Football is full of stories and speculation about who the next young star destined for greatness will be but a lot of the time these players fall short of the lofty expectations put on their shoulders at such a young age. For example, can anybody tell me where John Bostock, Freddy Adu or Cherno Samba are now? However, things could be different for one young man named Renato Sanches.
Sanches is of Cape Verdean descent but was born and raised in Lisbon. He currently plays for Benfica, the club which he joined in 2006 aged just 9. Ever since then the midfielder has been working his way up through the club’s youth set-up. He made his debut for Benfica B in the 2014/15 season, making 24 appearances and scoring 3 goals but that wasn’t the first time he was brought to the attention of fans in his native Portugal. His stock was already high as by the time he made his Benfica B debut, aged 17, he had already amassed 40 Portugal caps at youth level ranging from Under-15 to Under-19 level.
With his reputation continuing to grow, this season has seen him make his big breakthrough. His season started out as he perhaps would have been expecting, playing for the B team but it soon became clear that all was not well with the first team. Their season was rocked when in pre-season their long term manager Jorge Jesus resigned to take over at the club’s city rivals Sporting Lisbon. Things got worse as new coach Rui Vitória lost just his second game in charge to minnows Arouca before going onto lose to title rivals Porto and Sporting Lisbon, Sporting also knocked Benfica out of the Portuguese Cup and the club suffered yet another defeat in their Champions League opener away to Galatasaray.
With Vitória’s job seemingly on the line, he turned to the youth team for answers. One of the players he promoted was Renato Sanches. His first Benfica start came on 25th November in the Champions League match against FC Astana of Kazakhstan. The game ended in a disappointing 2-2 draw but from that point on Benfica’s results took a turn for the better. The club won 17 of their next 19 league games, a run which they are still on, including victory over Sporting Lisbon which took them to the top of the Portuguese League table.
One of the reasons for the team’s revival has definitely been the performances of Renato Sanches. Ever since that start against Astana, Sanches has become a Benfica regular and has dominated many games in the engine room of Benfica’s midfield. He has become known for his box-to-box style along with his strength, a deadly combination as many teams have found out this season. Along with this, he possesses the ability to pick a pass and the composure to play it which has helped him to dictate the tempo in many games this season. Sanches is a player that has shown an ability to stamp his authority on games, all the more impressive considering his tender age of just 18.
Just this week Sanches faced the biggest challenge of his fledgling career. His Benfica side faced one of the toughest challenges in world football, playing Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena. Benfica were defeated 1-0 but they can take heart from a a result that could have been a lot worse as they went behind to Arturo Vidal’s strike after just two minutes. Sanches can too take heart as he managed to use his strength to break up play time and time again. One moment that stands out was when on the edge of his own box and he dispossessed Thomas Muller before proceeding to run the entire length of the field only to be stopped by Douglas Costa’s foul. He continued to run tirelessly all night and his ability to chase and make something of lost causes is an admiral quality which many teams would be keen to have in their own sides.
Sanches isn’t only proving a success at club level though. During the recent international break he was called into the Portugal squad for the first time. He made substitute appearances against Bulgaria and Belgium to become one of Portugal’s youngest ever internationals.
With all of these achievements at such a young age it certainly appears that Sanches might not go the same way as so many other wonder kids and he may truly be able to reach the top. Obviously, with such success on the field comes much speculation off it and Sanches is no different. It is strongly believed that Sanches it being tracked by Manchester United and that if Jose Mourinho is appointed the club’s manager in the summer then he will insist the club sign Sanches. However, it is even believed that he may be coming in regardless of Mourinho’s employment, some news outlets in Portugal are even reporting that Manchester United are on the verge of completing a £40 million pound deal which would see Sanches join up with his new teammates after Euro 2016.
Whatever happens transfer wise one thing is for sure, Sanches has all of the attributes to become a superstar. The fact that he has achieved so much so young makes Sanches one of Europe’s hottest properties. Like has happened with so many others in the past, we shouldn’t jump ahead of ourselves and suggest he is the finished article yet but, no matter where he is playing next season, the signs only suggest that he will continue to improve. Remember the name Renato Sanches.