuGOAL looks at ten players from Portugal’s feeder clubs who impressed this season and could become a great bargain buy for attentive foreign clubs this summer.
Konan, Vitória de Guimarães, Left-Back
The Ivorian began the season playing in the club’s B squad before being thrusted into action by Pedro Martins in December. He and his opposite number on the right Bruno Gaspar gave Vitória de Guimarães, one of the best full-back duos in Liga NOS. Konan averaged 1.9 tackles, 1.8 interceptions and 2.2 clearances per game. He was recently called up to the Ivory Coast national team for the first time.
Ailton Ferreira, Estoril Praia (on-loan from Fluminense), Left-Back
It was not Estoril’s best season but there were still some excellent individual performers, none more so than the Brazilian. Ailton was an impenetrable force on the left side for the club. In 18 matches, he averaged 3.7 tackles, 3.4 interceptions, 3.1 clearances and 2.5 aerials won per game. Although, his discipline is an issue, having accumulated 10 yellows.
Roderick Miranda, Rio Ave, Centre-Back
A product of Benfica’s academy who was let go by the club in 2013, it has taken Roderick a while to put together a consistent campaign but he did just that this season. The 26-year-old averaged 1.2 tackles, 2.2 interceptions, 1.6 aerials won and 3.9 clearances per game. As well as being solid on the backend, he also completed an impressive 83.9 percent of his passes, scored twice and added three assists, helping Rio Ave to a seventh-place finish, and is rumoured to be on the verge of a debut Portugal call-up by Seleção coach Fernando Santos.
Maurício Antônio, Marítimo, Centre-Back
While his defensive partner at Marítimo and fellow Brazilian Raul Silva enjoyed most of the headlines this season and earned a move to Braga, Maurício Antônio quietly put together a solid campaign for the islanders. He was a force at both ends, scoring three goals this season, in addition to averaging 1.4 tackles, 2.8 interceptions and 4.8 clearances a game. He spent last season on-loan at FC Porto B but refused a contract in order to play more.
Bruno Gaspar, Vitória de Guimarães, Right-Back
Another former Benfica player, Gaspar completed his third full season with Vitória de Guimarães. He seemed to thrive under Pedro Martins, at both sides of the pitch. He recorded four assists in 28 matches for the club and he is a reliable defender as well, having posted 1.6 tackles, 1.3 interceptions and 2 clearances per game. Benfica reportedly still own 50% of his economic rights.
Erdem Sen, Marítimo, Defensive Midfielder
The Turkish midfielder arrived last summer and became the stalwart of a strong Marítimo side. He averaged 2.2 tackles, 2.9 interceptions, 2.2 aerials won and 2.3 clearances each match, solid figures for a defensive midfielder. The 28-year-old has one year left on his contract with the Madeira club, with Besiktas reportedly showing interest.
Cauê, Moreirense, Defensive Midfielder
While Moreirense had a rollercoaster of a season, going through three different managers, winning the League Cup and finally avoiding relegation on the final day, Cauê was a model of consistency. The Brazilian averaged 2.8 tackles, 2.2 interceptions, 2.1 clearances and 3 aerials won a match. He is a well-balanced player, having completed 78.1 percent of his passes and scored twice in 33 matches.
Jorginho, Arouca, Winger
The Guinea-Bissau-born winger was signed by Arouca in January 2016 from Manchester City. He burst onto the scene with a dominant display in a 4-1 win against Moreirense in December, scoring a hat-trick and adding an assist. After scoring five and assisting two in 10 matches, he was loaned to Saint-Etienne, putting together some good performances in Ligue 1 and the Europa League before an injury ended his season. With Arouca being relegated on the final day of the season, he will more than likely be sold this summer.
Maurides, Belenenses, Striker
The brother of former Porto defender Maicon, the 23-year-old striker has to be one of the best January signings in recent years, arriving on a permanent deal from Brazilian club Internacional. He spent last season on loan at Arouca with mixed success. This season in 12 matches, he scored six goals and added two assists. And he is dominant in the air, winning five aerial duels a match.
Welthon, Paços de Ferreira, Striker
One of the best overall performers in Portugal this season. The Brazilian scored 11 goals and added another five assists in 28 matches, which means he was directly involved in 47 percent of the team’s goals. He also scored twice from free-kicks. Braga and Sporting CP are reportedly chasing his signature but they will face fierce competition from French clubs.
*Statistics from Whoscored
by Rui Miguel Martins (@futebolfactory)