Chelsea rewarded Benfica’s historic faith in youth by sending the Portuguese giants £107million to sign Enzo Fernandez at the start of the year. But Manchester United could be the next Premier League club to splash a nine-figure fee on one of As Aguias’ finest starlets.
According to Record, United are convinced about the signing of Joao Neves, a 19-year-old midfielder who has grabbed the attention of European football over the past year.
Fabrizio Romano adds that the Red Devils have sent scouts to watch Neves numerous times but would need to trigger the £103m release clause in his contract that runs until 2028 to lure him to Old Trafford.
Benfica are said to have no intention of losing the player who has been touted as ‘Bruno Fernandes 2.0’ in the January transfer window, but he could be firmly on United’s radar for next summer.
Express Sport has everything you need to know about Joao Pedro Goncalves Neves and what he would bring to Erik ten Hag’s long-term project.
Neves – born on September 27, 2004, in Tavira – joined Benfica’s illustrious youth setup in 2012, starting his meteoric rise through the ranks.
He signed his first professional contract in 2020, helping Benfica U19s win the UEFA Youth League two years later.
In August 2022, Neves made his professional debut for Benfica B but was primarily restricted to U23 appearances until he caught the eye of first-team head coach Roger Schmidt.
During the domestic break, while the 2022 World Cup took place in Qatar, Schmidt invited Neves to train with his senior squad. He handed him his Benfica debut in a 3-0 defeat to Braga in December that year.
Fernandez’s late move to Chelsea the following month cleared a path of opportunity, which Neves took with aplomb.
He hasn’t looked back since, making 38 appearances for Benfica and earning three Portugal caps, most recently in Sunday’s 2-0 win against Iceland in Euro 2024 qualifying.
An array of young talents have departed Benfica in big-money switches to European clubs down the years, including Ederson, Ruben Dias, Joao Felix and Darwin Nunez.
Neves could realistically be the next on the conveyor belt, with United reportedly positioning a pursuit that would likely make him the club’s record signing.
But what kind of player is he? Does he warrant the ‘Bruno Fernandes 2.0’ tagline? Well, yes. In fact, his best attributes almost make him a hybrid of Ten Hag’s two most high-profile midfielders, Fernandes and Casemiro.
Neves possesses an impressive level of physicality for his 5ft 7in frame, consistently winning aerial battles while using his blistering pace and agility to protect and progress the ball.
Across Europe’s top five leagues, Neves ranks in the 89th percentile for aerial duels won (meaning he is in the top 11 per cent of midfielders in that metric). He’s also in the 99th percentile for blocks and 94th percentile for tackles made.
Away from his defensive duties, Neves truly thrives in dictating the tempo of games by creating an action with the ball shortly after winning it. He is in the 88th percentile for pass completion and progressive passes completed.
The teenage star loves being in possession with the game in his hands, an impressive trait with such inexperience. He ranks in the 99th percentile for balls received and progressive carries.
Neves also creates 3.25 shot-creating actions, records a sensational 53.99 carries, and sits in the 98th percentile for fouls drawn at three per 90 minutes.
There is a debate to be had about whether Neves would require time to adapt to the Premier League, as Fernandez has at Chelsea. The likely answer is yes.
And that begs the question of whether United need to start focusing on players to make an impact now rather than in a few years.
But there is no doubt an exceptional player in Neves, who has the makings of the missing piece in Ten Hag’s unbalanced midfield.
Fernandes, who has flourished into the face of the Portugal national team during their perfect Euro 2024 qualifying campaign, has already endorsed Neves joining him at United.
“I would love to have him at United. He has top quality! But it’s Joao’s choice,” Fernandes said last week.
He added: “He’s a great player, but it depends on the coach’s ideas! He will have a great future, in United or somewhere else.” And given his stats, you can see why.