AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THE TEENAGE RB LEIPZIG ATTACKER
Who is Hugo Nóvoa?
A kind of big deal – that’s how you can describe becoming the youngest player to score a goal in the history of a club like RB Leipzig.
Until the 23rd of October last year, that honour belonged to a Joshua Kimmich, a European champion and current Bayern München stalwart. That evening, against Greuther Fürth, the record passed into the hands of a young Spaniard aged just 18 years, 8 months and 29 days. His name: Hugo Nóvoa.
A native of Bertamirans, a small municipality near Santiago de Compostela, the capital of Galicia, Nóvoa needed only three minutes on the pitch to take advantage of a great cross from Dominik Szoboszlai and score his first goal as a professional player. It was a special moment captured in this brilliant photo.
Hugo Nóvoa’s first Bundesliga goal
“It was a reward for how well he played with the U-19s and he gave it back to the team. He’s a very calm kid. He loves football and has a good mentality. He deserves this situation. He had a smile from ear to ear. He understands intensity and vertical play. He’s an active attacker,” said then RB Leipzig coach Jesse Marsch after the game.
Since then, the versatile Galician forward has been a regular in matchday squads, now coached by Domenico Tedesco. Scouted Football spoke to Nóvoa to find out his early jump to Germany, first year in the Bundesliga and his development in one of the most youth-oriented models in Europe, the Red Bull network.
A Galician in Germany
The history of Galicia is a story of a community that has mainly emmigrated. There is no family in Galicia that does not have ancestors or relatives in another corner of the world: Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, Colombia, from Latin America to Central Europe. “You’ll find a Galician even on the moon”, as they say in the region.
You only have to travel to Argentina, to visit the Galician Centre, to realise the impact that emmigration had on this humble and hard-working community in north-western Spain during the last century.
Another of the countries that, during the mid-19th century, became accustomed to receiving many Galicians in search of work was Germany. The consequences of the civil war forced a quarter of Galicians to seek work away from home in order to survive, not only for themselves but also for their families. For different reasons but with similar intentions, our protagonist decided to chart a similar course in 2019. In his suitcase, one goal: success.
“The call from RB Leipzig excited me from the first time we met. I had several options on the table but the club offered me a project to develop myself, not only as a footballer but also as a person, because of what it meant to leave my country. My parents and I didn’t hesitate,” Nóvoa told us.
A youth academy player at Deportivo de la Coruña, it has been the boys of his generation who have been the last to give a title to a fanbase that knows what it means to win league title and domestic cups.
Nóvoa was part of the Dépor youth team that won the Champions Cup in 2019, along with other promising young talents such as Noel López, currently in the club’s first-team. It won’t be long until you start hearing his name as well.
“The call from RB Leipzig excited me from the first time we met. I had several options on the table but the club offered me a project to develop myself, not only as a footballer but also as a person.”
For Hugo, his departure from Dépor was not an easy decision, but it was an unmissable opportunity: “Deportivo will always be the team of my heart, but there are opportunities that only happen once and you have to take advantage of them”, the RB player told La Opinión de A Coruña a couple of years ago.
And he has done just that. A debut year with goals, records and the feeling that German football is very much suited to his way of playing football.
“The style of play here is good for me. They play very fast and give a lot of importance to pressing after loss, I like it”, Hugo tells us. A fast, vertical player with the goal in his sights, the fit with the Red Bull philosophy was obvious. “I feel like I’m constantly learning, which is something I think is very important for a footballer,” he emphasises.
For the time being, Hugo has accumulated seven appearances so far this season with the first team, including one in the Champions League, for a total of 160 minutes. His characteristics and work shown in training and with the U-19 team have made him sign a new contract until 2024: Hugo is here to stay.
“I am very happy about the contract extension in Leipzig. I was able to make my professional debut here, fulfilled a dream with my first Bundesliga goal and recently got more and more playing time. I am absolutely convinced that Leipzig is the right club for me to develop in the best possible way,” Nóvoa told the club’s media on the day of his signing.
Nóvoa in the RB Leipzig project
You only have to look at the two teams with the lowest average age in the current edition of the UEFA Champions League to realise the Red Bull clubs’ commitment to youth.
Salzburg and Leipzig have spent years creating projects around young players, eager to take on the world and capable of adapting to a model that follows the canons of modern football: high pressing and verticality. Both are characteristics that Nóvoa possesses.
“You only have to look at the line-ups, the age of most of the players. In other clubs, let’s say that they think more when it comes to making young players play and here they don’t look so much at age. At my age, for example, I’ve had the opportunity to play in the Champions League and that’s something I value a lot,” Hugo explained.
Within the club, Hugo is fortunate to have Spanish team-mates who already know the pressure of playing at the highest level. Dani Olmo and Angeliño are already ‘veterans’ at a club with an average age of no more than 25. Their experience in the national team, as well as at clubs like Dinamo Zagreb, Manchester City and PSV Eindhoven, make them two strong examples to look up to:
“I try to focus on the things that make them important players in the team, on a day-to-day basis and when it comes to competing. They both have a lot of quality and know how to put it into practice on the pitch, and that’s important to me.”
The second of them, also originally from A Coruña, was on the pitch the day Hugo wrote his name in the history of a youthful club that was destined to do great things in Germany and in Europe, not least because of their investments. An unforgettable goal: “I went crazy, imagine that. I just wanted to share my happiness with my colleagues, my family and friends. It’s very nice, a reward for all the work that helps you believe that you are on the right path”, he reminisces.
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The first stone on a road that still has a long way to go. Starting with the final stretch of the season and the next few years in Leipzig, after signing his contract:
“Right now my goal is to keep improving every day, learning and gaining minutes in the elite. I want to help the team at the end of the season, which is very nice. We have the Europa League, the Cup and eight games ahead in the Bundesliga with the idea of qualifying for the next Champions League. There’s a lot at stake and we’re in a good moment to enjoy beautiful things together.”
Hugo Nóvoa, dribbling in the mirror
Verticality, speed and intensity. If we had to describe Nóvoa’s game with three words, those would be the ones to do so.
To his great power and incisive play, the Galician adds a work-rate that made Julian Nagelsmann – the first coach to call him up for an official match in August 2020 against Atlético Madrid in the Champions League quarter-finals – and has done the same with the two coaches he has had this season: Jesse Marsch and Domenico Tedesco.
Hugo Nóvoa’s Champions League debut
But how does Hugo Nóvoa himself describe as an offensive player? What kind of attacker are we talking about? “I think I have good one-on-one skills, speed, I can get into the opponent’s box, I like to give solutions to my team-mates and get from the back to attacking positions”.
Whether he is a winger or a striker, Hugo admits that he feels more comfortable playing on either flank, although his skills allow him to play on the inside as well. His inclination to play on the wing, full of speed and overflow, has been with him for years. His idols, two wingers who have been opening up defenses in Spain and across Europe for years:
“My idols growing up were Carrasco and Neymar but obviously I’m not one to compare myself, I’m making my way with all the enthusiasm in the world.” We don’t make comparisons either, but at Scouted we are confident that Hugo Nóvoa’s great year and, above all, his work in Germany will bear fruit.
We’d like to extend a huge thank you to Hugo for his time, and RB Leipzig for their access. If you wish to report any of these quotes in any external platform, please credit Scouted Football and include a link to the original page.