Porto's youthful class of 2019: The stars in the making
Porto are the Champions of the UEFA Youth League for the first time ever, thanks to a stunning 3-1 victory over Chelsea in Nyon.
With it, they become the first ever Portuguese side to lift the Champions League equivalent for the U19s, and there entire tournament has both confirmed and unearthed some huge talents to watch out for.
From back to front, every player put in a terrific shift for Porto, showing off their impressive technical ability and work ethic both on and off the ball.
Here, we take a look at some of the stars of the future:
No better place to start than the phenomenal attacking midfielder. Operating in that role just behind the striker, Baró has been a sensation all campaign, and his stats really don't lie.
10 games. 6 goals. 4 assists.
His record in this tournament is second to none, directly involved in a goal a game as he has shown his impeccable link-up play, his impressive quick feet, and his goalscoring ability.
The free-kick he scored against Hoffenheim in the semi-final of the competition still lives in the memory:
And that’s not all he did in the tournament. With quick feet and good strength on the ball, Baró was a constant thorn in many a side as he operated that shadow striker role to perfection.
One assist that particularly highlights his quality on the ball came in the quarter final against Midtjylland, a match which Porto ultimately won 3-0. That assist Afonso Sousa’s goal was intricate, and showed the type of technical ability he possesses. He linked up with Afonso Sousa again in the final, carrying the ball forwards before unleashing his trademark backheel to set up Afonso Sousa, who guided the ball into the back of the net.
His two bullets against Schalke in the group stage also come to mind, proving just how effective he is in front of goal.
He perhaps isn’t your traditional attacking midfielder either; to go with his immense technical capacity and link-up play, he is also very willing to track back and help out with the defensive side of the game, while he also possesses decent strength and a good understanding of defensive positioning. It means he offers you that potency up front, very comfortable at darting into the box to join the striker, while he can then take up a more defensive position, as we saw many a time against Chelsea in the final.
Current reports indicate that Baro is likely to be promoted to the senior team next season - and if he makes any kind of impact that Joao Felix has made at Benfica, which seems highly likely, the 19-year old will very quickly become talk of the town, both in Portugal and across the continent.
He’s also no stranger for playing for his country, having represented Portugal at U15, U16, U17, U18 and, now, U19 level, for who he is the captain. In total, that’s 37 appearances for Portugal at youth level.
And his versatility has often been on show, Baro used not only in that attacking midfield role, but also in a deeper position closer to the backline, sometimes even deployed as a defensive midfielder, while he has also shown his ability to play on the wing in a 4-4-2. In essence, Baro can operate in any position in front of the defence, which is ideal for any coach.
Of all the players on this list, Baro seems the most capable to make that jump up to senior level, and more than hold his own.
A lot has been said about Fabio Silva, and it is easy to understand why. While he was somewhat quiet in the clash with Chelsea, he was so close to opening the scoring in the 15th minute after superbly rounding the keeper, only to see his shot fall short of crossing the finishing line, and his efforts in the Youth League overall have been highly impressive, with Silva chipping in with 5 goals and 4 assists in just 9 outings - an even better goal involvement to minutes played ratio than Romario.
9 games. 5 goals. 4 assists.
All of that, on its own, is a tremendous achievement for any young player. However, Fabio Silva is still just 16 years of age! That makes him 3, in some cases even 4, years younger than virtually every other player he is competing against in the UEFA Youth League, and yet still he is more than holding his own.
It’s not like he is right on the verge of turning to turn 17 either. Age 16 years and 8 months, the 2002-born Portuguese striker is undoubtedly one of the most exciting players to have ever come through any academy in the country; it is rare to see a 16 year old given the opportunity to play alongside players that are so much older, even rarer to see them do it regularly, and virtually unheard of to see them do as well as he has.
A lot has been said about the lack of out-and-out world-class strikers Portugal have had over the years. Currently leading the line is Andre Silva, who still to this day hasn’t lived up to expectations. Raphael Leao looks to be a quality player who could lead the line for many years, but Fabio Silva is most certainly a future Portugal international in the making.
Offering great movement, a good turn of pace, and the awareness and understanding on the pitch to link up with the players around him makes him an all-round quality striker, able to then follow that through with the composure in front of goal to find the back of the net more often than not - all while aged 16. It really is difficult to believe.
His goal against Hoffenheim in the Youth League semi-final really shows some of the qualities he offers, with a nice run through the defence, before having the discipline in front of goal to simply slot the ball into the far corner. Confident, quality, composed - the signs are looking good for Silva, who could also find himself being given a handful of chances for the main side next season.
That’s if Porto keep hold of him, of course. Indeed, it is no surprise that some of Europe’s elite - the likes of Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Arsenal etc. are already keen on bringing in the Portugal U17 international.
Diogo Queiros himself only played in 5 of Porto’s 10 Youth League matches this campaign, although ultimately the 20-year old was used when it mattered most, playing the entirety of each and every knockout round, from the round of 16 against Tottenham to the final against Chelsea.
Of all four of the knockout fixtures, Porto kept 3 clean sheets as they stormed their way to the final. And Queiros was undoubtedly a big part in that run, captaining the team to European glory, and scoring the goal that put Porto back in front in the final.
He is most certainly one of the oldest and most experienced players on this list, although still only 20 years of age, he has a tremendous future ahead of him.
One of the members of that illustrious group of Portuguese youth players that lifted both the U17 and U19 European Championship, Queiros now adds the UEFA Youth League to his trophy cabinet, making him one of the most decorated 20-year old footballers the world has ever seen. Very few players can match the awards he has won by the age of 20.
In fact, Queiros has represented Portugal U19s in the Euros on two separate occasions - in 2017 when they got all the way to the final, and then again in 2018, where they ultimately won the competition. He really has had a stellar career already.
While Diogo Queiros may have the more impressive trophy cabinet, Leite is still arguably the better all-round centreback, although it is close and they both do compliment each other nicely.
Leite, however, offers some additional technical ability, and has already represented the Porto senior team on 6 occasions, one of which was even in the Champions League against Galatasaray earlier this season.
He, like both Ruben Dias and Ferro at Benfica, is considered one of the star centrebacks for Portugal for the years to come, and it is no wonder. Being a great physical presence, as well as having great positional awareness, composure on the ball and excellent mobility for a defender, Leite is one player that is already first team ready.
One moment that particularly stands out from the final is his impeccable challenge inside the box, timed to absolute perfection to firmly and confidently win back the ball, which ultimately kick-started a counter-attack for Porto to pull 3-1 up.
Esteves is another player who really impressed this campaign. Playing right back, he looked defensively assured, happy to take on the attacking left winger in one-on-one duels, and ultimately most often came out on top.
His attacking prowess from deep was also on show, and really stood out against Chelsea in the final. As is so often a requirement from world-class full-backs in the modern game, bombing up and down the touchline is crucial, and he showed that throughout the clash with Chelsea, having defensive discipline when required, but also the technical ability to push forwards when given the opportunity.
His charge forward in the 15th minute ultimately caught Chelsea off-guard, the right-back drifting forwards before cutting inside and slotting in Fabio Silva, who so nearly found the back of the net.
He again bounded forwards in the second half, one particular moment standing out when he dribbled past several players before linking up with the players around him, illustrating the confidence and technical ability throughout the Porto team.
The 17-year old right back is another player who could be fighting for a place in the senior Porto team in the not-too-distant future.
The eighteen-year old winger was frequently used as a supersub in the Youth League, but what an impact he always seemed to have off the bench.
His quick feet and his confidence in possession makes him a real handful, and he ultimately bagged himself the final goal of the game against Chelsea in the final when he linked up well with Romario Baro to slot it past the keeper late on.
He is another promising player in the Porto youth team.
A terrific shot-stopper who generally has good command of his area, Costa is very much seen as the direct successor to Iker Casillas at Porto - and even Rui Patricio as the Portugal number one. Based on his performances in the Youth League, you can see why.
Age 19, Costa has been a regular for the Porto B team when not playing for the U19s, and kept 3 clean sheets in his 6 Youth League outings.
He’ll have been disappointed at being caught in no man’s land for Chelsea’s goal in the final, although ultimately big things are expected of the shot-stopper.