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Mateus Carvalho writes a comprehensive scout report about Andre Horta, Benfica’s exciting young midfielder.
With their new coach, Rui Vitória, Benfica has changed its policy on the utilisation of young players. Due to a self-imposed growing financial restrain, they have started to complete their senior side with rising youngsters instead of signing more experienced players who would cost millions. As a consequence, a few “homemade” players have reached the senior team, coming under the spotlight. I’m talking about the likes of Gonçalo Guedes, Victor Lindelöf, Ederson and the most famous of all, Renato Sanches, European champion and recently transferred to Bundesliga giants, Bayern Munich.
The succession of the explosive midfielder was achieved using another young player, André Horta, who, as a child, started playing for Benfica but was sent away at a young age to a lesser club. Nonetheless, he shows an incredible passion for Benfica as well as an impressive set of qualities which have already granted him a starting spot in Vitória’s line-up, returning to Benfica in an assertive and exciting manner.
Usually Portuguese stars start their career at their local club, play there for one or two years, and get subsequently signed by a bigger Portuguese side. But André Horta followed a different path, starting to play immediately at his favourite club, Benfica, at the age of 9. Obviously, he had already showed natural ease handling the ball, but a usual misconception in Portuguese youth football led him to be thrown out of Benfica: young players are often assessed based almost solely on their physique. And the 15-year-old Horta was really thin and had little muscular capacity. Instead of working with him to surpass that natural deficiency (as, for example their rivals, Sporting CP, did with the likes of Ronaldo, Nani, Simão Sabrosa or Gelson Martins), Benfica opted to let go of him.
This decision from the club he absolutely adored devastated the young midfielder and, as he has already stated, almost led him to quit football. But he found the fortitude to keep pursuing his dream of becoming a professional football player and joined Vitória de Setubal, a first-tier Portuguese side with a noble tradition of producing exciting young players (such as Rúben Vezo, Valencia’s centre back, now on loan at Granada; or Ricardo Horta, André’s older brother and vibrant winger of SC Braga, having already played for Málaga at La Liga). His growth was quick and outstanding, so unsurprisingly he made his professional debut for Setúbal in the 2014/2015 season against Boavista in the Portuguese Liga NOS at the early age of 18.
In parallel with that, he also started to be regularly called up to play for the Portuguese national youth teams (15 games and 1 goal), drawing attention on himself with interesting performances in the famous Toulon Tournament. From then on, he was an evver-present in Setúbal’s senior side, and in the following season he was made one of the crucial players of the club, playing almost every match of that season (36 games and two goals). He spent his whole spell at Setúbal playing a no.10-like role, as the playmaker of the 4-2-3-1 offensive-based system Setúbal displayed mainly throughout last season, which helped him make an impression against almost every club. This was particularly true in the home defeats against Benfica (2-4) and FC Porto (0-1), as the youngster really stood out from the rest with his passing quality and high-intensity offensive actions.
As the season came to an end, Benfica had already guaranteed Horta’s return home, outrunning Sporting and Porto, mainly due to the youngster’s love for his first club. As much as his departure from Benfica had made him miserable, he did not hold a grudge against them and when offered an opportunity to return home, he did not take long to grab it with both hands. However, and as optimistic the expectations towards Horta might have been, it was surprising to observe his personality and determination during the pre-season.
He went to great lengths to gain a spot in Benfica’s squad, avoiding a predictable loan to another club. So much so that Rui Vitória trusted him with the enormous task of replacing Sanches from the first friendly game. Not only had Horta to commit to the high standards of the Liga NOS’ Champions, he had to adapt to a new role on the pitch, as Benfica plays in a 4-4-2. Horta had to learn the demands of a no.8 role, which in Benfica’s tactical system requires a broader span of tasks, both in defensive and offensive movements, as he is asked to be the link between every sector of the team. But Horta’s performances have been simply astonishing. He convinced Benfica’s directors not to sign any other midfielder to replace Sanches, maintained the starting spot granted to him by Vitória and helped Benfica to win the first title of the season playing the whole 90 minutes of the victory against Braga in the Supertaça. All in all, he has played 9 out of 10 games at the time of writing, scoring one superb goal against Tondela and making two assists. If we add the constant displays of love towards his new club, with tattoos, passionate statements and even tears of joy when he won the Supertaça, Benfica’s supporters could not be happier with their new startlet.
As a new, young, and academy-branded prospect emerging to succeed Renato Sanches, the comparisons between Horta and the new signing of Bayern did not take long to appear. It was inevitable that supporters and journalists alike would use Sanches to address the phenomenon of André’s recently established preponderance at Benfica. But I consider such analogies between the two of them to be rather unfair to Horta, as he possesses qualities and a unique style, which definitely differentiate him from Sanches.
Firstly, he reveals a rather distinctive fashion of conducting the ball, always keeping his head high, revealing great technical ability and uncommonly quick and effective dribbling skills. Thus, he manages to productively keep possession of the ball almost every time he is pressured. Furthermore, Horta presents a rare feature that sets him apart from the ordinary player: he is blessed with an outstanding decision-making capacity for his age (he is only 19). He is keen to assess every situation he faces on the pitch and to decide what the most effective action for him to develop is. This ability comes in handy mainly in offensive manoeuvres as he combines it with superior passing accuracy (excelling to the greatest extent in long-range passes) and innate creativity, boosting both these qualities with his surprisingly mature perception of the game. Therefore, he is able to intelligently choose when to behave in a more balanced and pragmatic fashion and when to irreverently disrupt defences with deadly passes or exquisite dribbles. And, I cannot stress this enough, he is only 19 years old!
On the one hand, Horta needs definitely to improve his muscular strength and composure. He could really benefit from this, which could help him surpass his lesser physical structure (174 cm, 67 kg) and boost his performance in individual duels in the midfield, as he is being asked to perform as a box-to-box midfielder at Benfica. This position requires the execution of a diverse array of skills, dissimilar to the ones asked of him as the responsibility-free no.10 of Vitória de Setúbal. In addition, an excessive eagerness to participate in every moment of the game might also compromise his success. Although he is a truly intense player, he often does not know how to administer his stamina and how to control his positioning, mainly in defensive situations. If he wants to establish himself as a world-class midfielder (and I firmly believe he has what it takes to do so), he has to develop his cleverness when occupying spaces and responding to the opposite side’s counterattacks, two moments of the game he stills struggles with, almost solely due to the aforementioned fact of his impatience and thirst in the field. He already possesses the intelligence and perception needed to improve these kind of flaws, as I’ve stated above.
On the other hand he could still improve in two basic but distinct competencies: tackling and finishing. As far as his tackling is concerned, he does not reveal the boldness that generally characterizes the 19-year-old, being utterly passive when the opposite side’s movements demand a more effective defensive reaction. And although he has scored a few outstanding goals, he still lacks composure while finishing, as he often wastes good chances. For the number of times he manages to get a shot in, a sizable proportion of successful attempts could turn him into the complete midfielder Benfica and Portuguese supporters alike expect him to become.