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Goncalo Guedes: Why Man Utd, Barcelona chasing Benfica's teen dazzler

It's no exaggeration. The career of Goncalo Guedes is absolutely skyrocketing.

The Benfica whizkid, in just a matter of months, has made his U21 debut with Portugal; Played and scored in the Champions League; Found himself on first name terms with Cristiano Ronaldo; And now is set to earn a first senior cap after joining Fernando Santos' squad this week.

Guedes' profile is exploding across Europe and around the world. At Manchester United, Louis van Gaal had scouts posted to see him against Galatasaray last week. In Spain, Barcelona and Real Madrid have registered their interest with his agent, Jorge Mendes (who else?). While Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone has conceded his admiration, declaring "I like the young Guedes".

This was all before Santos' decision to call up the 18 year-old for this week's friendlies.

"Seeing our players, and young people, summoned to the senior national team is of course a cause for satisfaction," says Rui Vitoria, the Benfica coach. "It is also a source of pride for this club, when you see a player who began here at nine years of age and now, perhaps prematurely, from the point of view of age, will be representing the senior team.

"It is recognition for the training we are doing. And I cannot say anything other than that we are pleased and proud."

Rui Vitoria isn't alone in declaring Guedes ahead of his time. Jorge Jesus, before leaving Benfica for Sporting CP, made the same claim last year.

"It is an honor to hear a renowned coach say I am two years ahead of my age, but honestly, nothing has changed me, I'm the same kid eager to learn in football," says Guedes.

It was only in June that Guedes was playing for Portugal in the U20 World Cup in New Zealand. Now, just six months later, he is practically auditioning for a place in Santos' Euro 2016 squad.

"It makes me very proud, recognition of a lifetime," smiles Guedes.

"Since I represented the U15 national team, it was a dream to reach the 'A' team. I was able to do enough to be called up and realize this dream."

Guedes' arrival at the Portugal team hotel on Monday created a great buzz, with observers claiming the teen drew the most attention not just from fans, but also senior teammates.

Continuing to reflect on Santos' selection, Guedes acknowledges his career has dramatically changed in just a few short months.

"I want to thank all my colleagues and the coaching staff, who have helped me to evolve since the beginning of the season.

"I know I have a long way to go, but I hope to meet the expectations going forward."

Mentioning that first international call with the U15s offers an insight into Guedes' character. Helena Costa, among his first junior coaches, keeps in touch with Goncalo and recalls a special gesture a then 15 year-old Guedes made.

"I was in Qatar and we'd speak via Facebook. One day he sends me a message saying: 'Mistera - that is how he referred to me - I have something for you'.

"What was it? The first sweater from his first international, I think the U16s. I was in Qatar, did not have much contact, but he sent the sweater, signed it and gave it to me. This proves the human character of him, the sense of gratitude. He was, and is, a very playful guy, very fun but very dedicated to conquer whatever is in front of him."

When Guedes makes his international debut in the coming days, Dad Rogerio will be pleased knowing the sacrifices were worth it.

Rogerio, like so many parents around the world, would drive Goncalo to and from training. Only, the difference was, the round trip was over 200km.

"We would've gone through three or four cars during that time," he now laughs. "It was an average of 60,000 kms per year, so we went through a number of cars."

He adds: "From a young child, he never wanted toys. Just a ball. He always walked with the ball - sometimes more than one! He was crazy."

That love of the game now has Guedes being compared with Real Madrid star Ronaldo and his name on the lips of the game's best and most powerful managers.

Describing Guedes' style of play is best left to Jorge Simao, the Pacos de Ferreira coach, whose team were demolished by Benfica earlier this season. Simao says they were well in the game, before Guedes stepped up.

"We were holding on, then their next goal was produced by the pure talent of a fantastic footballer. What comes to mind is the difference such an individual talent can make in an even contest."

For Rui Vitoria, the hype is justified, but he's warned his protégé there's still much in his game to improve - and an early split from Benfica would be a mistake.

"Gonçalo Guedes is a young man of quality. He is making his journey today doing well with his assists and goals. Of course, it is a pleasure to see a player grow in this way.

"But football is not only assists and goals. He needs to improve many things. He must remember that he is still growing."


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Chris Beattie
About the author

Chris Beattie

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