From Wolves to Manchester City, Portugal wonderkids take over Premier League
Eusebio and Luis Figo gave English clubs a wide berth so Cristiano Ronaldo would inarguably be the most famous Portuguese player to have played in England.Updated: Apr 05, 2019 23:12 IST
The winning start at home notwithstanding, how Mauricio Pochettino deals with last Sunday’s curveball could influence where Tottenham Hotspur finish this season, in the Premiership and in Europe. But what is beyond doubt is his influence on the resurgence of the England team.
From his time at Southampton to now, an England side can be made comprising only Pochettino’s men. There were four in the 18 against Montenegro last month; three, Danny Rose, Delle Alli and Harry Kane, in the starting line-up. Five in Gareth Southgate’s squad in the World Cup semi-final last year were ‘Poch’ products.
With Wolverhampton Wanderers, is Nuno Espirito Santo doing the same for Portugal? One week after Spurs lost at Liverpool, the Portuguese coach will take Wolves to Wembley for an FA Cup semi-final against Watford. Wolves got there having knocked out Manchester United en route. Diogo Jota, who scored Wolves’ second goal in the 2-1 win on March 16, is one of the seven Portuguese in the squad. There are three more Portuguese in the Wolves’ under-23 roster.
Seventeen days later, they did it again, this time in the Premiership. Again Jota scored, toting up a tally of six goals and three assists in seven league games at Molineux, Wolves’ home, and keeping them on course for their best ever finish since 1979-80.
There were seven Portuguese in Santo’s 18 on Tuesday when they beat United. Guess how many Porto, 28-time league champions in Portugal, had in their Primeira Liga starting 11 when they beat Braga away on March 30? Two.
Fado with the wolves
If Portuguese is the preferred language at Molineux, it is because Santo and Jorge Mendes—football’s sharp-suited agent who, according to a Guardian report, conducted 68% of all player transfers at clubs such as Sporting Lisbon, Benfica and Porto between 2001-10—go back a long way. To a time when Mendes, who is Portuguese, ran a night club and Santo was a goalkeeper.
The relationship that began by getting Santo to move from Vitoria SC to Deportivo La Coruna has stood the test of time. As manager too Santo joined clubs where, let’s say, Mendes knew people.
Since Chinese industrial giants Fosun bought Wolves in 2016, the relationship between Mendes and Wolves deepened. And got complicated. Wolves accept that Mendes, who along with Pini Zahavi would be footballers’ and managers’ biggest brokers, has business relations with Fosun’s owner and advises them on football. That led to conflict-of-interest charges which are yet to be proved.
“I am only a client of the best agent in the world. I do my job; he does his job,” Santo has said, reacting to charges of Mendes’s far-reaching influence at the club.
What has been proved is that Wolves, who were in the third tier of English football in 2014, now belong firmly on its biggest stage, riding on the performances of its Portuguese Armada. They have so far won 13 points against the Premiership’s ‘big six’ (Liverpool, United, City, Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal). No team has got more.
This Silva is gold
Everton’s Marco Silva is the other Portuguese manager in 2018-19 that began with the most famous of them all on a slippery pole at Manchester United. Once the Special One had to leave the wheel for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, it was all about Santo and Silva. Everton, where Portuguese Andre Gomes is a star, are also in the top 10.
But the biggest bang for the buck from Eusebio land has been Bernardo Silva, a Benfica youth product. The 24-year-old midfielder has been in red hot form and one of the reasons why Manchester City could win four trophies this season, the Premiership included.
Signed from Monaco for 43 million pounds, Bernardo has more than filled in the massive gap left by the injury to Kevin de Bruyne. “What Bernardo has done this season is a consequence of the way he accepts his role,” City manager Pep Guardiola was quoted as saying in news reports before the 2-0 win against Cardiff City on Wednesday. Bernardo, who has been used as attacking midfielder and in right wing, has scored six goals in the Premiership.
“He works so hard and the rewards are there. Right now with the way he plays, I cannot do anything else but put him on the pitch and let him play.” said Guardiola.
In seven Champions League games, Bernardo has three goals and two assists; in two FA Cup rounds, he scored twice and made one assist. No wonder City gave him a new deal till 2025, one reportedly worth 150,000 pounds a week. He has played in 31 of 32 City’s league games so far. Only goalie Ederson has more appearances.
Eusebio and Luis Figo gave English clubs a wide berth so Cristiano Ronaldo would inarguably be the most famous Portuguese player to have played in England. Ricardo Carvalho, Nani, Luis Boa Morte, Hilario, Raul Meireles too are in a long list of from the land of the reigning European champions who have shone in the Premiership. But never have so many made such an impact in one season.
“Portugal has invested a lot in infrastructure and in coaches. You reap what you sow. We will have more players with a lot of skills in the next few years because we did a great job upgrading infrastructure,” said former Portugal defender Henrique Sereno, who won the Indian Super League with ATK and Chennaiyin FC.
The list could grow by summer if forward Joao Felix, 19, defender Ruben Dias and midfielder Bruno Fernandes join Premiership clubs. City and United are said to be in pursuit, as are Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus.