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Portugal must prepare for future instead of looking to past

| 16.07.2014

As Portugal boss Paulo Bento, 16/1 to win Euro 2016 with the Navigators, sifts through the debris of a calamitous World Cup campaign, he will face difficult decisions regarding the Iberian outfit’s old-guard.

Bento’s experienced stars disappointed in Brazil and, with a squad packed full of veterans who have pulled on illustrious club shirts at Real Madrid and Manchester United, a group stage exit was simply not good enough.

Several teams, including football royalty such as Spain and Brazil, were humiliated due to their determination to stick to tried and tested formulae, and Vicente Del Bosque’s side in particular were in desperate need of fresh legs and new ideas.

Portugal, whose only major honour is FIFA’s 2006 World Cup Most Entertaining Team Award, do not have the same problem as their neighbours. Spain, meanwhile,will have to painstakingly dismantle the ageing core of their nation’s most successful ever side.

Bento would have nothing to lose by discarding poor performers, of which there were plenty at the World Cup, and starting afresh.

In the early 2000’s, a supposed ‘golden generation’ of talent, including stars such as Deco, who had tasted Champions League glory with Porto under Jose Mourinho, failed to translate that success to the national side. Those players managed a runners up spot at Euro 2004 and a World Cup semi-final in 2006, and at least formed a cohesive unit, albeit one lacking a talisman to guide them over the final hurdle.

They now have that individual game-changing superstar in Cristiano Ronaldo but, unfortunately for the Sporting Lisbon youth product, his current supporting cast have not been up to the task, resulting in an off-kilter one-man band.

Bento’s boys, or rather, elder statesmen, have had several chances to prove their worth, but if Portugal are to make the most of a once-in-a-generation talent like Ronaldo, they need to ring changes.

Fallen World Cup finalists Argentina are proof that individual brilliance can only take you so far, as the Navigators also found out to their peril against an unrelenting German behemoth.

Portugal could learn a lot from their counterparts, whose young star Mario Gotze sealed the World Champion’s memorable win with a stunning goal. The exciting attacker was one of many fledgling talents Joachim Low brought to the tournament, with a total of 14 players aged 25-and-under in the squad.

The Navigators, in comparison, had a mere three players younger than 25 representing them in Brazil. A relatively easy Euro 2016 qualifying group, including Albania, Armenia, Denmark and Serbia, would be the ideal time for that to change, but Bento will have to place his old faithful aside and choose to blood youngsters whilst he can.

William Carvalho, who barely featured in Brazil, and only then seemingly when forced through injury and suspension, would be an obvious starting point for Portugal’s new breed.

Powerful, dynamic and intelligent, Carvalho was named the Portuguese Young Player of the Month five times last term, only one award below the record of six held by schemer Joao Moutinho, who he would hope to partner in Bento’s midfield.

Current regular anchormen, Miguel Veloso and Raul Meireles, will be 30 and 32 respectively by Euro 2016. So it makes sense to bed in Carvalho, who has been linked heavily to Manchester United, as early as possible.

Portugal’s backline will also need serious adjustments after leaking seven goals in three games in Brazil. Ageing centre backs Pepe and Bruno Alves were amongst the Navigators worst performers at the World Cup, and should be phased-out as mentors to younger talents, who need the opportunity to stake a claim to regular starting berths.

Chief among the candidates to steal a slot at the heart of defence is Sporting Lisbon’s Paulo Oliveira, a player that won praise for his performances at Vitoria Guimaraes, and has now been snapped up by the capital club.

Oliveira’s new teammate Cedric Soares made 25 appearances for Sporting last season, and could provide Benfica utility man Andre Almeida with competition for the right back slot, if Bento plumps for a younger option ahead of 30-year-old Joao Pereira.

As for the next generation of attacking prospects, few Portuguese strikers are making waves. However, in what has been a problem position for Bento, Benfica striker Nelson Oliveira, 22, surely deserves a chance ahead of tired veterans Hugo Almeida and Helder Positga, who provided little attacking threat, and no goals between them in Brazil.

Ronaldo could be an alternative option to start up front, after netting 50 times in 114 caps for the Navigators. Whilst it is not his preferred position, the forward is more than capable of playing the poacher’s role, and may have to suffer for the good of the team.

This could allow surprisingly prolific, apparently unwanted Manchester United man Bebe, the chance to impress out wide, after scoring 15 times for Pacos de Ferreira last season. Despite his impressive performances, and being an apparent transfer target for Benfica, the 24-year old did not earn a call-up to Bento’s squad.

As Portugal, 25/1 to lift the 2018 World Cup, prepare for the future, Bebe may find he finally has a chance to shine, with the surprise package unlikely to disappoint more than Portugal’s established stars already have.



Holly Thackeray

Holly is a member of the content team, and can often be found on the sports desk writing about favourite topics Serie A and East Asian footballing nations. A recent darts convert, she is also a fully-fledged member of Barney's Army and a proud Leeds-born Manchester United fan.