Key to any footballing side is a strong midfield. Of course with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Bernardo Silva, Portugal have a number of attacking talents. Their defensive back-line is also well-constructed with veteran defender Pepe as well as attack-minded fullbacks in Cedric Soares and Raphael Guerreiro. But if Portugal can get the balance of their midfield right as they did for the Euros in 2016, they could be in with a real shot at winning this year’s World Cup in Russia. That makes it all the more imperative that they build their squad around a man who has been in exceptional form this year, EFL Championship star Ruben Neves.
Ruben Neves only came to Wolves for the start of the 2017-18 season as part of the club’s expensive summer transfer window in hopes of earning automatic promotion back to the Premier League following six seasons away. Having broken onto the scene as a 17-year old and scoring on his debut for the club, the Portuguese U-21 midfielder had become frustrated with a lack of playing time at FC Porto. When Wolves came calling, the 21-year old was keen to make a move to the already heavily-Portuguese based Wolves, who paid a fee of around 16 million pounds for his services. Now 16 million pounds seems like an absolute bargain as Ruben Neves hasn’t just been Wolves’ best player this season, he’s been widely regarded as the best player in the EFL Championship for 2017-18. In his first season at Wolves, Neves has claimed the league title, earned a spot on the Team of the Season and has earned a recall to Fernando Santos’ illustrious Portugal squad.
Now with the World Cup in sight, Santos has to be thinking about who his starting central midfielders will be in Russia this summer. Santos chopped and changed his midfield more than anywhere else on the pitch at the Euros and the question of who will claim those starting births in Russia this summer is more up in the air than any other. With Danilo Pereira out injured, Santos should look no further than the Wolverhampton midfielder, who has proven himself to be more than capable in both attack and defense this season.
In comparison to the other midfield options that Fernando Santos has to choose from, Neves has been more in form in 2017-18 than anyone else. William Carvalho has had another solid season at Sporting CP and is the other obvious midfield choice, but the holding man is a lot less mobile. Adrien Silva meanwhile has struggled in his first season at Leicester City to even earn a starting birth, Renato Sanches has fallen off the face of the earth since his move to Swansea City, Joao Mario has had his worst season in years having failed to make an impact at both Inter Milan and now West Ham United, while finally Joao Moutinho can’t hold down a place in AS Monaco’s lineup. Neves is clearly the best midfield option Portugal have and Fernando Santos would be very wise to build his squad around the 21-year old, who could prove to be absolutely crucial at this year’s World Cup.
Ruben Neves is an exceptional midfielder and should he be given the chance to strut his stuff and show what he’s made of in Russia 2018, Portugal won’t just benefit, but will flourish under his influence.