Portugal sealed their place in the semi-finals of Euro 2016 after a penalty shootout against Robert Lewandowski and Poland Thursday. One man who was really impressive is Lewandowski’s new Bayern Munich teammate, Renato Sanches. After Lewandowski had given Poland an early lead less than three minutes into the quarterfinal matchup, Sanches levelled for Portugal with a left-footed shot following a one-two with former Manchester United man Nani. After another 80 minutes in which neither nation could find the net again, Sanches rifled his spot kick into the top left corner during the penalty phase of the match to help Fernando Santos’ squad to the next round against Wales.
Sanches’ calmness on the pitch shows throughout his performances. The fact he was thrown into the deep end, making his first Euros start in the quarterfinals, never fazed the young man. He stood up to the challenge, winning Man of the Match honors and showed the footballing world his talent and confidence. Born in the rundown suburbs of Lisbon, the teenager has overtaken Cristiano Ronaldo to become the youngest player to feature at a major tournament for Portugal.
It took just 19 months for the 18-year old (Sanches turns 19 a week before the Bayern’s Bundesliga 2016/2017’s kickoff against Werder Bremen) to really emerge onto the scene and now the international stage. In October 2014 he featured for Benfica’s youth side against rivals Sporting and in May 2016, he is signed on a five-year deal with Bayern Munich for €35 million, a transfer fee could rise much higher depending on performance-related add-ons. Not letting the limelight change him,though, Sanches is a grounded individual, mature well beyond his years.
He joined Benfica youth from Musgueira for €750 and the promise of 25 soccer balls in 2006. Last season at 18, he made has 35 appearances for Benfica’s first team in all competitions
Quickly becoming a fan favourite at the Estádio da Luz, the fact is that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. October 2015 saw Sanches make his senior squad Benfica debut — by November he was featuring in the Champions League, appearing in the home victory over Galatasaray and FC Astana away. He later helped his team secure a third Primeira Liga title, won the Taca da Liga, and is now featuring for Portugal.
Dubbed “Bulo” by his grandmother, due to his risk taking, he has a similar playing style to Paul Pogba. Just like the Frenchman, he takes long shots, this evident when he scored in the victory over Académica back in December. He also has been good at dribbling and threading through balls to the strikers, and is strong in aerial duels.
Former Benfica coach Rui Vitória realised the potential of the young man and despite his rise, he didn’t have the best debut for the national team back in March. But coach Vitória was brave in allowing the young man to improve by his mistakes.
Portugal teammate José Fonte had this to say about the teenaged Sanches
Renato has no fear. He just doesn’t care. He just asks for the ball all the time, every second. He has power, strength, the energy to run all day and great ability. It was a lot of responsibility, taking that penalty, and he showed no fear. He’s a cool kid in the dressing room, very quiet. He’s nice. He listens to the older guys and he wants to learn, which is good. It’s great to have him around and he will be the future of the national team, for sure
Heavily scouted by Manchester United, both Fonte, of Southampton, and former longtime Red Devils’ man Nani suggest that Bayern Munich made the right move for Sanches while Manchester United missed out on a future great. For now, the 18 year-old’s focus is on Wales and winning the 2016 Euros, but it will be interesting to see how well Sanches can develop his talent in Bundesliga play and compete for playing time on Bayern’s ultra-talented squad under new coach Carlo Ancelotti.
Photo courtesy of vern.de
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