The 60-second story
Date of birth: August 18, 1997
Place of birth: Lisbon, Portugal
Position: Central midfield
Height: 5ft 8in
Club: Benfica (20 apps, 2 goals)
International: Portugal U19 (12 caps, 3 goals)
A lot of hope was pinned on the shoulders of Brazilian Anderson Talisca to galvanise Benfica's midfield, but his contribution to the Portuguese giants has dwindled in 2015/16. The 18-year-old Renato Sanches has stepped in, however, taken his opportunity and made the vacant position his own.
The young midfielder, who joined Benfica's youth side in 2006 when he was just nine years old, was introduced to the senior team in late October and has been a first choice ever since in central midfield. His rapid rise at such a young age has been admirable, and he's currently a part of Portugal's under-19 team trying to emulate their Under-21 European Championship-winning counterparts.
His impressive performances during his short time in the first team this season have earned him many potential suitors, with Manchester United reported to be frontrunners for his signature during the recent January transfer window.
Why you need to know him
Despite still being a teenager with virtually no top-level experience, Sanches has had a huge impact at Benfica since his introduction to the team. At the start of the campaign, the Portuguese giants were reeling from a disappointing start. Before Sanches's debut – a 4-0 win against Tondela on October 30 – the Aguias had only won eight of their opening 14 matches in all competitions.
But with the youngster in the team, Benfica have won 16 out of 19 games in all competitions. The Eagles have also conceded fewer goals (1.07 to 0.63 per game) and scored more (1.85 to 2.8 per game) with Sanches too, underlining just how quickly he's become a crucial component.
The Primeira Liga may not be among Europe's top leagues, but the 18-year-old's effectiveness in a title-challenging team is impressive. To add to his growing list of qualities, the Benfica man registered his first league goal for the club on December 4 against Academica – and what a strike it was.
Sanches thumps in a corking first goal
Benfica boss Rui Vitoria was full of praise for his young star, noting: "He has great maturity for his age and he's being protected by the players who work with him daily and help a lot."
Discussing the proposed interest from United, Vitoria added: "If things happen, they happen – everybody here knows how it is. There is no point to thinking in advance."
Sanches is a true box-to-box midfielder with terrific energy. His ability to link defence to attack has been crucial in Benfica's recent resurgence and enables his team to get up the pitch quickly.
His strength on the ball, despite his small stature, is combined with impressive footwork and an ability to manoeuvre himself out of tight spaces.
Another proactive run through midfield
The Lisborn-born youngster's athleticism means he's able to deputise in wider positions or as a No.10, while his strength and defensive nous enable him to play in front of the back four effectively. Accurate and powerful shots from long distance are part of his repertoire.
Due to his high-energy performances and robust style of play, Sanches can often be guilty of poor decision-making. His natural instincts tell him to drive forward as soon as the ball gets to his feet, which can often disrupt his team's tempo and surrender the ball to the opposition.
Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone was full of praise for Sanches after the midfielder played against his side in the Champions League group stage. "He has a strong shot and good vision for someone in his position. It's always nice to see good young players."
After his aforementioned goal against Academica, coach Vitoria hailed his man: "Renato was wonderful. A first start at Estadio da Luz for a young man is every player's dream. It was a great full home debut. Surely he will not forget this performance."
Did you know?
Despite only being a part of the Benfica first team since October 30, Sanches has a staggering €80 million buyout clause in his contract – inserted after the midfielder agreed a contract extension in late December 21 after a fine start to the season.
His deal expires in 2021, which means that if any of Europe's elite are interested in acquiring him they'll have to cough up some serious cash.
What happens next?
With Anthony Martial's transfer from Monaco last summer in mind, there's no reason to suggest that Manchester United won't spend big on another fine young talent – not least when Jorge Mendes is involved. But with other clubs reportedly keen, it seems Sanches won't be short of options.
In the meantime, though, the central midfielder will be focused on continuing his development at Benfica and trying to help the Lisbon club win yet another league title. With Euro 2016 just around the corner, the Eagles' newest kid on the block might be making a late beeline for inclusion.
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