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New Ronaldo? Why Man Utd, Chelsea are chasing Carlos Mane

The new Nani. The best since Ronaldo. Better than Bruma. The accolades have been raining down on Sporting Lisbon teen Carlos Mane this season.

Not bad for a player who, after making his first team debut midway through last season, was relegated back to Sporting's B team.

Having just turned 20, Mane has been with Sporting since he was six years of age. But it's only this season that he's been given an extended chance at senior level. And the winger hasn't looked back.

Mane has looked a natural, drawing comparisons with former Sporting stars Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo - and quickly attracting the attention of Europe's biggest clubs. Manchester United, Barcelona, Chelsea and Inter Milan have all posted scouts to run the rule over Mane since the New Year, so forcing Bruno de Carvalho, the Sporting president, to hastily put together a new contract for the winger.

But while he's tied to Sporting until 2018, his contract bullet-proofed with a €45 million buyout clause, Mane remains high on the agenda of Europe's heavyweights. Barely a dozen games into his senior career, the midfielder is being pushed as a bolter for Paulo Bento's World Cup squad. And why not when you hear what some of Portuguese football's greats say about the player.

Former Sporting and Portugal midfielder Mario Jorge declared: "Mane is a player with excellent technique and speed, very similar to Nani.

"He has a long way to go and we need to give him time.

"Sporting must protect his development."

Former Sporting youth chief David Goncalves also remarked: "I've known him for many years. I was with him in the beginning and followed his career.

"I am not surprised by his rise. He is a team player with an excellent and evolutionary process. He has great quality.

"The main features of him is the character of a simple, humble, hardworking and ambitious person."

Goncalves, who now works in Spain with Real Cartegena, added "He's a creative, technical and intelligent player. He can play on both the flanks and in the middle. He's a modern attacker."

At Sporting, Goncalves also worked with Bruma, now of Galatasaray.

He added: "Bruma may be quicker, but not by much and Carlos Mane is the better finisher. Also, Bruma isn't as versatile, nor does he have the skills of Mane to get out of tight areas."

As Goncalves suggests, for all the enthusiasm about Mane's potential below the senior squad, the path to the first team appeared blocked - until coach Leonardo Jardim started taking a serious interest.

"When I was hired as Sporting coach, among my functions outlined was to foster youth development. Mane is one of them. Sporting has developed excellent players, others have to be developed - like Mane - and we have to appreciate that.

"Sporting is among the best academies in the world," said Jardim earlier this season.

Jardim is quick to shield his protégé from the glare of the media spotlight. The pair are close and it was Jardim who was the first from Sporting to put a protective arm around Mane when his father's past broke in the local press.

Earlier this year, there were press reports that Mane's father was suspected of alleged drug trafficking. Though the pair do not have a father-son relationship, Mane's success with Sporting this season meant the news made the front and back pages.

"I'm saddened by this kind of news," said Jardim when the reports emerged in February. "Mane's father has been out of the country for over a year and only now is remembered because Mane is scoring goals and is in the first team, but this will not influence him.

"Mane grew up in a tough neighborhood and learned to overcome the difficult environment in which he lived. He is an example to the youth squads at the Academy.

"He's a great professional and he won't let this news unsettle him."

Jardim's words have since rung true, with Mane now firmly established as a first-choice and a big influence on Sporting's late run for Champions League qualification. Calls for a World Cup call-up have grown louder and the comparisons with Real Madrid star Ronaldo won't go away.

But listening to Mane discuss Ronaldo, the similarities are more than just tricks and flicks.

"Cristiano Ronaldo is above everyone. He's an example for all players, because he works like nobody else. He is the greatest talent we (Portugal) have, but he is also the hardest trainer," reflected Mane.

"My goal is to continue to improve, work hard ... and become the best player ever."

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Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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