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

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  • Guest - Oscar

    Nice article Tom, I personally believe Danilo Pareira of Martimo is the most unheralded player in the liga this season and should be considered for the seleccao.

    Ruben Neves is going to be a monster of a player, watching him at the u17s Euros was a joy, I thought we'd be locking William in a number 6 for the next decade but Ruben Neves appears to have more in attacking sense than William does and has great speed. 16 year old Pedro Ferreira from sporting is another DM that looks to be the goods.

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  • Guest - jose/Can

    Thank you for Writing about, what Ive been say for the last 2 years. The greatest, and deepest generation of portuguese players is about to emerge. You wrote a great article about the great MF players we have coming....But Portugal is deep at GK with Rui Patrício Anthony lopes, Ricardo Varela, André Moreira , Ricardo Sa, JOEL PEREIRA Man United, and many more!
    Portugal is Deep On the Wing With Carlos Mane, Bruma, Cavaleiro, Ricardo FC Porto, Ricardo Horta Malaga, Iuri Medeiros FC Sporting. Ivo Rodrigues Fc Porto. Gelson Martins FC Sporting, Benfica Raphael Guzzo, to name a few.
    Portugal has some great FB coming in, Cedric, Ricardo Esgaio, Raphael Guerreiro, Diogo Figueiras Fc Savilla, Joao Cancelo Valencia is going to be a star. Central defenders, Rúben Vezo,Tobias Figueiredo, Edgar Le, Paulo Oliveira, João Nunes, Ruben Semedo,Tiago Ilori. The Striker Position is alway been Portugal sore spot, but there is hope, in the form of Be, Betinho, Nélson Oliveira, who is still very young, Romário Baldé, Tomané, Aladje Gomes, But I believe that Portugal star striker will emerge from Andre Silva FC Porto, Gonçalo Guedes Benfica, Or Fc Port 16 year old Rui Pedro.
    This is not a fan just throwing up names. There is real quality in these young players...when you leave out names like Sergio Olivera, Toze, luis Martins, Pavloski, Helder Costa, and many other good young players, You start to understand that Portugal future is very Bright!!!!!

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  • Good overview, Tom. Thanks. But I have a quibble.
    You state: "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. . ."
    Sorry, but Deco doesn't belong on that list.
    He came to Portugal from Brazil as a 19-year-old and made his debut for the Seleção on March 29, 2003, at the age of 25, after obtaining citizenship. He never played at youth level for Portugal and was certainly never regarded as a member of the fabled Golden Generation that won the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 1989 and 1991.
    Along with Sousa, Figo and Rui Costa, I would include Fernando Couto, Jorge Costa and Joao Viera Pinto as being part of the Golden Generation that went on to make a mark with the senior team.
    Now, if we could find a golden generation of strikers not named CR7!

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  • Guest - Rooster Brandao

    I am really excited about the future of Futball in Portugal, I still believe Portugal and Portuguese teams don't get the respect they deserve. Here in the USA, we never hear of Portuguese Soccer, it's all Premier League, La Liga and Seria A. Granted that Liga Zon Sagres is not at the PM or La Liga levels , but I do feel we can complete with any team in any other country in Europe. in addition, many of the Portuguese star players play elsewhere. if we were capable of keeping some Our talent in Portugal ! we would be right there with La Liga and PM.

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  • Enjoyed the article Tom.

    As you mention, Carvalho and Moutinho are automatic so that leaves just one spot. Fascinating to see who steps up from this U21 side.

    Perhaps you could take a look at what's doing up front. Most supporters want Eder to do well and he can improve. I think Portugal could do a lot worse that play Bernardo Silva further up field at #9 or in a false 9 type of position with Ronaldo and Nani out wide.

    We may even see Ronaldo in a more central attacking role to accommodate some of the young flyers Portugal have out wide. Ronaldo should have played centrally in Brazil, we only saw it in the last game with Portugal chasing where he could easily have scored 3 against Ghana.

    from Sydney NSW, Australia
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