The depth in the Portugal national pool is the like of which we've never seen before
Whether this is the greatest Portugal team we've ever witnessed is certainly up for debate. What surely cannot be disputed, though, is that the depth in the national team is on a scale we've never experienced before in Seleção history.
With world-class options in every position on the pitch, Portugal not only have a terrific starting eleven, but a very strong bench - and almost an equally strong reserves.
Portugal's very best starting lineup is the source of much disagreement - which in itself is a great sign of the health of the national team. Further to that, the 23-man squad that Fernando Santos should elect for is also the cause of debate among fans and pundits alike. And it's not a case of picking the best from a bad bunch, but rather a case of having to leave some top-quality players at home as a result of not being able to accommodate all of the talent at our disposal.
A perfect example
Case in point is Nelson Semedo. You would assume that it is a forgone conclusion that a right back who plays regularly for Barcelona, one of the greatest teams in world football, would be assured of a place in the starting XI of any national team. Nelson, though, isn't even able to make the squad.
In fact, the last time the former Benfica defender played for Portugal was back in 2017 in a friendly match against USA.
There's been a lot said about the progress Semedo has made this season, the 25-year old having played 28 games for Barcelona so far this campaign, but even the most avid gambler would hesitate to put their life on Semedo getting a call-up to the latest Portugal squad, let alone start.
That's, of course, due to the sheer depth Portugal have at right back. With João Cancelo showing his best at Juventus, Cedric Soares now at Italian giants Inter Milan, Ricardo Pereira performing admirably at Leicester City, and even Diogo Dalot impressing at Manchester United, the competition has never been greater.
And of course it's not just right back where such 'problematic' decision-making is required. With Portuguese footballers dispersed across the continent to a level we've never really seen before, the national pool is swelling beyond anticipated capacity.
Players are currently plying their trade in vast numbers in the top flights of the world's greatest footballing nations; from Spain to Germany, England to Italy, France to Greece - and of course Portugal - you'll be hard pushed to not find a handful of Portuguese stars setting up camp in any given nation.
And it's not just that they're competing in these very strong domestic leagues, but they're also playing for some of the biggest clubs in each respective nation. Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona, Manchester City, Manchester United, Juventus, Inter Milan, Monaco, Porto, Benfica and Sporting are home to some of Portugal's current talent - and that's not to mention the significant Portuguese contingents that are growing at the likes of Wolves, Lille and Olympiakos, all of which are performing very well domestically, Wolves and Lille particularly.
Fernando Santos is spoilt for choice - and there's a multitude of reasons for it.
1. Portugal's elite clubs have continued to invest in youth development
A huge debt of gratitude is owed to Sporting for some of the current stars of the national team. The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani famously came through their academy - even João Moutinho started out his career at the Lisbon club before moving to Porto - and following them are João Mario, William Carvalho, Rui Patricio, Gelson Martins and Rafael Leão, to name just a few.
Benfica also helped produce a significant number of Benfica's top players, including Bernardo Silva, João Cancelo, Gonçalo Guedes, Renato Sanches and Ruben Dias. And that's only going to continue, with Benfica putting a huge amount of emphasis on developing from within.
With the likes of Florentino Luis, João Felix, Gedson Fernandes, Ferro and João Filipe set to play for Benfica much note frequently in the coming months, there's a great deal of excitement about the next generation of Portuguese talent, some of whom already look capable of making the step up to the senior national team.
The focus on youth development has already shown its potential impact on the Portugal national team. In fact, the current group of U20 players lifted both the U17 and U19 European Championship.
A single generation to win two consecutive European trophies is an enormous achievement that only the very best group of players manage to achieve. There is therefore great optimism going forward for Portugal.
2. The Jorge Mendes effect
Jorge Mendes. Those abroad seem to have a love-hate relationship with the Portuguese superagent, depending, of course, on whether he seems to help your club, or your rivals. He's either seen as something of an icon, or a symbol of everything that's wrong with the modern game.
In any case, Portugal do have Jorge Mendes to thank for a fair bit of the globalisation of Portuguese football. With his emergence as the most famous football agent in the world, he now has the perfect platform to get Portuguese talent all across the continent. And it's working a treat.
Partly responsible for building small groups of Portuguese contingents across several different countries, Mendes has had a direct impact on the amount of depth currently present in the national pool.
Be it Wolves in England, Monaco and Lille in France, Valencia and Deportivo in Spain, Lazio in Italy, and Olympiakos in Greece, Mendes has had at least some involvement in the transfer activity of each of these clubs, and they are all generally doing a good job as a result.
Many of the players at these clubs may not be regulars in the national team, although many are - in fact, across all the aforementioned clubs, at least Rui Patricio, João Moutinho, Ruben Neves, Gelson Martins, Rony Lopes, Jose Fonte and Gonçalo Guedes have to be considered seasoned professionals, having represented their nation several times - and that's not even mentioning Rafael Leão, who looks set to become a Portugal regular in the very near future.
While the others at these clubs aren't yet key players for the country, they still constitute incredibly talented footballers that gives manager Fernando Santos even more choice when it comes to selecting his squads.
And of course, Mendes isn't limited to these clubs. With a wealth of Portuguese talent on his books, he's overseen some of the biggest transfer involving Portuguese players in recent history. Bernardo Silva from Benfica to Monaco and Monaco to Manchester City, Nelson Semedo from Benfica to Barcelona, João Cancelo from Benfica to Inter and Inter to Juventus, Gonçalo Guedes from Benfica to PSG and PSG to Valencia, Andre Gomes from Benfica to Valencia and Valencia to Barcelona - and that's just Benfica players! The list goes on. His influence is indisputable.
3. The high standard of Portuguese managers
But of course a good agent is only as good as his players. And his players are generally of very high quality, due to the faith that Portuguese coaches show in them from a young age and the general education they get in their respective academies.
And Portuguese managers are well educated too. Some of the finest young coaches in football happen to be Portuguese, and it's not a coincidence.
Following in the path of Jose Mourinho, we have the likes of Paulo Fonseca, Leonardo Jardim, Nuno Espirito Santo, Sergio Conceicão, Abel Ferreira, Bruno Lage, Marco Silva and Pedro Martins. And don't forget Andre Vilas-Boas either, who is expected to make a return to football management in the near future.
Having good managers scattered across Europe makes the signing of Portuguese players even more likely, as we've seen that at Monaco, Wolves and Olympiakos. Even Marco Silva at Everton elected to bring in Andre Gomes, while Jose Mourinho brought in Diogo Dalot, who has impressed the United faithful when given a chance.
Recipe for success
All of these aspects come together to make an incredibly strong national team with depth in every position. To give another example, one position that has been worrying Seleção fans in recent years is centreback. With Pepe, Jose Fonte and Bruno Alves ageing, their successors have been unclear for a while now.
But, with the emergence of both Ruben Dias and Ferro from Benfica's academy, two players who have forged an impressive partnership for Benfica in recent weeks, there's renewed hope that the age-old centreback issue will soon resolve itself. And that's not to mention Daniel Carriço at Sevilla or Pedro Mendes at Montpelier, who have both impressed this season. And don't write off Jose Fonte either, the 35-year old having been exceptional for Lille this campaign. And with Tiago Ilori back at Sporting, the door opens for him to potentially make the step up to the national team. Ilori's teammate Andre Pinto has looked equally competent when he's been given a chance this season too.
And then there are further promising youngsters about to burst onto the scene in the Primeira Liga. Diogo Leite, aged 20, looks like he has all the attributes for a top-class centreback, while João Queiros, 19, is also showing promise at Sporting.
The depth Portugal currently have in their ranks is frightening - and long may it continue.