18 Midfielder Porto Portugal
Porto coach Julen Lotopegui started the 2014/15 Portuguese season with a 17-year-old in his midfield. It was a bold selection but in hindsight it looks like nothing more unusual than the passing of day into night and back again. Rúben Neves, now 18, took to first team football with consummate ease, even scoring on his debut.
He’s been a regular ever since, with the exception of a month out with injury last winter, and to say he’s a fan favourite at his club would be the most ridiculous understatement. Porto’s midfield is no easy nut to crack and Lotopegui has had options at his disposal in the past 15 months. Neves has just slotted right in.
2015 has been…
An unmitigated success. Neves is quite something, unremarkable in style but utterly impressive in ability and maturity for a teenage player burdened with the tactical responsibility that defines the defensive midfield position. He links play beautifully, preferring to give a simple pass when it’s available, and he’s always looking for space for an immediate return.
He’s a nifty mid-range passer with fantastic positional discipline and awareness, boundless football smarts and the vision and first touch of an out-and-out natural football player. He’s also willing to be combative when required, a trait that has no doubt contributed to the esteem in which Neves is already held by Porto’s supporters.
But what people talk about, the characteristic that makes him stand out so clearly, is his consistency. At 18 he’s as settled and reliable as any defensive midfielder in his division. He was eased in this season, sitting out of Porto’s three league games in August and he’s now being rest once every five games or so, not least because of his importance in UEFA Champions League matches.
And when we say importance, we mean importance. Neves isn’t just a starter on Europe’s biggest stage – he’s captained Porto on three consecutive occasions, twice leading them to victory against Maccabi Tel Aviv. He’s the youngest ever player to start as a captain in the Champions League. Few in Porto so much as batted an eyelid.
In addition to being named as Portugal’s best sporting prospect in 2015 he has also made his senior debut in the national team shirt. With Under-16, Under-17, Under-18 and Under-21 caps already atop his mantelpiece, he was called up to the first team in November and made his debut as a substitute against Russia. 90 minutes against Luxembourg followed and Neves is riding the crest of one hell of a wave.
Needless to say, none of this has gone unnoticed outside Portugal. Neves is regularly linked in the press with the attentions of Liverpool and Arsenal, amongst others, and a move abroad might well be in his future. He’ll do well to bide his time, however. He might be a prodigious player but he is still a kid and he’s becoming a hero at a club with Champions League football. That shouldn’t be taken for granted.
In the shorter term there’s no doubt the young midfielder will have his eye on a place in Portugal’s squad at UEFA EURO 2016 next summer. Having effectively captained Porto to the brink of the Champions League knockout rounds, one has to believe he’s got a realistic chance of featuring in France.
B Has the makings of a genuine phenomenon
If you've enjoyed reading the #IBWM100 please make a donation to help us keep the site ad free.