With a population as little as ten million, it is fair to say Portugal has done pretty well for themselves as a footballing powerhouse. Never ones to be taken lightly in international competition, their respect is a direct result of the constant stream of talent that, to this day, shows no sign of drying up.
From the stardust sprinkled by Eusebio and Paulo Futre, right through to the golden years of Luis Figo, Rui Costa and the unprecedented Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal’s not short of generational talent.
Which begs the question, if we were to call on the representation of one player to a single attribute, what would the perfect Portuguese player look like?
Manchester United’s man of the moment took a unique route to the top, taking in the Italian way of playing the game before his 2016 move back game with Sporting.
A true sponge, tactically, his rich knowledge of the game shows in the way he commands his team on the pitch, with or without the captain’s armband and, despite his many technical qualities, it’s his mentality that promises to take him and his teammates right to the very top. A true footballing brain on his shoulders.
There’s no doubting the magnitude of the phenom we have in our hands here, fit to top almost every category available in this piece. Since few will be able dispute the overwhelming superiority Cristiano Ronaldo holds over others in the air, this category is his to don.
A lethal finisher with his head, even at a very young age, his favourable height, cunning anticipation and outrageous leap make him a force to be reckoned with inside the box. Truly superhuman.
Undoubtedly in lofty company, here, the ex-FC Porto and A.C. Milan striker falls short of the talent and consistency possessed by many throughout this list, which is a shame given the threat he poses.
Somewhat likened to Ronaldo, physically, André Silva’s tall, strong and elegant frame equips him to be in the mould of a true modern-day athlete – the complete striker. All that’s really missing for the young frontman is a little more consistency before he starts looking like the fearsome prospect that once took him to the San Siro.
Two names spring to mind where goalkeeping’s concerned – that of UEFA Champions League winner Vitor Baía, a mainstay in the Portugal national team in his day, and Rui Patricio, central to his nation’s Euro 2016 success in France, against the hosts.
With a blunder or two in his game, Baía loses out here to Rui Patricio, who’s matured brilliantly over the years and offers Wolverhampton Wanderers and Portugal with the adequate security required to compete.
Barely in the six foot region, there’s plenty to admire about Ricardo Carvalho’s game in a world dominated by bulkier, far more imposing centre-backs and strikers alike.
Excelling at the very highest level with FC Porto, Chelsea and Real Madrid, Carvalho’s positioning, anticipation and composure often saw him outsmart his competitors in the tackle, adding greater comfort to the backline wherever he went.
Great things were expected of João Moutinho when he first broke through at Sporting in 2004 and, meanwhile, it’s fair to say he hasn’t quite lived up to the promise set out, the midfielder’s career isn’t one to frown at either.
Still competing in the Premier League at the age of 34, his small stature aids his agility that, throughout the years, has seen the creative quantity mature into a combative source, relentlessly zipping across the midfields.
Manuel Rui Costa
Another in a class of his own, capable of taking a handful of categories for himself, Rui Costa, formerly referred to as ‘the Maestro,’ comes in to claim what his nickname implies – orchestrating play.
The ex-Fiorentina and A.C. Milan star had the innate ability to play at his own pace, capable of short bursts through the midfield with the ball glued at his feet, and when he was not practically passing the ball into the net, such was his accuracy, Rui Costa was feeding his star-studded forward lines with the utmost precision expected of a number ten.
One many would consider a rare breed, Deco wasn’t quick, nor strong, but he’d always outwit his opposition with otherworldly vision and guile, best seen in his FC Porto years.
An immaculate first touch set up the Brazilian-born Portugal international for success, enabling him to find the time and space his slight body and creative attributes required. Deco was so good, in fact, there were times he didn’t even need to touch the ball, feigning cutely and giving his opponents the illusion he could control things with his mind.
Although he may not be as quick as a certain Portuguese Old Trafford favourite, Nani, with admirers of his own during his time in the north-west, wasn’t far behind when it came to turning on the jets.
Direct, tricky and equally objective, the former Manchester United number 17 was a real threat off the flanks in his pomp, owing much of that to his unforgiving acceleration.
Dubbed as Europe’s response to Diego Maradona, the long-haired Atlético Madrid legend was unstoppable in full flow, toying with any defender who dared to believe he may be dispossessed.
Blessed with control, veiled pace and a protective tenacity that kept his detractors at bay, the Maradona comparisons were always very evident for a winger who simply refused to be tackled.
Nobody embodies street football, where imagination, joy and exhilaration is king, quite like Ricardo Quaresma. Despite never delivering the career his abundant talent deserved, the former Porto and Besiktas star never lost sight of what made him a firm favourite in everyone’s hearts – his commitment to leave all in awe with wizardry.
The constant showboating, the trademarked ‘Trivela’ – Quaresma is your one and only stop for mind-boggling trickery on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Luís Figo was many things, from an elite dribbler, to a complete visionary in the final third. One of his more underrated qualities was his ability to cause danger from the flanks, via his delivery. Not his most outstanding quality, undoubtedly, but brilliantly consistent.
The perfect Portuguese player would be complete without the great Eusebio, conveying an enormity that is, even in the presence of Ronaldo and co., fondly remembered today.
We’ll leave the striker in his natural habitat, here, borrowing his venomous and ferocious right foot that often left goalkeepers powerless.
The story’s still being written for 25-year-old Bernardo Silva and his thus far glittering career, honing his skills in both France and, most recently, England.
As so often is the case, Bernardo slaloms past his opponents as if a string’s attaching his left foot to the ball, lacing his close control with end product, be it in search of a team mate in the final third, or picking out the top corner. As far as left foots go, his is certainly one of the very best going.
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