The 60-second story
Date of birth: January 19, 1993
Place of birth: Porto, Portugal
Height: 5ft 10in
Current club: Sporting (86 apps, 13 goals)
International: Portugal (8 caps, 0 goals)
Topping the list was an assurance that Joao Mario would not be sold. Mario had impressed in his first full season, becoming a regular for the Lisbon giants at just 21 years of age, and was already attracting interest from abroad.
Jesus was granted his wish. Ten months on, the reason why Jesus insisted on keeping the silky skilled midfielder has become crystal clear.
Mario has taken his game to the next level in 2015/16 in dazzling style. Blessed with wonderful technique, extraordinary football IQ and a selfless work rate, he has been one of the chief driving forces behind Sporting’s strong title challenge this season.
Why you need to know him
Mario does not have the height (5ft 10in), the build or the speed that many consider prerequisites of midfielders in modern-day football. That is precisely why it’s a delight to see the way he dominates matches, proving that exquisite technique and innate talent still have the beating of power football.
Mario has been directly involved in 13 goals for Sporting in 27 Primeira Liga matches (five goals, eight assists), but it’s the all-round quality of his play that has marked him out as the outstanding midfield performer in Portugal this season.
He has been deployed both as a central midfielder or wide right and has been equally effective in both positions, elegantly gliding around the pitch and quickening the pace of Sporting’s attacks or making sure possession is retained with sure touches of the ball with either foot.
Where to begin? Mario’s magnificent control, accurate distribution and faultless decision making ensures it’s almost impossible for the opposition to prise the ball away from him.
Mario teed up Cristiano Ronaldo for Portugal's second goal vs Belgium
He is adept at playing that lethal pass, whether a perfectly weighted through ball, a clever flick or a precisely delivered cross. As well as setting up his team-mates, he has an eye for goal himself and is the possessor of a powerful right-foot shot.Yet perhaps most impressive of all is his football intelligence allied to an unperturbable temperament, which enables him to display all the above talents in even the most frenetic of scenarios when time and space are at a premium. To top it all, he is a tireless worker, rarely staying still for a second.
Mario averages around one goal every six matches, and given the positions he gets himself into, he should find the net on a more regular basis.
Two beautifully taken goals before the international break suggest it may be a transitory weakness. Although not part of his game, you can’t help but feel that a tad more aggression would work in his favour.
“It’s said that from the neck downwards they are all good players, but from the neck upwards only some are,” said Tiago Capaz, Sporting youth coach and the first at the club to work with Mario. “Joao has superb ability to read the game. I’ve no idea what his limit is. Week by week he gets better and better.”
Did you know?
Joao Mario, along with his older brother Wilson Eduardo, who broke into the Sporting first team before his younger sibling (but now of Braga), both began their football careers at FC Porto.
When their mother relocated from Portugal’s second city to Lisbon in 2004 the kids headed south with her, swapping the Blue and White for the Green and White.
What happens next?
Reports have rumbled on for over a year that Atletico Madrid have been tracking Mario, and speculation that the Spanish giants will make a bid for him has intensified on the back of his brilliant form. But Manchester United and Inter have now also emerged as interested parties.
Sporting will be loath to lose Mario, especially if they fail to break their 15-year barren spell without a domestic championship triumph this season, which explains why they recently gave him an improved and extended contract to 2020, with a €60m release clause written into it.
Nevertheless, should he transpose his outstanding club form to the international arena at Euro 2016, it’s not unthinkable that someone will pay it.
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