Wolves' Potential Portuguese Transfer Targets
By Alex Goncalves
To the disappointment of many Wolves fans, this summer has been quiet on the transfer front until now, with Wolves yet to announce the signing of a new first-team player, while two former fan favourites in Helder Costa and Ivan Cavaleiro have departed the club after failing to impress since Wolves earned promotion to the Premier League.
The transfer inactivity shouldn’t last too much longer though, and Wolves are undoubtedly looking to make some quality additions to their side before the start of the new campaign.
Here though, we take a look at five talented young Portuguese players that Wolves perhaps should be looking at signing this summer:
One name that is almost universally linked to Wolves, to the mass frustration of many fans, is AC Milan striker Andre Silva; the Portuguese international is, as a Gestifute client, an easy link to make to the club, and while he would be a very good acquisition, it is another Portuguese striker that Wolves really should be taking a look at instead: Rafael Leão.
The 20-year old former Sporting striker is widely regarded as one of the best players to come out of Sporting’s academy in recent years, and his departure from the Lisbon outfit - after he unilaterally terminated his contract last summer in response to the violent attack by ‘fans’ at Sporting’s training complex - was greeted with great disappointment by the club’s supporters.
However, his decision to join Lille, which was initially greeted with a good deal of scepticism by many of his admirers, proved to do his development no harm at all as he was given increased game time and showed his array of attributes, displaying great pace, strength, movement and attacking instincts as he bagged 8 goals in his debut season in Ligue 1.
He’s very much considered one of the future strikers of the Portugal national team, and it’s no surprise that he’s very much in high demand.
Indeed, it is expected that Lille are willing to let him go this summer for a fee in the region of 40 million euros. In today’s market – and in a summer where we’ve seen Benfica’s own young forward João Felix move for 120 million euros - that seems like an excellent deal, and if anyone takes up the option to sign him for that sum, it should prove to be a quality acquisition.
Valencia and Everton are believed to be the clubs leading the charge to sign him – but if I were advising Wolves, I’d fully encourage them to snap him up. He’s a player both for the present, and the future.
It feels only right to include Renato Sanches on this list. Another Gestifute client, it is perfectly conceivable to see him ply his trade in the English Premier League yet again this season after his pretty disastrous stint with Swansea a couple of years ago.
Still only 21 years of age, Renato has plenty of time to hit the heights expected of him, and we all know what an accomplished footballer he really is, with his directness and strength on the ball from central midfield earning him the Golden Boy award in 2016.
And it’s fair to say that he’s very much open to a move this summer; frustrated by the lack of game time he’s been afforded with German giants Bayern Munich, his future with the club still remains unclear, and he is focused on doing what’s best for his career. If that means moving on, that is the path he will take.
Playing football is at the centre of his mind, which is commendable; often players are looking to earn a wage rather than advancing their career. In the case of Renato, the latter seems to be just as important, and that should put him in the right direction to get his career on track.
Should Bayern allow him to depart, there will be many suitors – PSG have been pointed out as one and, although they have recently acquired Ander Herrera, Renato could be a good fit. Monaco and Wolves are certainly two other leading contenders, particularly due to their connection with Jorge Mendes and Gestifute, while the fact that the both have Portuguese managers will also help.
One of the key things for the 21-year old to get his career back on track is confidence; at Benfica, he felt important. A lot of faith was put in him and he was given a lot of time in the first-team, which was critical in helping him develop and perform to a high standard week in, week out. Nuno has shown a lot of patience in players in the past, and has shown that he’s accustomed to bringing out the best in certain players, and he could very well be the right man to help Renato Sanches.
Podence, who is still just 23 years of age, has already shown his impressive potential in two different countries – Portugal with Sporting, and Greece with Olympiakos.
Perhaps one of the more realistic suggestions on the list due to the fact that he is a Gestifute client, Podence has already shown his tremendous abilities across both the countries he has tested himself in, and in England, you wouldn’t bet against him hitting the same heights again.
With Sporting, he was very much on the fringes of being a truly established first-team player, returning from a loan to Moreirense midway through the 2016-17 season and playing in 13 of Sporting’s remaining 15 league matches. He played even more in the 2017-18 – 20 matches across all competitions – and would have played much more were it not for a foot injury that kept him out of action for the second half of the season.
As such, he certainly impressed during his time at the club, and actually only left when he, like Rafael Leao, unilaterally terminated his contract with the club after the violent scenes at Alcochete last summer.
Upon leaving, he joined Greek giants Olympiakos, and has only continued to show his capabilities, playing 41 matches across all competitions (including 8 in the Europa League), scoring 8 and assisting 9 in the process.
Wolves fans would, quite rightly, be pointing out the fact that he doesn’t fit into Wolves’ system, typically functioning as a left winger. And it’s a fair point. At the same time though, Podence has shown, at Sporting at least, that he is more than capable of playing in that second striker role, very much like Diogo Jota, and would likely thrive in that position.
It is, as said before, also useful to retain some natural wingers in the squad anyway, providing the flexibility to switch systems throughout the season; while Nuno has shown significant reservations about doing that over the last couple of years, this season could prove even tougher than those that preceded it, having to juggle the Europa League alongside all the domestic competitions.
In any case, he’s a very good and versatile player, with his pace, dribbling ability and work rate all making up for his lack of physicality.
Of all the names on this list, Dias is the only one that is currently a truly established Portugal international, and, bar Renato Sanches, is the only one that has even represented the national team at senior level. That says all you need to know about how impressive a signing Dias would be for Wolverhampton Wanderers, and they will be facing stern competition for his signature.
He does very much fit the profile for Wolves though – only 22 years of age, a Gestifute client – and, perhaps even more crucially, is a centreback, which is the position that Wolves will likely be focusing on strengthening for this upcoming season.
He’s also an incredibly talented player; as previously pointed out, he’s already a fully-fledged Portugal international with 10 caps to his name – and, more than that, he’s one of the first names on the team sheet. He’s also got a wealth of first-team experience under his belt at club level, even in the Champions League, and would be the latest in a long line of impressive signings for Wolves.
With a huge 5,639 minutes of football to his name in the 2018-19 season, Dias was one of the players that played the most football in all of Europe last season, and was imperative in Benfica’s title charge.
I’m a massive admirer of his – but so are Benfica’s leadership, and that means that a potential move to Wolves, or anywhere, becomes far more complicated. Boasting a substantial 66 million euro release clause, Benfica have been actively looking to increase that even further – which almost certainly shows that they won’t entertain any offers that fall short of the current termination fee.
In any case, his defensive capabilities have been really impressive over the last couple of seasons; his dominance at the back with his ability in the air, his reading of the game and his tackling expertise have constantly been on show, and it is no wonder that he’s been linked with some top-class clubs.
His efforts for Portugal at the UEFA Nations League finals last month as he helped Portugal claim their second title in three years was the cherry on top, and he was, in my eyes, one of Portugal’s top 3 performers across those two games.
One position that Wolves could certainly be looking to strengthen this season, as already pointed out, is centreback – and one player that could be available for the ‘loan-then-buy’ scheme that Wolves have been deploying recently is the highly talented Diogo Queiros.
The 20 year old is expected to be one of Portugal’s four future international centrebacks (in addition to Ferro, Ruben Dias and Diogo Leite) and he could be available on loan for this upcoming season.
He has been a regular for Portugal at each of the different youth levels, and is one of just a few that can lay claim to winning both the U17 and U19 European Championships with his country in 2016 and 2018 respectively. After that double triumph, he is now the captain of the U20 national team.
If that wasn’t enough to convince you of his defensive abilities and genuine potential, he experienced yet another high calibre triumph last season when he captained Porto to the UEFA Youth League title – the equivalent of the Champions League for Europe’s most illustrious academies – after beating Chelsea 3-1 in the final. They also beat Hoffenheim and Tottenham en route, keeping a clean sheet against both.
Fair to say, therefore, that there are incredibly high expectations for the Porto academy product and, although he is yet to feature for the Porto senior team, his efforts for Porto’s B team have not gone unnoticed.
His excellent reading of the game, his tackling ability, his leadership – he’s a well-rounded centreback that possesses good physicality in addition to good movement, making him a very accomplished defender.
Now this would be an interesting one. Fernandes, a centreback, spent last season out on loan at Moreirense, and really excelled for the Primeira Liga outfit, helping them secure an impressive 6th place finish in the league last campaign, which really defied pre-season expectations. They were 5th for the majority of the season actually, holding onto that prestigious position as “Best of the Rest” in Portugal, and only lost it on the very last day of the campaign when they were defeated by Guimaraes.
Nevertheless, Ivanildo was crucial in helping Moreirense maintain their lofty position in the Portuguese top flight, playing 24 of their league outings and more than holding his own in what was his first season testing himself in the Portuguese top flight, having previously represented the Sporting B team over 80 times over the three seasons prior.
It will likely, and understandably, raise concerns for many to hear that he is already 23 years of age; still a young footballer with a bright future ahead of him, but he does lack that top-level experience that most would be expecting from someone of his age.
That said, last season showed why Sporting have been holding onto him and chose to loan him out instead of selling him on, as there are still great hopes for Ivanildo Fernandes. Standing at 1.94 metres, he’s shown he’s a great aerial presence, perfectly capable of reading the game and heading clear any balls whipped into the box, while he has also shown that, in addition to his physicality, he also possesses good athleticism, with decent pace and movement and good tackling ability as well.
The attributes are there, and Sporting fans are keen to see him in action for their own side next season. However, Sporting have shown that they are willing to sell players, regardless of their talent and potential, so long as the price is right – and Ivanildo could be available for a very reasonable fee.
Indeed, Sporting will likely be looking to prioritise retaining a substantial percentage of his economic rights rather than seeking a substantial fee; if Wolves, or any club for that matter, were willing to offer Sporting up to 50% of his future sell on fee, you can imagine that perhaps just a few million euros would be required to take him away from the club, which would be shrewd business financially for a very promising and capable centreback.
Alex Goncalves is a Portuguese football expert. You can follow him here.
Images: Johannes Simon