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Mateus Carvalho writes a detailed Scout Report about Sporting’s all-action defender, Ruben Semedo.
When we talk about Sporting’s Academy the first thing that comes to mind is probably the excellence and abundance of its wingers. In fact, it is hard to find a club who can compete with the home of Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, Futre, Luís Figo and Quaresma. But as the Euro 2016 started disproving that Sporting Clube de Portugal is merely a winger’s crib (with 10 of the 14 players used by the European champions being labelled with Sporting’s high quality brand, such as Rui Patrício, José Fonte or João Mário), I will add my humble contribution to further this thesis as I present the promising defender Rúben Semedo. Another bright and exciting graduate from Sporting’s youth ranks, Semedo has already become a regular in Jorge Jesus’ line-up. Notwithstanding his obvious qualities, Semedo also deserves a more detailed look into his fascinating story.
Born in Casal da Mira, Amadora, a tough social neighborhood in the vicinity of Lisbon, on 4th April, 1994, the new rising star of Sporting’s defence started to develop his talents in the streets playing what he himself called a “rawer kind of football”. Soon he took his talents to Sacavenense, a small Lisbon football club, but had to leave the team due to troublesome family circumstances. His return to a football club would be consumated only three years later, at the age of 16, entering another peripheral Lisbon club. The rise of Rúben Semedo starts at a 8-0 defeat of his club against Benfica. Altough his team was smashed by the Portuguese giants, Semedo caught the attention of a Sporting scout who considered him “the best in the field, even better than Benfica´s players”.
After signing for Sporting as a midfielder he soon was adapted to centre-back as Eric Dier was loaned to Everton and Sporting’s youth coach needed an alternative for the defence. Semedo’s evolution was impressive and the attention of giant teams did not take much to appear as Liverpool offered him a professional contract. But, the recently elected Sporting’s president, Bruno de Carvalho, convinced Semedo to stay with the first professional contract that Sporting had offered him.
Continuing to delight everyone at the Portuguese side, Rúben Semedo was promoted to the first team in the 2013/2014 pre-season by Leonardo Jardim, Sporting’s coach at the time. Jardim faced many injury issues at his squad and was forced to give an opportunity to Semedo in a friendly match after both Dier and Marcos Rojo, the starting centre-backs, got injured. No greater test could have been put forth to Semedo as it was Sporting´s debut at home against Fiorentina, a Serie A side with strikers such as Giuseppe Rossi or the astonishing Mario Gomez. Not only did he excel at stopping Fiorentina’s offensive power, he also scored a goal, helping Sporting to win 3-0.
The buzz around the new Sporting startlet was huge but then started the biggest battle Semedo faced during his football career: a battle against himself. Being influenced by his place of birth, all the fame and money he earned stole away his focus on continuing to develop his skills and he started to skip trainings, publish controversial statements towards Sporting CP on social networks and disturb his own teammates. As a result he was sent away from the club on loan to a thrid-tier Spanish club, Reus. Thus began the turning point for Semedo. The city of Reus was a much calmer environment and he was not exposed to any disrupting influences. At the same time he had a daughter, which made him aware of the maturity and professional behaviour he had to gain in order to provide for her.
One year later he returned to Sporting and their new coach, Jorge Jesus, called him again to the senior team but loaned him afterwards to Vitória de Setúbal, a first tier Portuguese side, for a season. He impressed everyone and Sporting CP had to pay Setúbal a fee to shorten his loan and bring him back to the first team in the middle of the season. Almost immediately Jesus granted him a starting spot as centre-back in Sporting’s line-up and he has not let go of it ever since.
Standing at 1,89m, he has the usual physique that helps any good centre back in straightforward marking and heading tasks, possessing as well the pace and agility that high-pressing defensive organisations demand. But what takes Semedo to a whole new level is the unique combination of the aforementioned biological and athletic qualities and his childhood football background, for having played on the streets all of his life has developed in him a distinct style, transforming him into a modern and exciting defender. The fair amount of dribbling and bold tackles any street football player usually does as well as the necessity to think and execute every action at a faster rate has provided Semedo with an interesting set of resources. Many of Semedo’s strenghts emerge from this culture and have been systematically worked on in order for him to take advantage of them. One of his main attributes is his almost bulletproof performance in individual duels. His pace ensures he can almost everytime reach any ball played behind his defensive line and his tackling boldness is known to frustrate any striker and to have delighted Sporting’s fans many times.
Moreover, having started his footballing path as a midfielder (he is currently comfortable in two positions, centre back and defensive midfielder) and being inspired by the likes of Varane and David Luiz, Semedo displays an incredible ease on circulating the ball and delivering it to his colleagues, beginning the offensive process from the back. Another impressive feature currently presented by the young defender has been matured throughout the last season: his anticipation allows him to frustate any opposite player wanting to control the ball and turn to the box. The danger is avoided before it has even begun, and if it does we have already seen how strong can Semedo be in dismantling it.
Despite Semedo’s outstanding evolution at the hands of Jorge Jesus during the previous season (and make no mistake, his coach was decisive in his growth, mainly in tactical aspects such as positioning or understanding of his team’s movements) there is a fair margin for him to improve and meet the demands of a high-pressing defensive line, a challenging way of defending and ideal for Semedo to enhance his defensive skillset. Sure, he presents a natural ease when it comes to the build-up phase, and his impressive tackles and athletic shape make the young Portuguese a perfect fit for Sporting’s style of play, but he sometimes reveals some naïveté when predicting and grasping the opposite side’s offensive actions. His tactical maturity needs further development, but I think that might come naturally as he gets more and more experienced.
Furthermore and though I’ve already highlighted his anticipation as one of his strengths, the effectiveness of those actions is often compromised by his recklessness and such aspect of his game had to be practiced over and over until he could reach the level he is in, diminishing the number of bookings he receives and ensuring he continues to deliver his amazing tackles at a frequent rate. In fact this is an area that can still be improved for him to become a world-class defender, as he still reveals some carelessness while dealing with passes between lines to attackers. For example, last February, Sporting was defeated by Leverkusen in the Europa League’s knockout stage and Semedo was sent off, making it almost impossible for Sporting to obtain the result. Sporting’s coach told the press he had to work separately with his pupil in order to make him realise he was booked in two almost consecutive and similar fouls that were deep-seated on the same mistake, as Semedo was not aware of the perfect timing to attack the ball and that led to disproportional and completely failed tackles that a referee could not forgive. He has come a long way since then but it is important to highlight that his positioning is still compromised by his eagerness to recover the ball as swiftly as possible and that can easily render him and his side at a disadvantadge. His excessive aggression is definitely a weakness he has to deal with.
The opportunity of playing for a top tier club and title contender like Sporting CP requires the vibrant Rúben Semedo to be a cerebral and cold blooded player in the crucial moments of every match. His ability to meet these demands without giving up his chacracteristic and innate qualities might make of him the balanced and distinct defender every coach dreams of having.
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