Changing of the guard signals exciting future for Seleção
Portugal’s slump in fortunes after Euro 2012 led to several portents of gloom suggesting the talent well had dried up for the national team. The steady flow of high-quality players, which began with the two-time U20 World Cup winning Golden Generation of the late 1980s, had run dry, we were constantly told.
Where were the likes of Paulo Sousa, Luís Figo, Rui Costa and Deco, undoubtedly world-class performers of the very highest calibre who had graced the Seleção shirt over the past two decades?
Well, a closer look, especially in the light of the U-21 team’s unstoppable form, suggests the Seleção are on the cusp of another richly talented generation of midfielders. In fact, you can make a good argument that Portugal will soon be spoilt for choice in that specific area of the pitch.
From dearth to abundance
Former Portugal coach Paulo Bento famously picked the exact same midfield trio for practically his entire four-year tenure at the helm of the Seleção: Miguel Veloso, Raul Meireles and João Moutinho. It served him well at Euro 2012, but by the time the 2014 World Cup came along it was in desperate need of renewal. While Bento’s stubbornness in refusing to give others a chance infuriated fans, the ex-boss can point to a lack of viable alternatives with a degree of justification.
It is a problem that his successor, Fernando Santos, will not experience. If fact, Santos is surely facing a problem that all coaches love to have: an abundance of high-quality options where the chief concern is who to leave out. Portugal’s U21 side qualified for the 2015 European Championship in style, and are currently on a 15-match winning run (yes FIFTEEN). Of the new generation of fantastically talented Portuguese players emerging, the majority of the most exciting up-and-comers ply their trade precisely in midfield.
PortuGOAL presents an eleven-man team made up of Seleção midfielders, most of whom are tipped for a sparkling future in the game, and many of whom are already regulars for their respective teams at a young age.
A midfield XI to swoon over
The elder statesman:
João Moutinho (28 years old): Moutinho has been Portugal’s most important player after Cristiano Ronaldo in the last five years. The Monaco man must be looking forward to having high-quality players full of energy, zest and creativity alongside him – something he has not had in recent times.
And the raft of young pretenders:
William Carvalho (22 years old): The brilliance of the Sporting holding midfielder’s debut season had Europe’s biggest clubs chasing his signature. A sure-fire bet for Portugal for the next decade in a key position.
João Mário (21 years old): Another Sporting product, Mário has already broken into the Seleção midfield thanks to his flawless technique, quick thinking and calm temperament. (See Sporting’s football factory article)
Rúben Neves (17 years old): The astonishing maturity and quality of the teenager’s displays for Porto this season augur for a brilliant future. (See Porto youths waiting in the wings article)
Adrien (25 years old): Somewhat overshadowed by midfield partner William, Sporting’s all-action midfielder offers a combative edge rarely seen in Portuguese players.
Marcos Lopes (18 years old): Manchester City’s Brazilian-born Portugal-raised diamond, loaned to Lille this season. Speedy, skilful, creative and a goalscorer, “Ronny” Lopes is a gem of a player. (See Five emerging Portugal stars abroad article)
Bernardo Silva (20 years old): On loan at Monaco, Bernardo Silva was Player of the Year in Portugal’s 2nd tier last season, playing for Benfica B. A pure No10, he has been consistently outstanding for the U21s, and has done well for the French club when given the opportunity – even in the Champions League. (See Made in Benfica, thriving elsewhere article)
André Gomes (21 years old): Hit the ground running following his move from Benfica to Valencia, and was elected in La Liga’s team of the month for September. Already a full Portugal international. (See Made in Benfica, thriving elsewhere article)
Rafa Silva (21 years old): The youngest member of Portugal’s World Cup squad in Brazil, the incisive and direct Braga player is equally comfortable on either flank or in the middle playing the No10 role.
João Teixeira (21 years old): Liverpool starlet who is currently earning rave reviews while on loan at English Championship side Brighton and Hove Albion.
Bruno Fernandes (20 years old): Has slipped largely under the radar in Portugal, but the 20-year-old’s classy performances at Udinese have drawn comparisons with Rui Costa, no less. (See Five emerging Portugal stars abroad article)
Most of the above midfielders are regulars in their club teams, and such is the quality and quantity available that new Portugal coach Fernando Santos, who has already shown he is willing to experiment, must be severely tempted to change Portugal’s 4-3-3 system that has been the Seleção template for so long, to accommodate more of these talents.
Whatever formation he implements, competition for places in midfield will be fierce, which can only benefit the Seleção. The future looks bright.
By Tom Kundert