Boa tarde. With the January transfer window on the horizon and Arsenal now just one injury away from having to play Ken Friar as our defensive midfielder, I suppose it’s inevitable transfer links to players from all over the place will begin to burgeon like Diego Costa’s waistline during the off-season.
Supposed interest from the Gunners in Porto’s 18 year old central midfielder Ruben Neves has been reported several times since the summer, but today, an article in Portuguese publication O Jogo claims our former winger Luis Boa Morte has been to watch the teenager on Arsenal’s behalf and that a move next month is on the cards.
For a bit of background, Neves is currently enjoying his second full season with Porto’s first-team, having scored and been named man-of-the-match on his full debut in his club’s opening league fixture of last term. Aged just 17 years and five months at the time, that strike made him his club’s youngest ever league goalscorer. This season, he’s broken another record, becoming the youngest-ever player to captain a side in the Champions League, when, aged 18 years and 221 days, he helped Porto to a 2-0 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv a couple of months ago.
Christian Tello, on loan at Porto from Barcelona, has likened Neves’ style of play to that of Sergio Busquets, whilst the youngster has also drawn comparisons from some quarters to his compatriot Joao Moutinho. If I’m honest, I haven’t seen him play, aside from a few short YouTube highlights, but judging by his standing in Portugal and the fact he’s reportedly being tracked by most of Europe’s leading clubs, he must be quite a talent.
Having dug around a little online, his standout qualities seem to be his maturity, despite the tender years, as well as his passing, tactical intelligence and aggression. At 18, he’s still got growing to do both in terms of his physique and his overall footballing ability but perhaps he’s the perfect age to share the defensive midfield role with Francis Coquelin.
No matter how good Neves already is, were he to make the switch to north London, he’d learn not only from one of the best managers in the world for young players in Arsene Wenger, but he’d also benefit from working alongside arguably the best out-and-out defensive midfielder on the planet right now in Coquelin. Okay not right now, because he’s done his knee ligaments, but you know what I mean. And yes, that’s how highly I rate Francis.
Neves has a contract with Porto that runs until June 2019, with a release clause of 40 million euros, so if we really, really want him, we can in theory have him, provided we cough up the requisite cash. That’s the good news.
The perhaps not-so-good is that his agent is Jorge Mendes, who Arsene recently revealed he’s never dealt with since narrowly losing out on signing another of his clients, a certain Cristiano Ronaldo, 12 years ago. That said, the boss didn’t rule out future deals with Mendes, suggesting he’s never shown real interest in any other Mendes-managed players since.
The other issue is the likelihood of fierce competition for Neves’s services from other clubs, including Spain’s big two, who you’d imagine would have a far greater pull for a Portuguese player than us. In a way then, this coming January might actually represent our best chance of buying him given how interest will surely only heighten from elsewhere if he continues to progress as a player at his current rate.
There’s also the fact that Porto’s president is on record as saying:
We would like to keep him (Neves) at FC Porto, as a kind of Joao Pinto. That is, he was a symbol and legend of the progress of the club for several generations. I never want him to leave Porto.
With Neves responding:
To hear the president say that he wants to make me a symbol of the club? It’s fantastic. This made me feel very proud. I am under contract until June 2019 and, at the moment, I am only thinking about the club achieving its goals.
‘At the moment’. It’s still all speculation of course, but at the very least, I think we can add Neves’ name to the list of possible defensive midfield purchases alongside the likes of his compatriot William Carvalho, Barcelona’s Sergi Samper, Bayer Leverkusen’s Lars Bender and Sevilla’s Grzegorz Krychowiak, having had to scrub off Geoffrey Kondogbia and Morgan Schneiderlin after they changed clubs last summer.
Elsewhere, the boss ‘updated’ us on team news via the official site, revealing Laurent Koscielny and Theo Walcott “could both make the squad” for Saturday’s game against Sunderland, Kieran Gibbs will be available but how long Alexis Sanchez, Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla are out for is still unknown.
I guess we might get more information at the boss’ pre-game press conference tomorrow, as well as his thoughts on lots of other stuff, maybe even Ruben Neves.
Back on Friday.