Ten lesser-known Primeira Liga players that your club should be signing
Portuguese footballers are becoming increasingly sought-after acquisitions, with the talent in the Primeira Liga accessible and easy to find, and the Big Three in the Portuguese game never in short supply of potential world beaters.
And, while there is talent and flair throughout the league, the market value of the players based in Portugal has yet to explode on the scale of the rest of European football, with the cost of top players in the country stagnating over the past few years.
To illustrate the incredible talent to have passed through, and made a name for themselves, in the Portuguese league, the likes of James Rodriguez, Radamel Falcao, Ederson, Oblak, Hulk, Angel di Maria, Danilo, Alex Sandro, Axel Witsel and Jackson Martinez are all foreign players that have recently played in the Portuguese League who went on to earn big-money moves to some of Europe's elite clubs after setting the Primeira Liga alight.
Domestic players have also, particularly in the past decade or so, made a name for themselves in the Primeira Liga before moving on directly to some of Europe's most prestigious sides, such as Gonçalo Guedes, Fabio Coentrão, Pepe, Nani, Nelson Semedo, João Moutinho, João Mario, Andre Silva, Renato Sanches, William Carvalho, Gelson Martins and, of course, Cristiano Ronaldo. It really is a great source for talent.
But there are often some lesser-known stars of the league that go on to also have excellent careers, the likes of Coentrao and Ederson both started at Rio Ave for example, and have gone on to have terrific careers.
So, here are just a selection of lesser-known players - individuals that don’t play for one of the Big Three teams in Portugal - that clubs of varying levels across the continent should be looking at:
Dyego Sousa (Braga)
Dyego Sousa is a striker that could be the target of many a side. He would undoubtedly prove an outstanding signing for a very good second tier team among Europe's elite footballing nations, or even a lower level top division outfit.
Indeed, the imposing, physical striker has spent several years in the Portuguese league now, dating back to 2013, and has really found his feet at Braga this season, having already got himself an impressive 10 goals in 13 league games - in addition to three assists - and is actually currently the league’s top scorer, ahead of star players such as Moussa Marega of Porto and Bas Dost of Sporting. He has, surely, been the best striker in Portugal this season - and yet he remains largely an unknown quantity across the continent.
It’s time to put that to an end. With his goals crucial in helping Braga become early-season title challengers, the credit he deserves cannot be overstated.
Now 28, Diego Sousa should be entering his prime, and if he can continue his good form based on good finishing, anticipation and physicality, he would undoubtedly prove an excellent acquisition for many clubs in Europe.
Tozé (Vitoria de Guimarães)
Tozé was reportedly attracting a wealth of interest from several clubs from around Europe in the summer, many of which were top sides in their respective countries. Maccabi Tel Aviv from Israel were one such example, while Europa League competitors Qarabag from Azerbaijan, who were in Sporting’s group in the competition, were also keen on his signature.
But perhaps most impressively of all was that Serbia's Red Star Belgrade, who competed in the Champions League this season, even beating Liverpool in the process, were also reportedly interested in signing the midfielder in the transfer window.
But Guimarães are attempting to build something quite special at the club, having also signed the likes of Andre Andre and João Teixeira, players who arrive with substantial reputations, and were not willing to let the 25-year old, who was on loan at Moreirense last season, leave.
However, money talks, and clubs from all across Europe could get their hands on the diminutive playmaker if they're willing to pay the price. An exceptional signing for a division two club in the likes of Spain, England and Italy, Tozé is also good enough for a side in a lower ranked top flight domestic league, as seen by the interest from Maccabi and Red Star, and he could potentially even hack it in the English Premier League.
His size may come across as a real limiting factor though; for a central midfielder, he very much lacks the physicality you would want from a player plying their trade in the likes of the English top flight, but he makes up for it with great technical ability, possessing great movement and control of the ball.
That said, the Spanish league is perhaps more suited to him.
Claudio Ramos (Tondela)
Claudio Ramos is almost certainly a lesser known name on the international scene, but having earned an international call-up with Portugal several times this season, his stock has surely risen significantly. And anyone who has seen his performances for Tondela in recent times will surely struggle to disagree with his inclusion in the side.
Now 27, Ramos has played for Tondela 194 times, and has been instrumental in helping his side defy the odds and survive relegation from the Primeira Liga in each of the past three seasons. With impressive reflexes and shot-stopping, Ramos is an excellent goalkeeper that could prove an outstanding signing for anyone who takes a punt on him.
He has started and finished every single one of Tondela’s 12 league matches this season and, while he has only kept a single league clean sheet this whole campaign, his efforts have been vital in keeping the scoreline low and giving Tondela a fighting chance at victory in several games this season.
It's difficult to pinpoint the level of team that may choose to sign him, but he would surely prove a great success for an English Championship side.
Shoya Nakajima (Portimonense)
It would have been something of a crime not to include Nakajima on this list, such was his level of performance last term for Portimonense. His dribbling ability was a sight to behold, and his incredible end product was the like of which we had rarely seen for a lower-level club in Portugal's top flight.
Indeed, Nakajima earned himself a scarcely believable 10 goals and 12 assists in just 29 league outings last season as he almost single-handedly led his newly promoted side to a comfortable midtable position, and unsurprisingly his loan move from FC Tokyo quickly became a permanent transfer to Portimonense - for a fraction of his true value.
And his incredible efforts for Portimonense have not gone unnoticed, with Nakajima since earning 2 senior caps for Japan, scoring 1 goal for his country in the process, and he only narrowly missed out on a spot in Japan's World Cup squad.
This season he took some time to get to the heights he did last campaign, but after scoring twice and bagging an assist against Guimarães - before then leading Portimonense to an impressive 4-2 victory over Sporting, finding the back of the net a further two times while also getting two more assists - he has finally started to show his true capabilities yet again - and in style. His raw ability is undeniable, clear for all to see, and it would come as a great surprise if he remained at Portimonense for much longer.
At this point, a race for his signature is very much on the cards. With none of the big three in Portugal signing him due to the high valuation he currently possesses, something in excess of a whopping 40 million euros, his reputation on the continental stage remains fairly low, and could open the door for a lower reputation team to come in and bring him in before the big sharks of Portuguese - and European - football get their hands on him.
He could certainly cope with a prestigious move to the Premier League or La Liga, there is absolutely no doubt about that, although the door remains open for any side across the continent to come in and grab a real gem of a player from under the noses of Europe’s most prestigious clubs.
Andre Andre (Vitoria Guimarães)
Andre Andre only joined Guimaraes this summer in a surprise transfer from Porto. A well known name on Portuguese shores, Andre Andre first joined Porto in 2015, signing from Guimaraes for a fee of around 1.5 million euros. Now returning to the club, he is once again thriving.
Andre Andre did have a good career at Porto though, notching up 94 appearances across just three seasons, providing 8 goals and 12 assists in the process from central midfield. He even has Champions League experience, having played in the elite competition 12 times in total.
His final season for the reigning champions was a disappointment though, where he played just 330 minutes of football in the Primeira Liga, spread across 13 matches.
A move back to Guimaraes therefore seemed like the perfect solution, for both club and player, and it really has turned out to be a perfect match, with Andre Andre a crucial player in their midfield, scoring 6 goals and bagging 2 assists in just 11 league matches. He has been instrumental in helping the club to maintain 5th place in Portugal’s top flight.
Now 29, Andre Andre may not be as young as some of the other names on this list, but the experienced former Portugal international still has a lot to offer many decent clubs across the continent.
Ricardo Esgaio (Braga)
The versatile right-sided player was a key player in Braga’s brilliant season last campaign, helping the club to the Europa League round on 32 with his defensive and offensive ability, as well as an exceptional points tally in the league, where they more than held their own against the Big Three of the league domestically. And he’s started this season in similar vein.
The 25-year old former Portugal U21 international can play as either a right back or a right winger, utilised more often than not as the latter for Braga.
Having featured in 30 league matches last season, chipping in with 4 goals and 10 assists, he has since played all but 12 minutes of Braga’s league campaign this time around, very much cementing his place in the starting eleven just in front of right back Marcelo Goiano.
His positional awareness, excellent crossing ability and consistent level of performance makes him an ideal right midfielder, while his versatility to play further forward or in defence means that he could be of great use to many top division sides.
Carlos Vinicius (on loan at Rio Ave)
Carlos Vinicius has been a truly tremendous addition to the Rio Ave squad. Joining the Portuguese outfit on loan at the start of the season from Italian giants Napoli, he has lived up to everyone’s expectations.
He has now found the back of the net for the club on 11 separate occasions - and that’s despite the fact that he has only played 12 games all season. A tremendous return for the 23-year old.
Six of those goals have come in the league, in which he has only played 8 games, again a scarcely believable record for the Brazilian, while he has also picked up a league assist too.
Indeed, overall, Vinicius has found the back of the net once every 75 minutes this season, and has shown pace, technical ability and an obvious keen eye for goal. Whether Napoli would be interested in selling him after such a bright start to the season is another matter, but he is certainly one to watch out for - and sign.
Davidson (Vitoria Guimarães)
It would also be unacceptable to look past Andre Andre’s teammate Davidson when considering the top lower league players in Portugal. Competing with some top quality footballers for a starting place at Guimaraes, including the likes of Ola John, Toze and Joao Carlos Teixeira, Davidson has well and truly cemented a place for himself in the starting lineup.
Having arrived at the club from Chaves this summer, Davidson has played in every single one of Vitoria’s 12 league matches this season, and has grabbed three goals and 4 assists in the process.
But it’s not just his goal contribution that has been impressive; his flair and creativity on the wing has been a sight to behold, the 27-year old winger always looking lively.
He could prove a cheap and very shrewd acquisition for many clubs across the continent.
Alhassan Wakaso (Vitoria Guimarães)
With Guimaraes sitting 5th in the table, it is no surprise that yet another of their players feature on this list. In fact, you could probably name about 10 players to keep an eye based just on Guimaraes alone!
But Wakaso makes this list simply due to his sheer consistency from defensive midfield. The tenacious 26-year old is not afraid to commit to a challenge to try and break up attacks, while also possessing the pace to track back for recoveries.
He may not be the biggest of centrebacks, but he still possesses the physicality to play in that holding midfield role, and his reading of the game more than makes up for it.
Tiago Silva (Feirense)
The final player on this list is Feirense’s Tiago Silva. Another central midfielder, Silva is a crucial player for the Portuguese minnows, having played the full 90 minutes in each of Feirense’s 13 league matches so far this season.
Feirense’s number 10 showed his capabilities in the first match of this season, taking the ball down from outside the box and firing the ball into the top corner, the Feirense keeper only able to watch on as it flew by him, before then playing an inch-perfect delivery from a deep free-kick to assist the second goal of the game. His keen eye for goal and exquisite passing range were summed up in one single match, while he even showed the tenacity and desire fans look for in a player, tracking back to help defensively when required.
The 25 year old has the movement and dribbling ability one looks for in a playmaker, and deserves an opportunity at a higher level.