An easy way for viewers to cut through a Confederations Cup competition that is yet to start simmering is to search for unfamiliar talents. There are major nations competing this summer in Russia—Portugal, Germany and Chile among them—and the "mixed" nature of their squads has allowed some fresh, new faces to come forth.
Germany's selection is highly experimental, while Portugal have included five players with fewer than 10 caps. Given the ageing nature of the latter's traditional forward options—Cristiano Ronaldo, Ricardo Quaresma and Nani produce a combined age of 96—it's imperative they find alternative solutions, and quickly.
To many, Manchester City new boy Bernardo Silva is the next major player for Portugal, and he impressed as they defeated Russia 1-0 on Wednesday evening. But there's another shining light emerging in the form of Gelson Martins, who has created ripples of appreciation thanks to two energetic cameos thus far, and there's room for both to become serious factors in this Selecao side moving forward.
This month Martins has been linked with Liverpool, according to Nemanja Gribic for FourFourTwo, who also report he's been scouted by Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Chelsea. That's quite the list of potential suitors.
The nature of his performances off the bench at the Confederations Cup so far—combining for 44 total minutes against Mexico and Russia—outline exactly the kind of player he is: a ball of energy, he rips around the pitch in constant motion, utilising speed, agility and work rate to great effect.
In many ways he's a rare athlete. He's got this elasticity to his movements that's not often found; he can bend, dip and shimmy to escape challenges, and the burst on show when he decides to push forward is absolutely eye-popping.
Maradona-esque turns and shifting feet regularly flummox defenders. Real Madrid found this out the hard way last year in the Champions League, when Martins ran 40 yards on his own, left Toni Kroos in a pile, nutmegged Casemiro and forced Luka Modric to try to foul him.
He uses his speed and movement well; on the ball he is positive, always hunting for space to push into and players to beat one-on-one, and he's happy to pick the ball up deeper and surge through the middle if that's where the space is. He doesn't stay contained to one flank.
Off the ball, he moves with aggression and decisiveness, scaring defenders into overcommitting when accounting for him. There are times when Martins takes the place of the No. 9 who has dropped in and runs off the shoulder of the defence, stretching them and pushing them back to create room behind him.
Those are smart things to do, and smartness is something rather prevalent in his game. He plays with his head up and always seems to have time on the ball. Even when being closed down, he's calm and assured in searching for the correct move—possibly because he knows he boasts ludicrous agility, allowing him to duck out of the way at the last moment.
Martins' (sort of) assist for Cedric Soares' goal was the combining of all of his best qualities: he slowed his marker to a stop, then seared down the outside, got in front and delivered a low ball that caused chaos. A second later, his right-sided colleague stuck it into the back of the net. That's multi-dimensional wing play, combined with speed and delivery—it ticks a lot of scouts' boxes when assessing players.
He's yet to score for Portugal across eight caps, but he doesn't start games for them. For Sporting CP in 2016-17, he netted six in the Primeira Liga, which is a little on the low side, though he played in a team in which Bas Dost (34 goals in 30 Primeira Liga starts) hoovered up absolutely everything, and Martins did produce nine assists.
|Attacking Production, 2016-17 (League Only)|
According to O Jogo (h/t Goal.com), Sporting's valuation of Martins is in the £40 million region—a hefty sum, even in 2017. With Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane boasting similar price tags, the difference in production in front of goal is stark and underlines the one obvious area for Martins to work on.
Once he's converting these jaw-dropping twists and turns and searing runs into goals...then we'll have a player who can cut it in the world's top teams.
All statistics via WhoScored.com