Portugal continues to produce talent at a rate not seen for some time. This year, there were a high number of Portuguese youngsters flourishing in Europe’s top leagues as well.
Olympique Lyonnais goalkeeper Anthony Lopes and Lorient left-back Raphaël Guerreiro established themselves as two of Ligue 1’s most exciting young players. While Udinese midfielder Bruno Fernandes is a budding star in Serie A, a league that has not been kind to Portuguese talent in recent seasons.
And as always, the Primeira Liga continued to be fertile ground for promising young home grown talent. The clubs outside the traditional ‘Big Three’ in particular have in recent seasons put their faith in developing players from their academy, perhaps adjusting to new economic realities.
Of those selected to be on the list, four have received a call-up to the National Team. While Braga midfielder Rafa Silva and Sporting Lisbon midfielder William Carvalho, will both be representing the Seleção at the World Cup this summer.
Here now is a list of the top Portuguese revelations from this past season.
Anthony Lopes, Olympique Lyonnais, Goalkeeper
23-year-old Anthony Lopes won the starting position at French club Olympique Lyonnais in training camp last summer and has been solid since. His season almost came to an abrupt end when he suffered a serious back injury in early November. He returned only five weeks later and has remained first-choice.
Lopes was on Paulo Bento’s provisional 30-man squad for the World Cup before being left out in favour of more established veterans. But his future remains very bright. He helped lead Olympique Lyonnais to a fifth place finish in a increasingly competitive Ligue 1, conceding only 34 goals in 32 League appearances for the French club. That includes 13 clean sheets.
Paulo Oliveira, Vitória Guimarães, Centre Back
An immensely promising talent from Vitória Guimarães’ academy. The young centre back demonstrated this season that he has the athleticism and football IQ needed to be a top level defender. Sporting Lisbon recently signed him to a five-year contract where he is expected to compete for a starting position next season.
He is already very accomplished despite only being 22-years-old. He won the Portuguese Cup last season with Vitória Guimarães. This season, Oliveira played in the Europa League before the club was eliminated in the group stage. With Bruno Alves and Pepe both over 30, Oliveira could be an option for the Seleção soon if he continues to progress as a player.
Miguel Rodrigues, Nacional, Centre Back
Another very promising defender. Rodrigues started 29 matches this season and was the focal point of a solid Nacional defense. Rodrigues was a major reason the Madeira club finished a better than expected fifth in the League table. The club conceded only 33 goals in 30 League matches this season overall.
Although he has only playd one full season in the Primeira Liga, many people are expecting a lot from him in the future. Together with Paulo Oliveira and Tiago Ilori, Rodrigues is part of a group of highly promising Portuguese central defenders that could conceivably reach the heights of the Seleção .
Raphaël Guerreiro, FC Lorient, Left-Back
An offensively gifted full-back who has enjoyed a very good breakthrough season with Ligue 1 club FC Lorient. Like Anthony Lopes, Guerreiro was born and began playing football in France. However, he has chosen to represent the country of his father internationally. The 20-year-old has already played for Portugal’s Under-21 squad.
This season, Guerreiro has shown excellent attacking instincts and has become known for delivering good crosses into the box. His style is very well-suited for the Portuguese game and according to some sources Paulo Bento is said to be monitoring his progress. However, he still needs to improve his defensive play.
Diogo Figueiras, Sevilla, Right-Back
Portuguese observers should already be well aware of this 22-year-old full-back from his time at Paços Ferreira. In his first season at La Liga club Sevilla, Figueiras started 19 League matches for the club and helped them win the Europa League. He has proved to be a strong offensive threat down the right-side and could even play further up the pitch.
Figueiras still needs to improve the defensive side of his game. He still commits far too many fouls. In La Liga this season, Figueiras picked up nine yellow cards and one red card in 22 total appearances. And he served a four-match ban for verbally abusing a referee. However, this is not an uncommon problem with many young attacking full-backs.
William Carvalho, Sporting Lisbon, Defensive Midfielder
William Carvalho leads a very strong group of midfielders on the list. The Sporting Lisbon defensive midfielder was one of the outstanding performers this season in the Portuguese league. And big things are expected of him next month at the World Cup where he is likely to anchor the Portuguese midfield.
Carvalho is most often compared to former French international Patrick Vieira. The 22-year-old has great positioning, makes goods decisions with the ball and could also contribute offensively. He received his first international cap in the decisive World Cup qualifying match against Sweden. And he put in an excellent performance in a recent friendly against Cameroon.
Rafa Silva, Sporting Braga, Attacking Midfielder/Winger
21-year-old Rafael Ferreira Silva has enjoyed an impressive rise over the last 12 months. He was signed from second division side Feirense last summer and was recently selected to Portugal’s World Cup squad. He will be looked upon to provide some creativity from the bench.
Silva has demonstrated this season that he has the skill level and vision to be an elite player. However, like many gifted young players he needs to learn how to play as part of a system. Braga had a difficult season, having fired veteran manager Jesualdo Ferreira. But under the right direction, Rafa could just become the playmaker Portugal has sought since the retirement of Deco four years ago.
Bruno Fernandes, Udinese, Attacking Midfielder
19-year-old Bruno Fernandes is former Boavista youth player who spend the 2012-13 season in Serie B with Novara. After helping the club to promotion, Fernandes was signed by Udinese last summer. He began this past season in the club’s reserve squad before earning a position in the starting line-up.
Fernandes would end the season as one of Udinese’s most important players, playing behind striker Antonio Di Natale. The young midfielder scored four goals and notched another six assists in 24 League matches for the Italian club, helping them remain in Serie A.
Carlos Mané, Sporting Lisbon, Winger
The young Sporting Lisbon winger could just emerge as one of Portugal’s great players. The 20-year-old was primarily used in Cup matches in the first half of the season. He scored a spectacular goal from just beyond the box in a League Cup match against Marítimo in January. In the second half, Sporting manager Leonardo Jardim began using him more often in League matches.
His talent is so evident that Manchester United is said to be very interested in signing him, despite the fact that he has yet to play an entire season in top flight. With Diego Capel and André Carrillo likely to leave this summer, Mané could be an automatic starter with Sporting Lisbon next season.
Ricardo Horta, Vitória Setúbal, Winger
A very promising attacker who was relatively unknown until this season. Horta was a Benfica youth player before signing with Vitória Setúbal in 2011. The club surprised everyone by finishing a better than expected seventh in the League total. Horta started hitting top gear in February after the arrival of João Mário on loan from Sporting Lisbon.
He would score six of his seven goals this season from February onwards. Horta has been selected for Portugal’s U19 and U20 squads as well. Sporting Lisbon are said to be interested in signing the youngster but Setúbal may not be willing to give him up so soon.
Bebé, Manchester United (On Loan at Paços de Ferreira), Striker
One of the great individual stories from this season in Portugal. Written off by so many in the media, the 23-year-old scored 12 goals in 27 appearances for Paços de Ferreira. That includes 11 goals in his final 16 matches. He also scored the opening goal in Paços de Ferreira’s 3-1 play-off win against Desportivo das Aves that assured that the club would remain in the Primeira Liga.
Bebé demonstrated that precocious talent that was not immediately evident while at Old Trafford and in previous loan spells. He scored an excellent volley against Braga in January which seemed to have given him a renewed sense of confidence. In a March League match against Arouca, he back-heeled a pass to himself before scoring. And now a move to one of Portugal’s biggest club’s seems likely.
Miguel Vitor, PAOK, Central Defender
Luis Martins, Gil Vicente, Left-Back
Tiago Silva, Belenenses, Central Midfielder
Danilo Pereira, Marítimo, Central Defender/Defensive Midfielder
João Mário, Sporting Lisbon (On Loan at Vitória Setúbal), Central Midfielder
Fredy, Belenenses, Winger
Ivan Cavaleiro, Benfica, Winger