Bill McLoughlin has a detailed look at up-and-coming Portuguese star, Ruben Neves. The next big thing from the Iberian peninsula?
Over the last decade, Portugal has seen a resurgence in its youth production. Apart from the obvious world class talent of Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal has produced the likes of Pepe, Coentrao, Nani, Deco and most recently William Carvalho and Bernardo Silva. A new such talent has emerged from Porto is the heralded Ruben Neves. Such has been his form and that he has not only been placed in Porto’s first team at 17, but it is has also been reported that a move to Liverpool in January could be possible.
Who is Ruben Neves
Neves has steadily progressed through Porto’s youth system, a youth setup he has been involved in since he was eight. Although he was loaned to Padroense for a season, he progressed well through the academy and was called up to the main squad for Porto’s pre-season in 2014. Such were his performances in the pre-season that he was called to the main squad for the subsequent season. Many in Portugal were surprised and proceeded to question Lopetegui’s choice to bring the 17 year old not only into the first team, but also start the first game of the 2014/15 season. Neves repaid the faith by putting in a man of the match performance and scoring a goal. At the start of this season Neves has become a fixture in a very young and impressive Porto side which sits joint top of the Portuguese league.
Internationally Neves has progressed through the U16, 17, 18 and most recently U21 squads. He recently played for the Portugese U21 team that reached the finals of the European Championships, scoring against Holland but losing to Sweden in the final. This tournament marked Neves as Portugal’s youngest ever player in the U21 championship.
Neves featured in our list of 100 Best Young Players to Watch in 2016.
Style of play, strengths, and weaknesses
At only 18 years old, it is a testament to his quality that Ruben Neves is not only starting for Porto but garnering high attention in the football world. Modern football is packed full with technical ball playing footballers and is Ruben Neves is no exception.
Talent Radar Accolades:
He has drawn comparisons to Pirlo and Busquets by teammate Christian Tello and it’s not hard to see why. Neves sits in a deep lying playmaker role and is tasked with dictating the pace of play. He plays the role well, he gets the ball out of his feet and passes quickly- something football has lost.
Playing as either a part of a pair of holding midfielders or a lone playmaker, Neves is a very talented passer. He finds it equally easy to pass five or 35 yards. Moreover he doesn’t shy away from taking the ball under pressure. He has usually made the pass in his head before he gets the ball and oozes composure while doing it. As his Porto B coach, Luis Castro said, “(Ruben Neves) is incredibly talented from the mental point of view. He plays with an extraordinary calmness” this is one quality that players, especially at his age don’t often have.
Having technical ability is one thing, but to have the football intelligence makes the game easier. Neves seems to pass too much in the wide areas, however, and not enough through the lines. Although, he does play it with pace, at higher levels teams can shift from side to side. If Neves could add a more incisive forward pass he could be very dangerous.
In terms of goals, he doesn’t possess the power or the pace to drive from midfield. He doesn’t make runs from deep and arrive in the box like a Lampard. At this moment in time he doesn’t have a shot but I think he can improve on that. He might not have the power to score 30-40 yard screamers, with time though, he will be able to pull the trigger from just outside the box or from close range.
Again this isn’t his style, he is definitely more of a controller from deep. He always commands a lot of attention, so his movement needs to be good; to make space for himself but also for others. Moreover, unlike many young players he has great delivery from set pieces and can be given the role as corner and free kick taker.
Now the less obvious and maybe more important part of his game, is defending. Being so good with the ball at his feet, the defensive work can sometimes be overlooked. His tackling is sometimes a bit brash and he often slides in when he should stay on his feet. However, further up the pitch he is good at intercepting ball and keeping the attack going. Either way his reading of the game will need to improve.
Moreover, having someone around him to do the defensive work might be a solution. I think his best position is in a midfield three with him playing as the anchor. A midfield two could work but you don’t want his partner crowding his space when they have the ball. In the future he will be a mainstay in the Portugese team and could turn into the type of player who doesn’t get much fame, but one that every team would want.
What does the future hold?
Ruben Neves seems like the kind of player that will get better with every game he plays. He is technically gifted and seems to have a strong ability to read the game. I don’t think it’s far-fetched to see him being heralded as one of the best players in his position in 2-3 years. He has recently been heavily linked with a move to Liverpool, though the writer believes that he should stay at Porto to finish the current season and maybe play another season after that. In a young and promising Porto he seems to be the main man, and he’ll need to keep playing in that role to become accustomed to the future pressure. If he plays in the right position with the right players around him, Portugal could have their version of Pirlo. High praise, but he really could be that good.
Written by Bill McLoughlin
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