by Tom Lees - 6th January 2016
In recent years there have been whispers coming from Portuguese that there was a young gem of a midfielder coming through the ranks at FC Porto, a young talent that has not just emerged in 2015, but has become one of the hottest prospects in the game. His name is Rúben Diogo da Silva Neves, or Rúben Neves for short, and in the last two years he has achieved more than any 18-year-old has any right to achieve.
Rúben Neves is one of the new breed of defensive midfielders, not just somebody who stops play, but he will then use the ball and make a play for his own team, although not a new position by any means, with the example set by Busquets at Barcelona it has become a more popular skill for young midfielders to work at. He has composure way beyond his years, skill and quick feet with the ball, an eye for a pass, positional play to match that of a veteran and above all else, the look of a player who deserves to be playing at the highest level of the game already. Comparisons have been made to the Spaniard Busquets of course, others will say he is Porto’s new Joao Moutinho, the truth is he is a talent that isn’t quite comparable to either. Tackling wise he isn’t up to Busquets’ level, goal scoring wise he doesn’t carry the threat of a Moutinho, but he makes everything happen on the pitch, he is the engine room, the culture, the leader for others to follow, a midfielder who could go on to be an iconic figure for his Country, he is only 18 and these expectations are already there.
Neves joined up with FC Porto at the age of 8, learning his trade in the club’s youth system, he would also spend a season on loan at Padroense FC (source Wiki), who acted as Porto’s under 16 squad. His career for the Portuguese giants would take an unexpected leap in the summer of 2014, instead of joining up with the Porto reserve team, injuries in the senior side afforded the youngster a chance to be part of the Porto main squad during their pre-season. During this time Neves would impress coach Julen Lopetegui to such an extent that the 17-year-old was kept in the senior ranks.
In August 2014, Rúben Neves would make his Primeira Liga debut, starting in a victory over Maritimo, a few days later he would go on to make his Champions League debut also. Neves was thrown straight into the deep end to see if he would sink or swim, he swam, and he swam well. In that very same month his International career also took a big step forward, as he was called up to represent Portugal at Under 21 level, having already impressed as captain at Under 17 level, helping them overcome the Netherlands to qualify for the UEFA European Under 21 Championship the next summer. All of this yet again achieved as a 17-year-old.
Neves had been making a habit of setting records and standards, both domestically and Internationally, he became the youngest Porto player in history to score in the Primeira Liga, and became the youngest Portuguese to appear in the Champions League. As captain for the Under 17 Portugal side in the 2014 European Championships, Neves was named in the ‘top ten talents’ selection chosen by UEFA reporters as he helped his Nation to the semi-finals, the following summer in the Under 21 European Championships Neves would set the record as the youngest Portuguese to debut in the finals. But perhaps the most outstanding record and achievement was on the 20th October 2015, when aged just 18 years and 221 days, Rúben Neves would make Champions League history, captaining his Porto side to a 2-0 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv, the youngest captain in competition history.
This caught everybody’s attention across the footballing World, FC Porto are not a footballing minnow, this lad was special. Neves still wasn’t finished, as people were still absorbing this achievement he would break another Porto record, becoming the youngest player to achieve 50 appearances for the club, and go on to win his first senior International caps for Portugal in friendly games against Russia and Luxembourg.
So what does the future hold for Rúben Neves, well the future is what he wants it to be, he can achieve anything. Can he make it to the European Championships in France, of course he can, can he win the title with Porto, of course he can, can he become a National icon in midfield, in my opinion yes he can. Whether his career lies away from Portugal at club level will come down to Porto and money, it may not be the strongest domestic competition, but history tells us that Porto can command some pretty astronomical fees for their top players, and Rúben Neves could end up being one of the most expensive assets of all. Whatever happens though, wherever he features, Rúben Neves is set for a very big future in football.