Portugal’s disappointing group stage exit at this summer’s World Cup only strengthened the perception that the squad is in desperate need of renewal. New head coach Fernando Santos has been shaking things up a bit, and one beneficiary could turn out to be Valencia midfielder André Gomes, on loan from Benfica. He received his first international cap for Portugal in a Euro 2016 qualifier against Albania back in September and was recently selected for a pair of matches against France and Denmark. The 21-year-old made the move to Spain this summer after three years with Benfica and has played a central role in the resurgence of Los Che under Portuguese manager Nuno Espírito Santo so far this season. His early season performances have already earned him some serious accolades. The 21-year-old was recently named in the La Liga’s Team of the Month for September, alongside international team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo.
If he does continue along his current trajectory, he could establish himself as a regular starter for Portugal soon. Rui Miguel Martins takes a look at the 21-year-old.
Who is André Gomes?
André Gomes joined the youth academy of his hometown club FC Porto in 2005, where he would remain for three seasons before passing through the Pasteleira and Boavista systems. He would join Benfica in 2011, at the age of 18 and in the summer of 2012, Gomes would experience his first action with the senior club during Benfica’s pre-season campaign. But with Jorge Jesus’ club loaded with quality players in midfield, Gomes would begin the season with the reserve squad which plays in Portugal’s Segunda Liga.
After a series of spectacular performances for Benfica B, Gomes was unsurprisingly soon promoted to the senior squad. He would have a memorable beginning to his professional career, getting on the scoresheet after coming on as a second half substitute in a Portuguese Cup match against S.C. Freamunde in October, 2012. Soon after, Gomes began to see action in the Primeira Liga and even in the group stage of the Champions League. However, with the Portuguese league going down to the final weeks of the season, Gomes would factor less in the second half of the campaign as boss Jesus would opt for more experienced and reliable individuals.
In January 2014, Gomes reportedly attracted interest from Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United but no transfer was finalized. Instead, Benfica sold his rights, along with teammate Rodrigo Moreno to Meriton Capital Limited, a third-party investment fund owned by Peter Lim. Lim is currently in the final stages of purchasing Valencia, but at the time, both players were allowed to remain with Benfica. Despite not playing much with the main squad at that point of the season, he suddenly became a regular option for Jorge Jesus. And he would go on to finish the season strong scoring a memorable goal in the second leg of a Portuguese Cup match against his childhood club FC Porto. He took a pass off his chest, before firing a volley past Porto goalkeeper Fabiano. The goal electrified the Estádio da Luz crowd and helped the club advance to the final.
Gomes was also a big part of Benfica’s Europa League run last season, anchoring the midfield in the final, as the club eventually lost in a penalty kicks to Sevilla. André Gomes’ good performances wouldn’t go unnoticed though, as he would go on to be named in the UEFA Europa League squad of the tournament.
This past summer, Gomes completed his move to Valencia and although officially on-loan from Benfica, the La Liga club has repeatedly stated that his rights will eventually be transferred over to them. The club went into the recent international break sitting second in the table after beating defending champions Atletico Madrid 3-1.
He has been very impressive so far this season, earning many admirers along the way. César Izquierdo, a football journalist for Valencia-based sports daily Superdeporte praised the youngster during an interview with Portuguese publication Record in late September.
“He [Gomes] is a complete revelation. He has already gained many fans in Valencia. No one expected him to make such an impact so early. [Jorge] Jesus has not taken the time to develop young players like him. His tactical awareness, tempo and creativity have always impressed me,” he said.
Style of Play, Strengths and Weaknesses
André Gomes’ greatest attributes are his impressive technical ability and tactical awareness which has been on full display so far this season at the Mestalla. During a July friendly against Alianza Lima, he would take control of the ball on the left side before dribbling past several defenders. Gomes would then go on to deliver a perfect pass to an on-coming Paco Alcácer with the Spanish striker make no mistake. This combination has worked very well so far this season as the two youngsters have drawn many admirers for their individual displays as well.
Gomes would exchange passes with Alcácer and Rodrigo before scoring Valencia’s second goal in their 3-0 victory against Getafe back in September. With each player under the age of 24, this could be the backbone of a strong Valencia team for years to come.
Gomes has an impressive physique for someone who is just 21 years of age. Standing at 1.88m, he is learning to use his size and strength during matches. In a recent victory against Atletico Madrid, Gomes would hold off two defenders before walking in and scoring Valencia’s second goal. The impressive Alcácer provided the assist on that goal as well.
His physical strength has also helped him with aerial challenges this season. In addition, the youngster has the rare ability to pass and shoot equally well with each foot. Gomes has all the tools needed to develop into a solid box-to-box midfielder, who could play anywhere in the middle of the pitch.
Despite being in and out of the main squad for two seasons at Benfica, he still insists that the experience helped him mature as a player. In a recent interview with Portuguese website A Bola, Gomes talked about the influence current Benfica manager Jorge Jesus had on him.
“In terms of tactics, he [Jesus] taught me how to read the game. Of course he is a specialist in that area. One of the best there is. He helped me grow as a footballer, especially when it comes to defensive duties. I am very grateful.”
But like most young midfielders, he is still very much a work in progress. Gomes is not blessed with considerable pace which does leave him vulnerable at times. At no point was this clearer than in the Europa League final with Benfica, where he lost the ball in dangerous areas on a few occasions, struggling to recover. Gomes also needs to improve his decision-making and consistency while his discipline has already been an issue with him this season. He has accumulated three yellows cards through the first seven La Liga matches of the season.
Current Benfica coach Jorge Jesus’ gave a recent interview to Portuguese sports daily – ‘ O Record” where he mentioned a conversation he had with Andre Gomes, as news of his move to Valencia came to light – “You’re leaving in your best year! I have spent two years teaching you, and now you have a better understanding of things”. Jesus is known to be a very demanding coach, who constantly barks orders at his players during matches, and on the training pitch. This type of educational environment doesn’t seem to work for everyone but it has for Andre Gomes.
Gomes’ curriculum at Benfica may have lacked the consistency of playing every week, but Jesus’ typically intense training sessions, and occasional appearances in European competitions have helped mold Andre Gomes into the midfielder he is today.
Gomes’ dexterity, and his extreme confidence in his abilities, are his best qualities. It’s this confidence that allows him to play cross-field passes with his weaker left foot fairly frequently, float passes to players in midfield, and get into goal scoring situations quite often.
The downside of this confidence, is the belief that he can get past a player every time, or hit that Hollywood ball which will often times make him lose possession in situations where a conservative option may have been the more appropriate choice.
This flaw though, seems to fit right into his new coach Espirito Santo’s tactical approach, who has made it very clear he wants to play the game in a very fast and direct fashion. It seems that the mix of the tactical awareness that was instilled into Gomes by Jesus, and the adventurous way in which Espirito Santo wants to play the game has made Andre a consistent performer at Valencia this season.
Written by Rui Miguel Martins.
- Scout Report | Anderson Talisca: Benfica and Brazil’s emerging star - November 18, 2014
- Scout Report | André Gomes : The driving force behind the new Valencia - October 21, 2014
- Scout Report | Bernardo Silva:AS Monaco and Portugal’s Young Attacking Midfielder - September 12, 2014