With Ruben Neves linked with a move to Liverpool, we take a closer look at the talented young Portuguese midfielder.
In the days following Klopp’s appointment as Liverpool manager, the German has been linked with all manner of transfer targets, from the Bundesliga to the Premier League, with Porto midfielder Neves perhaps the most intriguing.
According to the Mirror‘s David Maddock, first-team development coach Pepijn Lijnders “identified Neves as an outstanding talent, and has recommended the midfielder to Klopp, who also had him on the radar at Borussia Dortmund last season.”
The 18-year-old would come with a hefty price tag, however, with suggestions that he has a release clause of just under £30 million at his current club.
So should Liverpool pursue their reported interest in the Portuguese?
A product of Porto’s youth academy, Neves was born in Mezelos, just south of the city, and joined the Primeira Liga club’s ranks at the age of eight, progressing via a loan spell with Padroense FC in 2012/13.
Ten years after joining the club and Neves is a staple in Julen Lopetegui’s first team, confounding expectations of the club’s historically limp production line.
Very few academy products establish themselves at the Estadio do Dragao, with Vieirinha, now of VfL Wolfsburg, and Christian Atsu, currently at AFC Bournemouth (on loan from Chelsea), the most notable stars to go from academy to first team at Porto in Neves’ decade at the club.
“When he was playing at Under-16 and U17 levels, he was already showing the attitude of a professional,” Jose Guilherme, the club’s under-17s coach recalled of the midfielder’s development.
“We knew right from the start he was not going to get lost on the way to the top.
“His success does not surprise anyone who knows him and has worked with him. He is a leader on and off the field and has the profile of a true Porto player.”
That success is represented by a regular role in Lopetegui’s starting lineup in both the Primeira Liga and the Champions League, and a particularly symbolic showing in a 4-0 win over Belenenses at the beginning of October.
With centre-back Maicon withdrawn through injury, Neves was handed the captain’s armband—becoming the club’s youngest-ever captain, at the age of 18.
Guilherme believes it will only be a matter of time before this is a regular occurrence.
Strengths, Weakness & Style of Play
Neves’ rise into Lopetegui’s first-team thinking was aided by the sale of Fernando to Manchester City in 2014, with the Brazilian having established himself as first-choice defensive midfielder at the club since 2008.
Neves slotted into Fernando’s role perfectly, owing to his well-balanced approach in the midfield engine room.
“Ruben Neves, for a 17-year-old, is fantastic with the ball at his feet, he knows how to position himself and he’s aggressive,” Porto winger Cristian Tello, formerly of Barcelona, said of his young team-mate.
“He’s similar to Sergio Busquets.”
Along with the loan signing of Casemiro from Real Madrid, Lopetegui replaced the bullish but non-progressive Fernando with a more intellectual brand of deep-lying midfielder.
After impressing throughout pre-season last summer, Neves was named in the Porto starting lineup for the first Primeira Liga game of the 2014/15 season against Maritimo, becoming the club’s youngest-ever debutant, at 17.
Marking his debut with the first of the goal of Porto’s campaign, Neves set the tone for what was the come, making the defensive-midfield role his own.
Though naturally right-footed, Neves is able to employ his weaker left foot to a high level, allowing him retain possession and build moves from deep with consistency—even when under pressure—as well as breaking into the opposition’s half to support attacking play.
For an 18-year-old, he is able to read the game to a high standard, breaking up attacks with intelligence and composure—though he is also capable of deploying defensive steel when required.
“We talk about technical and tactical talent, but Neves Reuben has extraordinary mental talents,” Porto B coach Luis Castro said in 2014, highlighting the midfielder’s key attribute.
“He’s a player who sees the game with an extraordinary tranquility, know what the game asks.”
Neves is extremely mature for such a young player, able to map out the landscape of a game from his deep-lying role.
However, while this ability to see the full picture is a major advantage for Neves and Porto, he does tend to struggle when tasked with specific marking briefs in defensive midfield; preferring to employ a positional game.
This could be one of his key flaws in moving to the Premier League, with its front-footed attacking game often requiring a man-marking defensive approach.
Nevertheless, as this is his only key weakness, Neves is a remarkably talented young midfielder with enormous scope for development.
But is he worth £30 million to Liverpool?
Should Liverpool Spend £30 Million on Neves?
Klopp’s arrival ostensibly sees Liverpool move in a new direction in the transfer market: gone are the seasonal overhauls, with an emphasis on gradual improvement taking their place.
It has been suggested that the Reds will make “two or three significant additions” per summer, and with Maddock reporting that defensive midfield is “high on [Klopp’s] to-do list,” it seems realistic that Neves could be a target.
On paper, the Portuguese would slot in perfectly within Klopp’s Liverpool squad.
With Lucas Leiva the only specialist defensive midfielder in the club’s senior ranks, and in need of a considerable upgrade if Liverpool are to progress, this is a major priority.
Though 18, Neves is a relatively experienced European talent, having made 31 appearances for Porto in the league and in Europe last season, and a further five so far this season. He’s established in the Portugal under-21s squad, and no doubt on the fringes of the senior side.
He has proven capable of performing in a role that requires composure, tactical intelligence and physical prowess, despite his young years, and will no doubt develop into a top-level player in this role.
But, as is typically the case when Porto notice a marketable asset, his high release clause would be an issue.
Over the past five seasons, Porto have sold Jackson Martinez (£35m), Danilo (£31.5m), Alex Sandro (£26m), Eliaquim Mangala (£40m), James Rodriguez (£45m), Joao Moutinho (£25m), Hulk (£55m) and Falcao (£40m) for considerable fees, and this is set to continue.
But the majority of these players were established talents at the top level, and Neves’ value is still very much based on his potential.
He is capable of making an immediate impact at Liverpool, but Klopp and the club’s transfer committee must decide whether he is worth the risk before sanctioning such a costly outlay.