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World Cup One To Watch: Portugal’s 21-year-old winger Goncalo Guedes

Goncalo Guedes
Photo: Getty Images

Ones to Watch

World Cup One To Watch: Portugal’s 21-year-old winger Goncalo Guedes

The Portugal international will be a player to keep an eye out for in Russia.

Labelled ‘the next Cristiano Ronaldo’, the pressure is certainly on Goncalo Guedes of Portugal at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

This may be the last major international tournament where he remains in the five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s shadow, but it won’t stop him from being one of Fernando Santos’ side’s biggest threats.

The comparisons do not only take into account his ability to cut inside from the left flank and cause havoc or his knack of scoring stunning goals, but also the fact he is the only man to have made the Portugal squad at 18 years of age since the Real Madrid ace broke onto the scene.

Now 21, Guedes has established himself after a fine season in Spain with Valencia on loan and, following this break-out season, he has a point to prove as he travels to Russia.

To see who else features in The Boot Room’s World Cup Ones to Watch series, click here.

Who is he?

On the books of French giants Paris Saint-Germain, Goncalo Guedes has been touted as one of Europe’s hottest young talents for some time, but he now finally seems to be living up to that potential.

The winger made his debut for boyhood club Benfica as a 17-year-old in 2014 and rapidly caught the eye, particularly with his dazzling displays in Europe scoring against the likes of Atletico Madrid in the Champions League, making him the youngest ever Portuguese player to score in the competition.

He did enough to persuade PSG to pay Benfica €30 million (£26.2 million) for his services in January 2017, making 11 appearances before the season was out but with only two of them coming as starts and only once completing the full 90 minutes, against second division opposition in the Coupe de France.

That led to a loan move to Valencia for the 2017/18 season and, with a role as a regular starter again, he has returned to his best. Involved in 17 goals – six scored and 11 assists – in 38 games across all competitions, many believe him to be fundamental to Los Che’s return to Champions League football.

(Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)

What is his international experience/record?

Guedes is very much still making his name on the international stage as one of a handful of exciting young talents breaking into the Portugal squad since their Euro 2016 success, but the winger is the only one to have established himself as a regular in Fernando Santos’ team.

With only 10 caps to date, Guedes made his senior international debut in 2015, playing twice against Russia and Luxembourg before disappearing from the scene.

After that, the youngster rejoined the under 21 squad as one of their key men but suffered frustration as his side crashed out of the 2017 European Under 21 Championships at the group stage.

He would return just in time for the end of World Cup qualification in 2017, playing just one minute of that campaign.

Since the end of qualifying, Guedes has been an ever-present, whether from the start or as an impact substitute and registered his first goal and assist for his country against Saudi Arabia in October.

 

On Thursday evening, in Portugal’s final warm-up game prior to the tournament, the 21-year-old went on to grab an impressive brace to ensure victory over Algeria.

Why will he be a breakout World Cup star?

Sharing a pitch with Cristiano Ronaldo and still managing to stand out is no easy task, but Guedes has what it takes to do just that. In fact, he is one of very few men to able to line-up alongside the Real Madrid man and show an understanding and connection with him.

That could make him crucial to Portugal’s game plan, particularly in a tough opening fixture against Spain, a side he knows well having caused problems against the likes of Dani Carvajal when facing up against him for Valencia in La Liga.

“He’s a player with characteristics that allow him to play in a number of attacking positions,” coach Fernando Santos said to O Jogo after he picked up the man of the match award in only his second ever start for Portugal.

“You can’t define him as a winger or as a forward, he can adapt to any offensive position.” 

His versatility could be pivotal as to his ability to go above and beyond this summer, giving his team an option which few are able to predict, given that Santos himself seems happy toying with him in several different positions.

“Guedes has the ability to play out wide or supporting through the middle, which makes him an option due to his versatility, especially as this Portugal team doesn’t have much quality in attacking positions,” A Bola journalist Luis Simoes explains.

“He understands Cristiano Ronaldo very well, and he scores too.”

With a reputation for scoring some remarkable goals, it may not be a surprise to see him make the headline for a solo run or 30-yard wonder strike either.

(Photo by Jose Jordan/AFP/Getty Images)

What is his future after the World Cup?

It is almost certain that Guedes will be on the move once his involvement in Russia has come to an end as AS report that he will become one of PSG’s victims of Financial Fair Play this summer as the Parisians look to balance the books.

Super Deporte say that Valencia are keen to make his loan deal a permanent one and Real Madrid have also been impressed by his time in Spain, according to AS.

That has set off alarm bells in the Premier League too, with Sport Witness citing L’Equipe as saying that both Liverpool and Wolverhampton Wanderers are in the race to complete a €45 million (£39 million) deal, whilst Manchester United were interested when he instead opted to move to France in January 2017, according to Portuguese outlet ZeroZero.

Represented by Jorge Mendes, his agent could have a big say in deciding his future, which could play into Wolves’ hands, despite previous claims from his father, Rogerio Guedes, to Tribuna Deportiva that he is keen to stay on at Valencia if the two parties can come to an agreement.

To see who else features in The Boot Room’s World Cup Ones to Watch series, click here.

Sam is a football journalist focusing on English football at all levels and Spanish football. He also writes for Spain's biggest daily sports newspaper, MARCA, as well as The Boot Room. Find Sam on Twitter at @samleveridge.

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