Ruben Neves: THE STORY SO FAR..
59 games in the Primeira Liga, 46 matches in English football, 16 appearances in the Champions League – and just 21 years of age. Ruben Neves has undoubtedly already had something of a brilliant footballing career, and yet it has, in reality, only just begun.
But Neves has always been a known superstar in the making; there’s no better testament to that than the fact that he played an incredible 31 games for the Portugal U17 team, and then followed that up by playing a further 23 times for the Portugal U21s. With that in mind, he has been a well-known player on Portugal’s shores for over half a decade, and his rise to the top level of English football – while not taking the exact path one would likely have expected – is no surprise at all.
Further evidence of the immense talent immediately spotted when he emerged from Porto’s acclaimed academy is that he not only trained with the Porto senior team in the 2014 pre-season when just 17 years of age, but even made his debut for the historic club just a few weeks later in the Primeira Liga, starting in a clash with Maritimo which Porto went on to win 2-0. 17 years and five months old, and already playing at the highest level Portuguese football has to offer.
If that wasn’t impressive enough, he then went on to play in Porto’s Champions League play-off game just a few days later, a match that was literally worth tens of millions of euros to the winner, and the manager, Julen Lopetegui, had so much faith in the young Portuguese midfielder that he not only gave him a run out in the crucial match, but actually played him in it for all but 15 minutes. Porto went on to win 1-0, and Neves’ stock simply continued to rise.
But the records don’t stop there; not content with being the youngest Portuguese player to ever play in Europe’s most prestigious club competition in that win over Lille, he went several step further a year later when, with just 18 years and 221 days behind him, he not only played in Porto’s Champions League clash with Maccabi Tel Aviv, but captained the side – unsurprisingly, the youngest captain in the history of Champions League football. A truly astonishing feat for someone who had barely started their professional career.
With all that in mind, it becomes even more of a coup that Wolverhampton Wanderers – playing in the second tier of English football – somehow managed to bring him to the club… and for just £15million. In today’s market, something of a daylight robbery, made possible due to Wolves’ strong connection with super agent Jorge Mendes and Porto’s struggles to comply with Financial Fair Play regulations. Nevertheless, of all the established European sides looking at the record-breaking youngster, a second division club was one nobody would have envisaged him ending up at.
His undisputable technical ability, his outstanding long-range passing and creativity, his knowledge of the game and when to sit deep and push forwards, and his defensive ability to back up his playmaking prowess are just a summary of the traits Neves brings to the table every time he steps out onto the pitch. A perfect midfielder, with the ability to both guard the backline and provide the inspiration to trigger an attacking move, Neves’ trip to the English Championship was always going to be nothing more than a short, passing visit.
It may therefore come as a surprise to hear that Neves was struggling to make the Porto main team in his final season at the club. Making just 13 league appearance all year – only five of which he played the full 90 minutes – Neves, for all his obvious ability, fell down the pecking order at Porto, with Nuno Espirito Santo – the Porto manager at the time – choosing Portugal international Danilo Pereira over him instead. It was a decision few could really criticise, with Danilo Pereira a truly outstanding defensive midfielder, offering great reading of the game and strength in the middle of the park, in addition to great confidence and ability on the ball, but meant that Neves really had to move. And Wolves were undoubtedly the beneficiaries.
One thing is guaranteed: Neves is in store for a remarkable career and, with well over a decade left in the tank, could go on to be one of the world’s greats.