Seleção Portuguesa de Futebol. Individuals such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Luís Figo have instilled an ideology into the nation and increased expectations on their future produce. Aged only 17 years and 5 months, Rúben Neves was the latest talent to be burdened by this weight of expectation.
Debuting in the Primeira Liga for boyhood club Porto, Neves defied expectations and became the club’s youngest ever league goalscorer. Neves continued to break records when just five days later he made his debut in the Champions League and became the competitions youngest ever Portuguese player. Further records were accumulated in the following Champions League season as Neves became the competitions youngest ever captain, aged just 18 years and 7 months. These records alongside his performances in central-midfield highlight the maturity of Neves.
“He has so much quality and that compensates for his lack of experience. Being young is a condition, not a sin.” – Julen Lopetegui, Neves’ former Porto coach
Neves is often compared to current teammate João Moutinho. Similarly to his compatriot, he’s a central midfielder with great technical ability. Neves is often praised for his passing ability, particularly over some distance. His ability to shoot from distance has also proved to be an asset, including in his debut season with Wolves where all six of his goals came from outside of the box.
When Wolves signed Neves in a deal worth £15 million last summer, it was a deal that shocked many. Neves had previously been linked to some of Europe’s elite and this deal signified somewhat of a coup for Wolves. The economics of the deal were largely influenced by notorious football agent, Jorge Mendes. Mendes works both as an adviser for the owners of Wolves, Fosun International, as well as the agent of Neves. Despite Neves arriving in the Championship with an enhanced reputation, some doubted his ability to adapt. It didn’t take him long.
His debut season in England would be filled with success. Neves was an integral part of Wolves Championship winning side and was also nominated for the Championship Player of the Season award. While he lost out on the award to Ryan Sessegnon, he’d collect a trio of club awards. Player of the Season, Players’ Player Of The Season and Goal Of The Season. It was clear that Neves hadn’t just adapted to his new surroundings, he’d excelled.
Speculation was rife this summer linking Neves with a move away from the Molineux Stadium, yet Wolves announced that he’d signed a new contract extension with the club until 2023. Wolves represents stability for Neves who had previously struggled for game-time during his concluding season at Porto. He’d hoped to have made an impact for his native Portugal during this summer’s World Cup, but unfortunately, he wasn’t selected beyond the preliminary 35-man squad. If Neves can influence this Wolves team in the Premier League he’ll undoubtedly add to his six senior caps to date.
Neves made his senior international debut in a friendly versus Russia, receiving his call-up as a result of an injury to João Moutinho. Neves had already established himself as a regular in the Portugal setup, having played from the U16’s to the U21’s up until this point, including leading the U17’s side to the semi-finals of the 2014 European Under-17 Championship and reaching the final of the European Under-21 Championship. While Neves has played his part in tournament football for the youth setups, he’s only appeared for the senior squad in international friendlies. If Neves can continue on his upward trajectory, there will be little debate regarding his future inclusion for both the UEFA Nations League along with the UEFA European Championships in 2020 as Portugal defend their title.
Neves has started his debut Premier League campaign brightly. Combining in midfield with summer signing João Moutinho, the duo have impressed versus a revitalized Everton side and Premier League champions Manchester City thus far.
Neves has also expressed a desire to return to his boyhood club, Porto, at some point in his career.
“It’s a career goal to return to wearing the FC Porto shirt, if it will be in the short or long future, I cannot say. Football doesn’t allow this kind of perspective.” – Rúben Neves
While Neves returning to the Estádio do Dragão would be an intriguing prospect, Neves is capable of playing for any of Europe’s elite further in his career.