Portugal have emerged as one of the most prominent and efficient producers of young, exciting talent in recent times, and have solidified their position as one of Europe’s elite national outfits after an extended period devoid of notable success.
Indeed, the nation have won two major honours in their history – the 2016 European Championships and the 2019 Nations League – and with both coming within the past five years, this is a reflection of the influx of fresh talent that has no notion of ceasing.
Amidst the more high-profile names - the likes of Joao Felix, Florentino Luis, and Francisco Trincao - there is a plethora of talent bursting to be unleashed, and with Wolverhampton Wanderers' prodigy Vitinha dazzling at the 2021 Under-21 European Championships, it may merely be a matter of time before a new star is born.
A young Portuguese prodigy
Vitor Machada Ferreira, commonly known as Vitinha, was born in the vibrant Portuguese city of Povoa de Lanhoso, a district of Braga, on February 13, 2000. From here, Vitinha discovered a love for football from an early age, as well as his own innate ability when contributing to the game.
At the age of 11, Vitinha made a monumental leap in his budding career and signed for FC Porto, progressing commendably through one of Europe’s most esteemed youth systems and honing the qualities that were recognised when assessing the players potential.
Aside from one successful youthful loan spell at Padronese FC during the 15/16 campaign– a club comfortably set in Portugal’s second division – the entirety of Vitinha’s career, prior to signing for Wolves, had been spent nurturing his abilities at one of Portugal’s most eminent clubs.
In the 2019/20 campaign, Vitinha made his breakthrough into the first-team action, making 12 appearances as Porto clinched their 29th league title and won the Taca de Portugal, the countries annual premier knockout tournament, to finish a commendable season and add to a distinguished and elaborate history.
Despite playing a largely peripheral role throughout the season, Vitinha’s dynamism and tenacity was recognised, with such ability warranting the attention of Wolves' head coach Nuno Espirito Santo, and a transfer swiftly materialised ahead of the 20/21 season.
Staking his claim on English football
Vitinha joined the Midlands club last summer, signing on an initial season-long loan with the option of a permanent deal brought into fruition through a release clause rising from a reported fee of £13m.
To date, Vitinha has only made two league starts throughout the duration of his current spell at the club, but this by no means undermines the brimming potential that this young prodigy possesses, with the 21-year-old exhibiting plenty of promise, as well as a knack for developing his game at an applaudable rate.
The Portuguese star has dazzled at times during his tenure in England and has left much to be anticipated, notably scoring an emphatically thunderous effort from 35 yards out in the FA Cup, against lowly opposition Chorley FC.
Such a strike would have likely outfoxed a goalkeeper of any calibre, such was the sheer brilliance of the effort as it swerved with guile to nestle into the top-right corner of the net, and imminently Vitinha had announced himself to the English scene.
The goal had undoubtedly captivated supporters and left them eager for more sumptuous efforts, but the crux of Vitinha’s game remained far more simplistic, dictating the flow of the match and affecting proceedings with a diverse range of passing and dribbling runs.
According to leading statistical football site WhoScored, Vitinha has maintained a pass success rate of 91.4% across all competitions this season, registering one goal and assist apiece across just five starts.
The abundance of suitable qualities, coupled with the knowledge that the young Portuguese player matches the philosophy of his current club, surely leaves no question that a permanent deal should be pursued in order for Vitinha to maximise his potential on the pitch.
A wealth of international pedigree
Vitinha has become something of a regular in the Portuguese under-21 national team over a number of years, accumulating valuable experience that will leave him in good stead when making the veritable climb onto the elite stage, with aspirations of playing at the pinnacle of international football.
Recently, the player has risen to prominence after demonstrating remarkable performances for the side, putting in exemplary shifts at the centre of a talented team to top a challenging group consisting of Croatia, Switzerland and England.
Portugal dispatched of each opposition with relative ease, scoring six times and shipping none at the other end, winning all three games in the process as the surging pursuit for further youth-level success commences as the knockout phase takes centre-stage.
Here, Vitinha shone as he was utilised in the centre of a talented team to exhibit box-to-box attributes key to the efficiency of the buoyant youth squad. In each outing, Vitinha orchestrated the offensive manoeuvres, collecting the ball from deep, driving forward and continually recycling possession.
The standout performances on offer against daunting opposition left viewers in awe as it became apparent that a new prospect had materialised and entered the fray, with each showing receiving acclaim for the variety of playmaking, defensive commitment and ‘box-to-box abilities.
In the second match of the tournament, against a woeful and underperforming England side, Vitinha excelled as he overcame players of supposed top calibre and finish with a comprehensive 2-0 victory.
Emile Smith-Rowe, Tom Davies and Oliver Skipp were overrun in the opposing midfield, and Vitinha showed just why he should be considered when discussing the footballing prodigies set to imminently announce themselves at the forefront of elite-level competition.
Once again, in the final game of the group stage, Vitinha was instrumental as he provided a precise looping assist for Diogo Queiros merely minutes in before calmly instilling authority into his side's execution, completing a passing accuracy of over 90% in his 73 minutes on the pitch.
After the culmination of the group stage, UEFA named Vitinha as Portugal’s ‘Group Stage Star’ after starting each match, making six key passes and providing one assist as Portugal picked up maximum points without conceding a goal.
The perfect club for honing his craft
Vitinha has often been likened to teammate Joao Moutinho, and will no doubt seek to emulate the commendable and distinguished career that his compatriot has forged at the heart of a number of brilliant football teams.
The player was positioned deeper than usual throughout the current international campaign, and from this deep-lying position, he was able to display his vast array of qualities that have eluded many viewers who have paid attention to his blossoming career to date.
Moutinho has achieved a number of admirable feats across his professional career, winning major tournaments with his country and notably stunning the world to usurp Paris Saint-Germain to claim the French Ligue One throne in 16/17, and by perfecting his craft and refraining from overcomplicating matters has set himself up for a meritorious retirement.
Learning from the veteran on a regular basis will serve Vitinha well, and with fellow compatriot Ruben Neves also at Wolves, the depth of Vitinha’s wealth of readily available tutelage only thickens further.
The ferocious pace of the Premier League can be the undoing for many young players looking to initiate their career and captivate fans across the country, but all too often a foreign prodigy will fail to unlock their potential in the division.
But for Vitinha, the Portuguese philosophy of his current club, Wolves, provides the perfect grounds for adapting to English football whilst remaining in the comfortable sanctuary of a club that allows a prodigious Portuguese starlet to prosper and find their feet.
At such an early stage of a promising career, it is important for fans of Wolves and Portugal to allow the player to nurture and develop his talents, but if the signs so far are to be considered, a permanent deal with the Midlands club would be an exciting proposition for Vitinha as he looks to cement his name into the forefront of Premier League action.