Meet Francisco Trincao: The Portuguese Sensation Joining Barcelona This Summer

Marcus AlvesFeatured Columnist IMarch 19, 2020

B/R

Sitting on the pitch, arms on his knees, almost in tears, Erling Haaland looked devastated. Having hit the woodwork three times, he found it hard to accept the result as he watched the Portuguese players celebrating their 3-1 win over Norway in their opening game of 2018 UEFA European Under-19 Championship.

Francisco Trincao, on the other hand, was all smiles as he entered the dressing room after scoring twice in Vaasa, Finland. The Braga winger couldn't wait to check his mobile phone.

When he finally got his hands on it, he saw a message from one of his earliest mentors, Joao Aroso.

"Trincao stole the show that afternoon," Aroso tells Bleacher Report. "I congratulated him for his performance and then asked him, 'You know what I liked most about you today, don't you?' And he replied to me, 'Of course, mister. It was the moment I lost the ball and immediately fought to win it back.'

"And he was right. We had worked together at Braga's reserve team and after training sessions, I usually showed him videos of aspects of his game he could improve. And one of them was his defensive approach. I felt that when we were out of possession, he seemed to disconnect a bit. One morning, I told him, 'If you don't work harder, you won't play with me.' But that was it, he's a great lad and listened to me.

"He already had very clear ambition: He wanted to become one of the best footballers in the world."

That campaign for Portugal brought his dream a step closer.

Despite the absences of Atletico Madrid's Joao Felix, Milan's Rafael Leao and Manchester United's Diogo Dalot, Portugal's "Generation '99" became the first group of players to win both the Under-17 and Under-19 European trophies.

And from a relatively unknown member of that new crop of youngsters going into the Under-19 tournament in Finland, Trincao emerged as one of its standout players, finishing with five goals and three assists to his name. Suddenly, he had the whole country talking about his deadly left foot.

However, he had to wait to build on that momentum. 

While Haaland enjoyed a meteoric rise that took him from Molde to Red Bull Salzburg and then to Borussia Dortmund, Trincao was inexplicably sidelined by Braga for most of the following season. Struggling to get much playing time, he saw his progress come to an abrupt halt.

For a moment, the fear was that the "Mahrez from Minho," as he was dubbed by Diario de Noticias newspaper, would not be able to fulfil his potential.

It may have taken a bit longer than expected, but when the chances he had been waiting for since July 2018 finally emerged, he grabbed them right away.

Such has been the impression that Trincao has made this season that within three months of getting regular first-team football, he convinced Barcelona to anticipate competition for his services and pay Braga a fee of €31 million in late January of this year, a record sale for the Portuguese club. 

Barcelona let Braga hang on to Trincao for the rest of the season, but when he joins the Catalan club in July, he will have a buyout clause of €500 million.  

His signing was immediately celebrated by Frenchman Antoine Griezmann, who had already come across Trincao in the virtual world. "Football Manager crack," Griezmann wrote as a comment on Barcelona's official post announcing Trincao's arrival. 

Earlier this season, Griezmann had shared the starting XI of his Arsenal save on the popular football game, and along with a host of future stars was Trincao featuring on the right wing. Maybe Griezmann can even give Barcelona boss Quique Setien a tip or two on how best to use the 20-year-old when the time comes?

There are certainly plenty of weapons in Trincao's locker. As a recent Mais Futebol column pointed out, the youngster has everything you could want from a difference-making player: Pace, technique and boldness. 

He just needs a coach who is not afraid to gamble on him and who can instil a level of consistency into his game so he performs to his best every match, and not just in flashes.

Despite being an elegant winger with an eye for goal and a killer pass, he struggled to earn the trust of Abel Ferreira, who was his Braga coach when he returned from the Under-19 Euros 

However, Ferreira moved to PAOK in Greece last summer, and things have significantly changed for the better for Trincao this season, first with Ricardo Sa Pinto and later with Ruben Amorim.

Both played a key role in converting Trincao into Portugal's new golden boy during Braga's victorious run to Portuguese League Cup title, which saw them beat FC Porto and Sporting CP along the way.

BRAGA, PORTUGAL - FEBRUARY 26: Trincao of SC Braga shots on goal during the UEFA Europa League round of 32 second leg match between Sporting Club Braga and Rangers FC at Estadio Municipal de Braga on February 26, 2020 in Braga, Portugal. (Photo by Jose Ma
Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

He has filled, to some extent, the talent void in the league left by Felix's departure to Atletico Madrid last summer. 

But while Felix had to cope with the disproportionate hype that tends to surround Benfica graduates, Trincao has been able to thrive without such a glaringly bright spotlight. 

The pressure will be ramped up, though, as soon as he gets to the Camp Nou. 

"It is one thing to be a teenager who has come through Barcelona's youth ranks, but it's another to arrive as a big signing," Sa Pinto, who resigned as Braga head coach in December, tells B/R.

"The pressure will be on Trincao to deliver, but I'm sure he can shine for Barcelona and reach the high echelons of football.

"He's a very talented young player—one that had been barely used in the season before, but that we felt needed more minutes and so we started playing more regularly. 

"He has got goals, assists, everything on him. We can only say this out loud now, though, because he was rescued from the reserve team. I'm particularly proud to have been part of this transition process."

Among other things, the former Portugal international believes Trincao has benefitted from developing his game in an environment where he faces almost no criticism from fans and media.

Braga's home average attendance is about 10,500 fans, not even close to filling their 30,000-plus capacity Pedreira stadium, considered one of the most beautiful in the world.

Braga's celebrated stadium
Braga's celebrated stadiumOctavio Passos/Getty Images

"At the Camp Nou, he will play in front of much bigger crowds. We've seen Luis Figo triumphing there while other Portuguese players didn't do so well," Sa Pinto adds.

"Nevertheless, no one can expect him to hit the ground running and make the difference right away. Not even Griezmann has been able so far to replicate the same level he had before. But the talent is there, and so is the mentality. Trincao is, above all, a joy to watch."

Trincao, who wears the No. 77, actually made his senior debut at the age of just 16 when he played for Braga's reserve side in the Portuguese second-tier. 

A year later, he was already included in the matchday squad for an away clash versus Istanbul Basaksehir in the Europa League, but he almost missed out on the trip because he needed his parents' permission to travel to Turkey.

"I actually assumed he was 19 because of the maturity he shows on the pitch," Braga president Antonio Salvador explained afterward.

Playing among older players has never intimidated the boy from Viana do Castelo, a Portuguese northern town mostly known for its "bolas de berlim," the country's favourite doughnut-like pastry.

"Trincao has a peculiarity that distinguishes him from other athletes: He was born on December 29, 1999. It's a detail that no one pays much attention, but that can make a difference on whether a boy will become a professional footballer or not," Aroso explains. 

"He grew up playing with kids who were basically a year older than him and still managed to stand out between them. That's a remarkable thing.

"If you check it out, it's not easy to find players born in the end of the year who had a successful career. In order to make it through, they need to be much better than the rest. That's how impressive Trincao is.

"He would have played for a different age group if he had come to this world three days later."

Despite Trincao's obvious talent, the Barcelona deal did come as a bit of a bolt from the blue, even for those who rate him so highly. 

Trincao Francisco of Portugal (L) and Kyrylo Dryshliuk of Ukraine vie for the ball during the football 2018 UEFA European Under-19 Championship semifinal match Ukraine vs Portugal in Vaasa, Finland on July 26, 2018. (Photo by Timo Aalto / Lehtikuva / AFP)
TIMO AALTO/Getty Images

"I was a bit surprised by the Barcelona deal. I didn't expect such a giant side to come after him this soon," Aroso admits. 

"But if you asked me if I believed this would eventually happen in the future, I would have no doubt.

"If he has some luck, believes in himself and plays regularly, he will certainly become a great player, maybe a top-class one."

A versatile dribbler who can play anywhere across the front three, he has spent most of this season on the right wing, scoring seven goals and providing five assists in all competitions so far.

"He feels more comfortable receiving the ball on the opposite foot, collecting it deep and taking defenders on one-on-one. He has a fantastic left foot and is sensational in the final third," Sa Pinto explains.

"He's the sort of player that the Camp Nou loves."

The flashes of brilliance this season were enough to convince Barcelona to trigger his release clause and snap him up, especially with other clubs like Atalanta and Juventus heavily linked with him in the past, per Sport's Ivan San Antonio. 

"Even though he doesn't play for one of Portugal's big three, he's currently the most valuable youngster in Portuguese domestic football," Tomas da Cunha, a football pundit for Eleven Sports and TSF, tells B/R.

"He probably will not have to wait much for his first international call-up, considering the impact he has made with Braga and how far he can still progress."

Portugal can already call on the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes and Joao Felix. Trincao will surely be joining the gang soon.

    

Follow Marcus on Twitter: @_marcus_alves

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