A precocious talent who is always one step ahead of his natural development curve, Ruben Neves’ short career has already hit incredible highs for one so young. Despite a summer of heavy spending in the international transfer market, FC Porto’s standout performer in the opening weeks of the campaign has taken everyone by surprise. And the 17-year-old record-breaking midfielder will now be playing in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League.
The talent that was evident throughout the various age levels at Porto’s academy first made an international impact during the U-17 European Championship in May, as he captained Portugal to the semi-finals and was chosen by a UEFA panel of experts as one of the players of the tournament. Even so, few imagined that just a couple of months later Ruben Neves would become a key player for Porto’s first team.
After the disappointing third place finish in 2013/14, the Dragons have completely rebuilt their team, bringing in international stars of the calibre of Bruno Martins Indi, Oliver Torres, Yacine Brahimi, Cristian Tello and Adrian Lopez. Spanish coach Julen Lopetegui was appointed to lead a team full of emerging stars, a logical choice given he guided Spain to victory in the 2013 U-21 European Championship.
Lopetegui knows a good young player when he sees one, and he had no hesitation in calling up Ruben Neves to train with the senior squad in pre-season. Nevertheless, it was a huge surprise when the midfielder was selected in the starting XI for Porto’s opening match in the Portuguese league.
Supplanting a double Golden Shoe winner
Aged 17 years, five months and two days, Ruben Neves became Porto’s youngest ever starter in a league match, but he was intent on leaving an even bigger mark. He scored the opening goal against Maritimo, paving the way for a 2-0 victory, thus breaking another record, supplanting Porto legend Fernando Gomes – twice winner of the Golden Shoe award as Europe’s top marksman – as the club’s youngest ever scorer.
Neves was voted man of the match by the fans and the next day, as he spoke to journalists, he gave another demonstration of maturity that belies his age.
“It was a dream debut, not only because I scored but above all because of the victory. For me, the team always comes first and without the help of my colleagues I am nothing. It’s a very important prize for me which marks the start of what I hope will be a successful career,” said Neves. But an unforgettable few days would not end there.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s record beaten
Less than a week after his auspicious league debut, Neves seamlessly overcame his next challenge, breaking another record in the process. In FC Porto’s first leg of the Champions League play-off against Lille the midfielder was again selected in the starting line-up for the Dragons, making him the youngest ever Portuguese to play in UEFA’s foremost club competition, at 17 years, five months and eight days. Whose record did he beat this time? None other than Cristiano Ronaldo’s, who had played against Inter Milan in his Sporting days aged 17 years, six months and ten days.
On Tuesday Porto completed their victory over Lille to book their place in the group stage and Ruben Neves again gave a performance of remarkable poise, fully justifying the words of coach Julen Lopetegui in pre-season.
“Ruben is only 17 years old but he is showing great maturity. We are delighted with him,” he said, reflecting a sentiment shared by all FC Porto’s supporters and fans of good football. After all, it is not every day one witnesses the meteoric rise of a player of such quality who surely has a brilliant future awaiting him.