7 Portuguese League Youngsters Who Could Be Under-the-Radar Transfer Targets

Marcus AlvesFeatured Columnist IJuly 3, 2019

LISBON, PORTUGAL - MARCH 11: Florentino Luis of SL Benfica in action during the Liga NOS match between SL Benfica and Belenenses at Estadio da Luz on March 11, 2019 in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)
Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images

Atletico Madrid are prepared to break the bank to make Benfica superstar Joao Felix the fourth-most-expensive player ever after an official bid of 126 million. 

The 19-year-old teenager will do battle in the Spanish capital with former rival and centre-back Eder Militao, who agreed a summer move from FC Porto for Real Madrid in a €45 million deal in March. 

Meanwhile, Sporting CP sensation Bruno Fernandes is tipped for a €70 million move this summer, with Manchester United heavily linked

It has never been so costly to lure Portuguese League talents away from their clubs. However, bargains are still there to be found.

It may be worth bearing in mind that breakout Premier League star Diogo Jota of Wolves scored 14 goals and had 10 assists in all competitions for minnows Pacos de Ferreira in 2016.

Or go back even further and you would have found Spanish-Brazilian forward Diego Costa sitting on the bench as an 18-year-old when his side, Braga, faced Tottenham Hotspur in the UEFA Cup in 2007.

Bleacher Report has compiled a list of seven promising youngsters plying their trades in Portugal who are not yet as hyped as Felix, Militao and Fernandes. We've asked Andre David, a respected coach in Portugal, to give his thoughts on each of them.

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FRANCISCO FERRO, 22, CENTRE-BACK

LISBON, PORTUGAL - MARCH 11: Francisco Ferreira of SL Benfica in action during the Liga NOS match between SL Benfica and Belenenses at Estadio da Luz on March 11, 2019 in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)
Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images

Club: Benfica

Player he's compared to: Former Brazil centre-back Carlos Mozer

Potential destinations: Real Madrid, Liverpool, Manchester City and Napoli

His centre-back partner, Ruben Dias, was named man of the match in Portugal's UEFA Nations League final win over Netherlands, but don't let that make you think for a second that he's Benfica best defender. 

Even though Dias looks a great prospect, Francisco Ferro may be an even more impressive player. Portuguese national team coach Fernando Santos has already hinted that he might get his chance in the national team soon.

Ferro and Dias are part of the same production line that helped earn Victor Lindelof his big-money move to Manchester United.

Six months ago, Ferro was still captaining Benfica's B team in the Portuguese second tier. However, Bruno Lage's appointment as head coach early in January completely changed his fortunes and turned around his season.

A few weeks later, the 22-year-old was making his debut for the senior side in the Lisbon derby against Sporting CP, replacing the veteran Jardel during the first half. His display was so convincing that he immediately became a regular in the team and missed just one more game for the rest of the campaign.

An elegant, cerebral, tall centre-back, he has taken his chance superbly, scoring three times in 10 games, featuring in the UEFA Europa League and leaving experienced colleagues like Jardel, German Conti and Cristian Lema behind.

David's verdict: "Ferro is a centre-back that broke into Benfica's starting team thanks to Jardel's absence in the second half of the season. He played 18 very high-level games and has benefitted from Benfica's culture of making young boys play in older age groups, accelerating their competitive maturation. Part of this process happened in the second division—he already played two full seasons for Benfica's B team. He's an extremely focused player, with very good positioning and great recovery speed. He also possesses a very good eye for a pass. He's not so strong on one-versus-one situations, though, and sometimes he can be easily beaten."

                  

FLORENTINO LUIS, 19, DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDER

BIELSKO-BIALA, POLAND - MAY 25: Florentino Luis of Portugal looks on during the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup group F match between Portugal and Korea Republic at Bielsko-Biala Stadium on May 25, 2019 in Bielsko-Biala, Poland. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)
TF-Images/Getty Images

Club: Benfica

Player he's compared to: N'Golo Kante

Potential destinations: Manchester City, PSG and Roma

One of the most respected football pundits in Portugal, Luis Cristovao, argued in March that if he were in charge at a big European club and could buy only one Benfica player, he would have no doubts about which one: Not Joao Felix, Ferro or even Ruben Dias, but Florentino Luis. The 19-year-old is another teenager who made his first-team debut under Lage this season.

And it didn't take long for Florentino to make an impact.

Having debuted in the 10-0 thrashing of Nacional in February, the anchorman impressed as he won six tackles in the half-hour he was on the pitch, more than any other player. An incredible ball-winner, he can read the game very well, remaining at the same time calm and comfortable in possession at the back.

His ability to pop up everywhere and stop counter-attacks has seen him being labeled "the Octopus" by Portuguese media. It has not gone unnoticed either, with Manchester City and PSG reportedly interested in securing his services, even though he's yet to play a full season.

However, he is unlikely to come cheap, Benfica have just extended his contract until 2024 and set his release clause at €120m.

A No. 6, Florentino won the U17 and U19 European Championships with Portugal but will probably have to wait a bit more to break into the senior national team.

David's verdict: "Like Ferro, he made it to Benfica's first team after former coach Rui Vitoria was sacked. Both of them were promoted at a time when the transfer window was open, but Lage preferred to rely on them, not going to the market. He also benefited from that same process of skipping age groups. He has incredible space-covering capacity, he's very intelligent at anticipating and recovering the ball. On the other hand, he still struggles in possession, he is prone to making mistakes when distributing the ball, even with some easy ones.  

                   

WENDERSON GALENO, 21, WINGER

LISBON, PORTUGAL - JANUARY 6:  Wenderson Galeno of Rio Ave FC with Andre Almeida of SL Benfica in action during the Liga NOS match between SL Benfica and Rio Ave FC at Estadio da Luz on January 6, 2019 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty I
Gualter Fatia/Getty Images

Club: FC Porto

Players he's been compared to: Hulk

Potential destinations: Lille, Nantes and Reading

Early in May, Wenderson Galeno went through a tough moment as his side, Rio Ave, welcomed Benfica with two rounds of the Portuguese League to go. As a loanee from Porto, he received a death threat from a fan of the Dragons. "Give Porto the title—if you manage it, you'll be a starter at Porto next season. On the other hand, if you fail, you'll be burned alive at the metro station," read the message on social media. He ended that game with an assist but couldn't defeat Benfica.

Despite the harassment, the Brazilian starlet will be back at Porto for pre-season after showcasing his potential across 36 games for Rio Ave last season.

For most of the campaign, Galeno looked like a player who was a class apart from his team-mates. He has the ability to carry the ball at speed with it seemingly glued to his boot. He scored nine goals, including two in the Europa League, while also providing 10 assists last season. His partnership with Angolan forward Gelson Dala was a nightmare for opposing defences.

The 21-year-old is another Brazilian gem who moved abroad before making an impression on home soil, following in the footsteps of compatriots Deco, Pepe and Hulk.

After signing him on advice from Portuguese agents based in the countryside of Anapolis, Brazil, Porto have not regretted the decision. Galeno was named the club's breakout star in his first season in 2016-17 and seems destined for great things.

David's verdict: "He's a player that has enjoyed an interesting journey—he spent some time at Porto's B team, but everyone quickly realised he was above the others, so he was loaned out to Portimonense. He struggled a little bit to confirm his potential there, but this season was clearly his, playing 36 games. He can play on both wings and possesses very good dribbling capacity. He loves taking on defenders and insists on getting the ball. He reminds me, in a way, of a young version of Hulk: very strong, fast, a diamond in the rough."

                    

DIOGO LEITE, 20, CENTRE-BACK

Diogo Filipe Monteiro Pinto ( Diogo Leite ) of FC Porto during the UEFA Champions League group D match between Galatasaray AS and FC Porto at Ali Sami Yen Spor Kompleksi on December 11, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey.(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
VI-Images/Getty Images

Club: FC Porto

Player he's compared to: Ricardo Carvalho

Potential destinations: Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal and Borussia Monchengladbach

In April, Porto became the first Portuguese team to win the UEFA Youth League, beating Chelsea in the final with an exciting crop of teenagers. While Fabio Silva was arguably the standout name, the Dragons also featured other homemade prospects such as Tomas Esteves, Diogo Leite, Fabio Vieira and Romario Baro. It remains to be seen, however, whether they will be able to find a place in the first team.

Unlike Benfica, Porto have struggled to bring academy graduates into the senior squad, relying instead on players from elsewhere.

Tipped for the top, Leite is often mentioned in this discussion. He started last season with a regular spot in the team, winning the Portuguese league's defender of the month award in August. After that, though, with Eder Militao's emergence and Pepe's signing, he suddenly wasn't even making the bench.

Another member of Portugal's bright "Generation '99," he is technically gifted, very classy and mobile.

Linked with Liverpool last summer, Leite has renewed his contract until 2023 after rejecting a potential move to Borussia Monchengladbach. The Germans made a reported €15 million move for Leite, and the Bundesliga side's sporting director, Max Eberl, was left furious with the 20-year-old and his entourage, claiming they had played Gladbach to increase his wage at Porto.

David's verdict: "Last year, he chose not to take part in the U19 European Championship to remain at Porto and was rewarded with the chance of playing a few games in the beginning of the season. He possesses very good positioning and body orientation. Above all, he's very intelligent and can be relied to start the play with his passes from behind. Like Ferro, he improved his game a lot in the Portuguese second level. He can do better on one-versus-one duels. Perhaps, if he had enjoyed as much playing time as Ruben Dias and Ferro at Benfica, he would have already reached another level. He couldn't find a place fighting against three great centre-backs like Felipe, Pepe and Eder Militao."  

                     

WENDEL, 21, CENTRAL MIDFIELDER

OEIRAS, PORTUGAL - MAY 25: Wendel of Sporting CP during the match between Sporting CP and FC Porto - Taca de Portugal Final at Estadio Nacional on May 25, 2019 in Oeiras, Portugal. (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)
Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images

Club: Sporting CP

Player he's compared to: Arthur Melo

Potential destinations: PSG, Inter Milan, Crystal Palace and CSKA Moscow

After a training session in April, Wendel left Sporting CP's facilities at Alcochete and headed straight to Lisbon airport. Without the club's permission, the young Brazilian took a flight to Turin and arrived in time to watch the UEFA Champions League quarter-final clash between Juventus and Ajax from a box. Later that night, he met his compatriot Douglas Costa, who gave him a signed shirt with a message that read, "Welcome to the family."

Costa's agent, Junior Mendonza, was battling for his signature to take over control of his career.

It didn't work out, though—a couple of weeks after that, another Brazilian household name, Dani Alves, was dragged into the situation, traveling from Paris to Lisbon to meet Wendel and try to persuade him to join Fransergio Pereira and Tiago Ribeiro's agency. That visit did the job and convinced the 21-year-old to pledge his future to that camp.

Alongside Barcelona's Arthur Melo, Wendel was regarded for a while as the future of Brazil's midfield, and PSG even sent a delegation to Rio de Janeiro to strike a deal with former club Fluminense.

Despite finding an agreement, PSG had to withdraw amid Financial Fair Play concerns, leaving Sporting in pole position to sign the central midfielder for €8 million in January 2018.

Wendel's first six months at Alvalade stadium didn't exactly go smoothly after hearing former boss Jorge Jesus saying, among other things, that "tactically, it was all Chinese for him." He's recovered his confidence with the arrival of Marcel Keizer as new manager in November, assuming a pivotal role in the team.

David's verdict: "Wendel's a box-to-box player, a true No. 8. He struggled a little bit to confirm his potential and adapt in the beginning, considering the status he had when he arrived. This season, however, he became a key man in Sporting's midfield. He's a very strong player, has the ability to cut distances when pressing, recovers balls. He could work on his finishing, although that's something I believe he will improve on. When he does, he will be an even more complete midfielder."

                    

FRANCISCO TRINCAO, 19, WINGER

ALMADA, PORTUGAL - DECEMBER 16:  Francisco Trincao of SC Braga B in action during the Liga Ledman Pro match between CD Cova da Piedade and SC Braga B at Estadio Municipal Jose Martins Vieira on December 16, 2018 in Almada, Portugal.  (Photo by Gualter Fat
Gualter Fatia/Getty Images

Club: Braga

He's compared to: Simao Sabrosa

Potential destinations: Manchester City, Arsenal, Juventus, Roma and RB Leipzig

It took a while for Braga president Antonio Salvador to realise in December 2017 that he'd need Francisco Trincao's parents' permission to travel to Turkey after head coach Abel Ferreira included the then-17-year-old in the squad for the clash versus Basaksehir in the Europa League. "I actually thought he was 19 because of the maturity he shows on the pitch," Salvador reacted with a smile.

Despite being one of the most talented members of the Generation '99 alongside Benfica's pair of Jota and the Atletico Madrid-bound Joao Felix, he's yet to find regular playing time at senior level.

Last season, Trincao featured in just six Portuguese league matches for Braga, always coming off the bench. Ferreira has been criticised for Trincao's lack of minutes on the pitch. Ferreira has just left Braga for PAOK and Trincao will be hoping for more chances under his new boss. 

A versatile dribbler who can play anywhere across the front three, Trincao still managed to earn a call-up to the national side for the U20 World Cup in June, offering brief glimpses of his talent, even during a disastrous campaign for Portugal that ended in the group stage.

With a €30 million buyout clause that may scare away other clubs, he'll have to plan his summer very carefully in order to avoid spending another season on the sidelines. Among others, Juventus have had a reported €7.5 million offer turned down.

David's verdict: "He has not made the progress everyone expected following a very good campaign in the second tier. Nevertheless, he remains strong in one vs. one situations, he's very irreverent and dangerous when dribbling. He's sort of an old kind of player—one of those wingers who receives the ball and immediately takes on defenders. It seems to me that he still lacks some capacity to play from inside and finish his actions. 

                   

BRUNO TABATA, 22, WINGER

LISBON, PORTUGAL - MAY 4:  Bruno Tabata of Portimonense SC in action during the Liga NOS match between SL Benfica and Portimonense SC at Estadio da Luz on May 4, 2019 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images)
Gualter Fatia/Getty Images

Club: Portimonense

He's compared to: Bernard

Potential destinations: Benfica, Porto, Lazio and Villarreal 

When Portuguese minnows Portimonense surprisingly beat Sporting 4-2 in October, scouts from European big guns hoping to watch another Bruno Fernandes masterclass instead returned to their hotels with notes about two other new faces: Shoya Nakajima and Bruno Tabata. That night, the duo were unstoppable, causing panic in the visitors' defence with their impressive pace and dribbling skills.

Since then, Nakajima has been transferred to Qatarian side Al-Duhail in a €35 million deal. And the next one in line for a multimillion-euro move is Tabata, who was part of Brazil's U23 team that won the Toulon Tournament in France in June.

He'll possibly have to wait for the 2020 Olympic Games in Japan to sign for a bigger side, though.

Portimonense are owned by Brazilian agent Theodoro Fonseca, formerly responsible for Hulk's career, and they make no secret that their main goal is to find bargain talents in the market and resell them with a high profit margin after a while.

With an impressive left foot and outstanding technique, Tabata was identified by Fonseca after being crowned the U17 Brazilian Cup's best player in 2014. Back then he was frustrated with a new contract offer from his club, Atletico Mineiro. Tabata got into a huge row with the Belo Horizonte club and managed to leave as a free agent in 2016.

Tabata has been compared to Everton's Bernard, who also came through Atletico Mineiro's academy. 

David's verdict: "Tabata is a technically gifted player, it is very difficult to take the ball off him. He's very strong with his final pass, with some finishing ability too. He can play behind the forward but prefers to occupy the right flank. As a left-footed winger, he enjoys cutting inside to open space. He's the typical South American talent, very powerful attacking, but, whenever he loses the ball, he doesn't work as hard to recover it." 

                         

Other players to keep an eye out for: Ruben Dias (Benfica), Gedson Fernandes (Benfica), Chiquinho (Benfica), Mamadou Loum (FC Porto), Miguel Luis (Sporting CP), Jovane Cabral (Sporting CP), Gelson Dala (Sporting CP), Nikola Jambor (Rio Ave), Goncalo Cardoso (Boavista), Kikas (Belenenses SAD).

                           

                                          

Follow Marcus on Twitter: @_marcus_alves

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