TugaScout is an English-language site reporting on matters associated with Portuguese football by freelance writer Alex Goncalves, offering the latest news, reviews and opinions surrounding the Portuguese League and the Seleção players based abroad.

Portugal's trio of ageing centrebacks are still going strong

Portugal's trio of ageing centrebacks are still going strong

There's often an argument that there is something of a defensive issue in Portuguese football, with the mainstay central defenders now approaching retirement and their successors lacking international experience.

However, as the years roll by, Portugal's three veteran centreback, who have been so important to the Seleção over the last decade, are still performing to an exceptionally high standard on a weekly basis. 

Pepe, 36, is still involved in the national team, having forged a terrific partnership with his much younger compatriot Ruben Dias (21).

Pepe began the season at Besiktas and had an excellent campaign for the Turkish club, playing 16 times across all competitions, including in the Europa League.

He would have played even more but for a muscle injury he suffered towards the end of 2018. 

Nevertheless, Pepe showed his defensive solidity regularly for Besiktas, and even chipped in with 5 goals and 3 assists in his time there towards the start of this season.

However, after Besiktas ran into financial trouble, Pepe agreed to have his contract terminated, making him a free agent just before the January transfer window.

After a two-way battle between Monaco and Porto to get his signature, it was the latter that won, bringing in their former centreback to bring a tinge of romance back to football. Reunited after a 12-year separation.

Having played in the Turkish top fight, Pepe moved onto the Portuguese top fight, and has been equally useful, if not more so; having already played 12 games for the club this season, he has played the entire match on 11 of those occasions, including 2 outings that went into extra time.

That's 1108 minutes of football in the space of less than 2 months for the veteran defender, who played a crucial role in helping Porto advance to the quarter final of the Champions League, making a match saving goal-line clearance in extra time shortly before Alex Telles won the match from the penalty spot.

Pepe isn't the only veteran defender that is performing to an exceptionally high standard though, with Jose Fonte also having a terrific time in the French top fight. In fact, it's been an extraordinarily good season for the 35-year old. 

Having joined Lille at the start of the season, Fonte was almost immediately put into the starting eleven and in a team that boasts an impressive number of Portuguese players, he has played 25 of Lille's 27 Ligue 1 matches.

His leadership and defensive awareness has been regularly on show, his presence so important to help the younger members of the squad, and the manager has offered high praise for the 36-time international.

Indeed, despite only arriving at the club at the start of the season, Fonte has already been made captain 9 times this season, a nod to how much experience, as well as ability, he offers the club. 

Many thought his career was pretty much over when he decided to move to China and Dalian Yifang last February, but the centreback has made a terrific return to European football, testament to his character, and has every chance of playing for his country again. 

And he isn't even the most impressive Portuguese defenders this season. The third veteran centreback on this list is now 37, and is still playing with incredible regularity in the Italian top fight.

Indeed, Bruno Alves has played every single match for Parma this season, with exception to the clash with Fiorentina, for which he was suspended.

Alves, like Fonte, is also the captain of his club despite having only arrived at the start of the season, and has been so impressive at the heart of defence for the Italian outfit. 

His defensive resilience was praised only yesterday, when he played a crucial role in helping Parma to a 1-0 victory against Genoa, while his outstanding long-range free-kick against Chievo early in the season still lives in the memory.

Three Portuguese legends, all between 35 and 37 years of age, still playing in the top flight of one of Portugal, France and Italy with incredible regularity. It's an astonishing accomplishment and shows just how brilliant they've been throughout their careers.

Bruno Alves. Photo author: Анна Нэсси. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en.

Bruno Alves. Photo author: Анна Нэсси. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en.

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