Eder Militao: Porto's Quiet Golden Boy Hoping to Make a Big Noise at Real Madrid

Marcus AlvesFeatured Columnist IApril 16, 2019

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 09:   Eder Militao of Porto takes a drink before the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final first leg match between Liverpool and Porto at Anfield on April 09, 2019 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Every corner you turn in Portugal's second city, Porto, you seem to run into a church. They are everywhere, each one more breathtaking than the last, displaying an evolution of architectural styles. Possibly the most impressive of them, Sao Francisco, is also known as "the golden church."

And not without a reason.

It's believed the interior of the church holds approximately 900 pounds of bright gold leaf, most of it having come from Brazil, which was a Portuguese colony between the 16th and 19th centuries.

And in defender Eder Militao, it looks like Porto have again struck gold in Brazil. The 21-year-old is the signing of the season, at least financially speaking.

In August, with his Sao Paulo contract running out, Porto snapped him for just €7 million (which included €3 million in agents' fees).

Fast forward to March, and the Portuguese giants confirmed a €50 million deal with Real Madrid for the transfer of the Brazilian at the end of the season.

In just eight months, Porto made a €43 million profit on Militao as Real Madrid moved quickly to counter reported interest from the likes of PSG and Manchester City, once again showing their world-renowned transfer-negotiating skills.

Since arriving at the Olival training ground, Militao's rise has been meteoric.

He established himself in the starting XI right away, was named defender of the month in the Portuguese league five times in a row (September-January) and made his debut with Brazil. He even reportedly held talks with Barcelona, per UOL, before penning a six-year contract with Madrid.

A tall, elegant and technically gifted centre-back, Militao may give the impression that he's a veteran.

The 21-year-old was so dominant in his early games that people were already questioning how much longer he would remain in the Portuguese league.

"He's everything you look for in a defender," 1994 FIFA World Cup winner Ricardo Rocha sums up in an interview to Bleacher Report.

A former Real Madrid centre-back himself, Rocha worked as Sao Paulo's general manager and watched Militao's rise to fame. He was impressed from the start.

"When I first met him, he had already played a few matches for the first team. Like me, he was able to feature in a number of positions in the back line. He also had this amazing thing, a very strong personality, it really stood out.

"I was so excited with him that I remember grabbing my phone and calling a few friends to tell them how complete he seemed to be. One of them was Roberto Carlos at Real Madrid. I spoke with scouts from different clubs, too, including Manchester United.

"Whenever I was asked if there was an interesting player around, I mentioned Militao because I trusted his potential and had no doubt he would become an international footballer. Porto, however, have a clinical eye for these talents and were faster than others."

LISBON, PORTUGAL - OCTOBER 7: Eder Militao of FC Porto in action during the Liga NOS match between SL Benfica and FC Porto at Estadio da Luz on October 7, 2018 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images)
Gualter Fatia/Getty Images

Being Zinedine Zidane's first signing of his second spell at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium brings an extra dose of pressure, but not to Militao.

He remains the same relaxed and calm boy who finds more pleasure in flying kites with his friends, one of his main hobbies, than spending the night out partying.

Militao is effectively an anti-Galactico—he hates being in the spotlight, shies away from the cameras and avoids doing interviews. Throughout his time at Sao Paulo, he gave only one exclusive, to say goodbye to the fans. At Porto, he's still to speak to the media.

If they were asked, few reporters would be able to recognise his voiceafter all, it's never been heard, even in post-match mixed zones. The Brazilian prodigy prefers to let his football do the talking for him.

Agnello Souza has known Militao since he was a boy and was his first coach in the town of Sertaozinho, just over 300 kilometers from Sao Paulo. Souza says chasing the limelight is just not Militao's thing.

"A few weeks ago, when the deal with Real Madrid was announced, I asked him to make a video sending a message to the kids from my football school, Camisa 10, about the importance of chasing your dreams and working hard to fulfil them. It was impossible for him," Agnello tells B/R, laughing.

"He tried it four or five times, but I couldn't use it. There was no condition to publish it on our page, it's amazing.

"I've known his father [Valdo] for a long time. The other day, I saw a promotional video Militao recently did while playing for the national team and forwarded it to him. I joked, 'The kid is getting better.' We want him to interact more with fans and media, be more natural with them."

Not many people have been able to have a glimpse behind the curtain and get to really know Militao, but staying in the background at such a high-profile club as Real Madrid will be a harder proposition.

"When he comes to Sertaozinho, he feels more comfortable, doesn't care about anything and smiles to everyone. As incredible as it may seem, he still flies kites with his friends. The last time he was around, he bought kites for the whole neighbourhoodaround 30 children. It was lovely," Agnello adds.

"He's one of these boys with good heart, very simple and humble. His success doesn't come as a surprise to anyone—the potential was always there."

As Militao now leads the Porto back four in front of Spanish legend Iker Casillas, helping the club reach the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, a large part of the credit should go to Junior Chavare too.

A former international scout for Juventus, Chavare had been hired to take care of Sao Paulo's youth department late in 2014. Almost immediately upon his arrival, he was informed that a list of players to be released at the end of that season had already been defined.

He insisted on having a look at it before a final decision was made and was shocked to learn it included Militao and now-Ajax winger David Neres, among others.

"I asked the board to not let any of them go straight away. We wanted to make sure that was the right decision. According to people who worked at Sao Paulo back then, Militao and Neres had some weaknesses that raised concern. While the former allegedly needed to improve his tactical comprehension, the latter struggled physically," Chavare recalls to B/R.

"It didn't take long, however, for us to realise that, within some time, they would be able to overcome those problems.

"For me, it was clear that they were very promising. I remember speaking to one of our directors and telling him that Militao would go on to become one of the best centre-backs ever produced by Sao Paulo."

Chavare didn't expect Militao to have such a meteoric rise in his first season in Europe, though. No one could have predicted that.

Portugal is the most traditional route for Brazilian footballers moving abroad—around 20 percent of the Brazilians plying their trade away from the homeland are in Portugal, per CIES Football Observatory (h/t Sapo24). It's nearly impossible to find a Portuguese side that doesn't feature a Brazilian import in their regular starting lineup.

Besides Militao, Porto also have centre-backs Pepe and Felipe, left-back Alex Telles, central midfielder Otavio and forward Tiquinho Soares regularly making starts for them.

However, even though both countries share the same language, it's not always easy for highly rated Brazilian youngsters to settle into life in Portugal.

The 2016 Olympic gold medal winner Gabriel Barbosa played just five matches for Benfica during his loan from Inter Milan in the 2017-18 season. Meanwhile, after a failed move to PSG, Marcus Wendel arrived at Sporting CP from Fluminense and heard his new coach saying that "tactically, it was all Chinese to him."

Militao did not have to go through any of these embarrassing situations, and the speed of his growth is clearly an exception to the rule.

Brazil's former U17 and U20 boss, Carlos Amadeu was responsible for driving him to another level and putting him on the radars of international scouts.

"When I took charge of the U17 team in 2015, after the South American championship, he was not in the squad. However, I had already seen him playing for Sao Paulo and decided to give him a chance during a training camp. He didn't do well, but I persisted and included him in the squad for the Suwon Cup in South Korea," Amadeu explains to B/R.

"It was a turning point for him."

Erasmo Damiani, Brazil's former youth football coordinator, also remembers Militao's impact in that tournament, even it not all of it was positive.

Luis Vieira/Associated Press

"He always had a strong personality, but sometimes it can be an issue at an early age. We were a bit concerned about that. At that tournament in South Korea, in a game against Japan, he was so self-confident that he tried to take the ball ahead, but it backfired twice and we suffered two goals," Damiani tells B/R.

Amadeu adds: "Despite that, he had a decent performance overall and secured a place in the U17 World Cup later that year in Chile. It's safe to say he was our best player in the competition, alongside left-back Rogerio, who would move to Juventus, and midfielder Igor Liziero, who plays for Sao Paulo."

On their path to the quarter-finals, the trio beat an England team that contained Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold, winning 1-0 during the group stage.

Amadeu used Militao as one of his centre-backs, but he's aware there's an ongoing debate on his former protege's best position.

"I had the chance of watching him playing as right-back, centre-back and defensive midfielder. I have no doubt he has more strengths, more knowledge and more power as a centre-back. He started his career as an anchorman, but that was a long time ago. And he ended up being improvised in the right side of the defence because Sao Paulo needed someone there," Amadeu argues.

"He's useful, but just a regular player in those positions. On the other hand, in the centre of the back line, I think he can reach the top."

Militao had a brilliant first half-season for Porto, but after Pepe's comeback in January, he was moved from the centre to the right to accommodate the veteran.

His patchy form at that position has led to some setbacks.

Brazil head coach Tite has emphasised that he sees Militao as a centre-back and caused a bit of a stir with Porto boss Sergio Conceicao, who bit back by saying he prefers Neymar as a centre-forward and not on the flanks.

Liverpool's Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah (L) vies with Porto's Brazilian defender Eder Militao (R) during the UEFA Champions League quarter-final, first leg football match between Liverpool and FC Porto at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, north-west Eng
PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

With Pepe suspended, Militao was back at centre-back in the first leg of Porto's 2-0 Champions League defeat to Liverpool, and despite the result, the job he did on Mohamed Salah earned plaudits.

Sources close to Militao have told B/R that Zidane plans to play the Brazilian as a centre-back at Real Madrid.

"As a full-back, Militao doesn't contribute much in the final third. However, in the centre of the back four, he doesn't let the opponents breathe and also benefits from his passing ability, distributing the ball vertically and taking the team ahead. You've got two players in one," Chavare concludes.

That's the sort of problem any coach can only hope for. It's like having gold in your hands, and Zidane will be hoping Militao shines brightly in Madrid next season.

                

Follow Marcus on Twitter: @_marcus_alves

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