At 18, most talented English players are spending time out on loan in the lower leagues, or at Vitesse Arnhem. At 18, Ruben Neves is playing week in week out at Portugal’s top team, Porto. He is already being linked with a big money move abroad, and it is easy to see why.
In defensive midfield, Neves is in a position where you have to have a certain level of maturity that is rarely present in one so young. He wouldn’t be the first player to have a successful career after starting out at Porto, following the likes of Deco, Ricardo Carvalho and Helder Postiga. But even they, at 18, weren’t at the level Neves is at now.
Despite spending big on the likes of Yacine Brahimi, Casemiro and Evandro in midfield, manager Julen Lopetegui turned to Neves from the start on the opening day of last season against C.S. Maritimo, and the youngster paid him back, winning man of the match in a game where he also became the club’s youngest ever scorer. Five days later he would become the youngest Portuguese man to appear in the Champions League, starting the play-off match with Lille.
His effect on the side was incredible, and went from being an unknown youngster, to a football phenomenon. He would make 37 appearances in all competitions, and was named Prospect of the Year for 2015 in Porugal. This lead to Neves’ selection in the Portuguese U21 squad for the European Championships, where he broke another record, this time becoming the team’s youngest player at a major tournament. He played a part in his side making it all the way to the final, where they lost to Sweden in a penalty shoot out.
Neves has all the attributes needed to be a top defensive midfielder. At just 18, his positional awareness and knowledge of the game is something that many players in his position would dream of possessing. He simply oozes intelligence. He reads the game in a way that allows him to take a position of leadership in his team and show that he has so much more time on the ball than the other men around him. He has in his possession very similar talents to Claude Makelele, with the ability to not only win ball back effectively, but with a passing range good enough to use it efficiently as well. Unlike Makelele however, Neves has a goal threat with his shooting from range a key weapon in any side. This has only bought him a couple of goals in his career so far, but it will bring him many more in the future.
It is no surprise that with all this ability, Neves is being linked with a European giant. This is something that will always come with playing at Porto, who ever since the Jose Mourinho days have been given the reputation as a selling club. What will lead to more selection is the youngster’s use of super-agent Jorge Mendes, who also represents the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Jose Mourinho and Diego Costa. He is known in the football world as a man who brokers big-money deals across Europe, normally with a bit of money on the side for himself.
Ruben Neves is Mendes’ next big client, and with or without a big money move, he has all the attributes to become a top player.