Chelsea rewarded Benfica’s historic faith in youth by sending the Portuguese giants £107 million to sign Enzo Fernandez at the start of the year. But Manchester United could be the next Premier League club to command a nine-figure fee for one of As Aguis’ top stars.
According to RecordUnited are determined to sign Joao Neves, a 19-year-old midfielder who has caught the attention of European football over the past year.
Fabrizio Romano he adds that the Red Devils have sent scouts to watch Neves on several occasions but would have to trigger the £103m release clause in his contract that runs until 2028 to lure him to Old Trafford.
Benfica are said to have no intention of losing the player dubbed ‘Bruno Fernandes 2.0’ in the January transfer window, but he could be firmly on United’s radar next summer.
Sport Express everything you need to know about Joao Pedro Goncalves Neves and what he would bring to Erik ten Hag’s long-term project.
Neves – born on September 27, 2004, in Tavira – joined Benfica’s illustrious youth set-up in 2012, beginning his meteoric rise through the ranks.
He signed his first professional contract in 2020, helping Benfica U19s win the UEFA Youth League two years later.
In August 2022, Neves made his professional debut for Benfica B but was mainly limited to U23 appearances until he caught the eye of first team head coach Roger Schmidt.
During the home break, with the 2022 World Cup taking place in Qatar, Schmidt invited Neves to train with his senior squad. He made his Benfica debut in a 3-0 win against Braga in December that year.
Fernandez’s late move to Chelsea the following month paved the way for opportunities, which Neves took seriously.
He hasn’t looked back since, making 38 appearances for Benfica and winning three Portugal caps, most recently in Sunday’s 2-0 win over Iceland in Euro 2024 qualification.
A range of Benfica’s young talent have left in big money switches to European clubs over the years, including Ederson, Ruben Dias, Joao Felix and Darwin Nunez.
Neves could be next on the conveyor belt, with United reportedly eyeing a pursuit that would make him a club-record signing.
But what kind of player is he? Does he justify the ‘Bruno Fernandes 2.0’ tagline? Well, yes. In fact, his best attributes make him a hybrid of Ten Hag’s top two midfielders, Fernandes and Casemiro.
Neves possesses an impressive level of physicality for his 5ft 7in frame, consistently winning aerial battles and using his blistering pace and agility to protect and advance the ball.
Across Europe’s top five leagues, Neves ranks in the 89th percentile for aerial duels won (meaning he’s in the top 11 percent of midfielders in that metric). He is also in the 99th percentile for blocks and the 94th percentile for tackles made.
Away from his defensive duties, Neves really thrives on dictating the pace of games by creating action with the ball shortly after winning it. He is in the 88th percentile in pass completion and progressive passes completed.
The teenage star loves to have the game in his hands, a great trait for the inexperienced. He is in the 99th percentile for caught balls and progressive carries.
Neves also creates 3.25 shot creation actions, records an impressive 53.99 carries, and sits in the 98th percentile for fouls drawn on threes per 90 minutes.
It is debatable whether Neves would need time to adapt to the Premier League, as Fernandez has at Chelsea. The answer is probably no.
And that raises the question of whether United need to start targeting players to make an impact now rather than in a few years.
But there is no doubt that there is an exceptional player in Neves, who is the missing piece in Ten Hag’s uneven midfield.
Fernandes, who flourished against the Portugal national team during their perfect qualifying campaign for Euro 2024, has already backed Neves to join him at United.
“I would love to have him at United. He is excellent! But it is Joao’s choice,” Fernandes said last week.
He added: “He’s a great player, but it depends on the coach’s thoughts! He’ll have a great future, at United or somewhere else.” And because of his stats, you can see why.
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