BEST YOUNG PORTUGAL PLAYERS

SOME OF PORTUGAL'S MOST INTERESTING EMERGING TALENTS

Portugal – equipped with three academies in SL Benfica, FC Porto and Sporting CP – always produce high-level talent. Their emerging generation is a strong one; here are a few profiles of some of them. Each cover their backgrounds, styles, strengths and weaknesses.

You can find more in-depth player reports in the Scouted Football Handbook, our quarterly magazine in which we profile 25 of the world’s best up-and-coming talents, with additional original features and exclusive interviews included.

LAST UPDATED: MARCH 29, 2022

David Carmo

SC Braga's David Carmo

DATE OF BIRTH

19/07/1999

positions

Centre-back

CLUB

SC Braga

NATIONAL TEAM

Under-21s

HEIGHT

1.96 metres

PREFERRED FOOT

Left

STRENGTHS

WEAKNESSES

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If you’re a keen follower of youth international football, you may well have heard of David Carmo. He was a stalwart of Portugal’s under-19 and under-20 teams in 2018, starting at the European Championships and in the Elite League.

His breakthrough in senior club football arrived a year later, during the 2019/20 season. He continued to build on his first-team involvements the following season until a serious ankle injury sidelined him for just under a year. Having recovered, Carmo has slotted straight back into a SC Braga side that are competing in Portugal and Europe.

STYLE OF PLAY

The first thing that catches the eye about Carmo is his size – he’s almost always the tallest player on the pitch, hulking over attackers with his long limbs and lean frame. He’s quite mobile for his size too; he shifts his feet pretty well and isn’t slow over longer distances.

His size is a significant factor in his defensive style and ability. Carmo is an front-foot defender that likes to step up to engage, both in ground and aerial duels. He seeks to cut out danger at source by stepping in to intercept passes or muscle attackers off the ball. His physicality enables him to do so, and he often is a dominant presence in duels – especially in the air. Carmo can sometimes be too keen to impose himself, but, in general, is pretty solid.

Carmo also possesses quality in possession. His long-range distribution is a big feature of his skillset; he is adept at pinging switch passes to the opposite wing, or driving a pass down the channel. His fundamental skills (awareness, touch, technique) are of a solid level as well, meaning he can operate with speed. Being predominantly left-footed is an added bonus.

All in all, Carmo has almost everything demanded of a high-level centre-back – he has size and athleticism, he can dominate in duels, and he is a talented distributor from deep. Don’t be surprised to see him make a move to one of the top-five leagues’ bigger clubs before long.

Jota

Celtic's Jota

DATE OF BIRTH

30/03/1999

positions

Wide attacker

CLUB

Celtic

NATIONAL TEAM

Under-21s

HEIGHT

1.75 metres

PREFERRED FOOT

Right

STRENGTHS

WEAKNESSES

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It seemed only a matter of time before Jota would finally explode onto the European football scene. At Celtic, he has done just that. With the confidence instilled in him by Ange Postecoglou’s willingness to install him into the starting XI right from the start, Jota has hit the ground running and is starting to hint at the enormous potential he displayed as a youth international with Portugal.

STYLE OF PLAY

Wingers that provide end product up front are a hot commodity. Following this logic, Celtic’s loan plus option to buy deal to sign Jota for £6.5 million in the summer of 2022 was one of the best value signings of 2021.

Jota is a left-winger that looks to come inside and attack the penalty area at any opportunity. He has great shooting technique from range, but also gets a lot of really good shots off in the penalty area from great positions. And we have seen him create too, noting his brilliant assist for Kyogo Furuhashi in a Europe League game against Ferencváros.

He does not really have any on-ball weaknesses. Risk-taking is a key aspect of his game and it of course means he gives the ball away, but the trade-off is high level attacking production. His dribbling and ball progression is elite too, meaning he can influence games in so many ways – and it makes him very unpredictable.

He is not quite as useful as someone like Furuhashi is off the ball, though. He can be a little bit of a passenger out of possession, and unenthusiastic in tackling dribblers. But none of this is calamitous, especially when weighed against his attacking production.

Rafael Leão

AC Milan forward Rafael Leão

DATE OF BIRTH

10/06/1999

positions

Wide forward

CLUB

AC Milan

NATIONAL TEAM

Seniors

HEIGHT

1.88 metres

PREFERRED FOOT

Right

STRENGTHS

WEAKNESSES

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Rafael Leão first broke into senior football at Portuguese giants Sporting CP, the club where he spent the vast majority of his formative development. But he only made three first-team appearances there, all during the 2017/18 season, before he left. He did so following the training ground attack by fan groups on the players, which resulted in a number of players cancelling their contracts.

Leão left for LOSC Lille in Ligue 1 during the summer of 2018. He spent a single season there before AC Milan parted with a substantial €30 million to get him. After a couple of promising seasons, the forward has translated his potential into star quality this season.

STYLE OF PLAY

Leão has always been a mature athlete, and his athletic profile provides a high floor for his skillset. Not only is he quite tall and lean, he has a great burst and top-end speed to match, making him a very dynamic forward. He’s also added muscle to his physique as he’s grown. All in all, Leão is a multi-faceted athlete.

In terms of his playstyle and skillset, Leão typically plays off the left in senior football – having developed as a centre-forward at youth level – and offers a dynamic presence in the forward line. He stretches and disrupts defences with his movements, with and without the ball. Leão is a prolific and proficient dribbler; he drives powerfully from deep then beats players in one-v-one situations around the box with skill and changes of speed.

He doesn’t offer much in terms of a passing threat, but he gets into good positions inside the box off dribbles and movement – that’s his primary quality. He has also improved as a finisher, making more of the areas he gets into.

The crux of Leão’s recent development is him knitting the different aspects of his skillset together on a consistent basis. Now one of AC Milan’s key playmakers, the next step for Leão will be to take another leap in terms of his shot contributions and goal outputs.

Nuno Mendes

Paris Saint-Germain's Nuno Mendes

DATE OF BIRTH

19/06/2002

positions

Left wing-back

CLUB

Paris Saint-Germain

NATIONAL TEAM

Seniors

HEIGHT

1.76 metres

PREFERRED FOOT

Left

STRENGTHS

WEAKNESSES

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It was somewhat of a surprise move when Nuno Mendes joined Paris Saint-Germain late in the summer of 2021, but it was not necessarily an undeserved one.

Mendes had already established himself as a key member of Sporting CP’s title winning team the season prior, and as one of the world’s most promising left-back prospects. He also broke into Portugal’s senior side.

STYLE OF PLAY

Playing for Paris Saint-Germain is no walk in the park, especially for an attacking full-back with a player like Neymar or Kylian Mbappé. They do not do a lot of tracking back, and so the role of the full-back becomes even more important.

Nuno Mendes has seen his attacking output stifled at Paris Saint-Germain do to his defensive responsibilities, but the 2002-born defender still oozes class.

He is a solid final third player – though he needs to improve his efficiency as a dribbler – but more importantly, a developed defensive body that thrives in one-on-one situations and has the engine to cover the entire flank with ease.

In attack, he is effective playing around the box, but needs to improve his incisiveness going into the penalty area. Perhaps he is hesitant due to PSG’s imbalance as a team, but his creative and goalscoring output is much lower than what it should be – though his penalty box output at Sporting was equally lacking playing on the left in a 3-5-2.

João Félix is probably the premiere talent of Portugal’s young generation, but they have a strong supporting cast as well. Rafael Leão has high-level potential, as do Nuno Mendes and Pedro Neto. Matheus Nunes, Fábio Vieira and Vitinha are three to follow closely as well.

Portugal’s big three – SL Benfica, Sporting CP and FC Porto – are and always will be the primary producers of the best Portuguese talent. Beyond that, clubs like SC Braga also regularly bring through good home-grown talent.