Ruben Neves: Young Portuguese international making his mark in the Championship
It hasn't taken long for Ruben Neves to show his class in the Championship. The 20-year-old midfielder, signed from Porto for £15.8m in the summer, has already made a significant impact at Wolves, impressing in Nuno Espirito Santo's side's victories over Middlesbrough, Derby and Hull, the latter of which featured a superb goal from the Portugal international.
FourFourTwo returns to a player we first profiled in 2015 to see whether he's begun to fulfil the potential he demonstrated as an 18-year-old, and evaluate just how big a coup Wolves have made by securing his signature.
Goal at 2:01
The story so far
Neves continued his record-breaking streak in 2015, becoming the youngest player to captain Porto in the Champions league in October
Born in a district near to Porto, Neves joined the club youth academy at the age of eight. He quickly progressed through the youth ranks and was called up to senior training in July 2014, bypassing both the U19 and reserve team levels.
From there, the midfielder would go on to break a number of club records: in August 2014 Neves became Porto’s youngest ever scorer in the Primeira Liga - on his debut, no less - and five days later became the club’s youngest Portuguese player to appear in the Champions League, in a play-off tie against Lille.
Following a spell on the sidelines with injury, Neves continued his record-breaking streak in 2015, becoming the youngest player to captain Porto in the Champions League in October - a record previously held by Rafael van der Vaart - and then becoming the youngest player to appear in more than 50 games later that year.
It wasn't all positive, though. The 2016/17 season, when Porto were managed by current Wolves boss Nuno, wasn't a successful one for Neves, who made just nine starts in all competitions. Prior to that campaign Neves was being touted as the next big thing, with Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City all supposedly keeping a close eye on him, but competition from Danilo Pereira for his preferred defensive midfield slot saw him drop down the pecking order.
Nuno was relieved of his duties in May, before becoming Wolves head coach just nine days later. With a little help from super-agent Jorge Mendes, the former goalkeeper was able to bring Neves with him, as the player sets about enhancing his reputation in England's second tier.
In more general terms, a stint as Porto captain at the age of 18 suggests leadership qualities and a strong character
As he showed against Hull, Neves's greatest strengths are his technical ability and distribution. He plays with a maturity that belies his youth, and his intelligent positioning and accurate passing have led to comparisons with Sergio Busquets. Tactically astute, Neves reads the game in such a way that he's almost always available to receive the ball and improve his team's shape in possession, although he has some way to go to reach the level of the Barcelona man.
Neves showed in the summer that he has built on the promise shown in his early days at Porto, playing a key role for Portugal's U21s at the European Championship. The 20-year-old played his usual game of alternating between splitting the centre-backs and helping his team build up from the back, and moving slightly higher to combine with his fellow midfielders.
“People talk about his technical and tactical talent, but Ruben Neves has extraordinary talent in terms of his mentality," former Porto B coach Luis Castro said in 2014. "He plays the game with incredible calmness and knows what each passage of play asks of him.”
Neves contributes defensively, too, having shown himself to be adept at pressing with intensity and dropping back to cover team-mates who have joined the attack. In many ways, he looks like the perfect modern, defence-minded midfielder.
In more general terms, a stint as Porto captain at the age of 18 suggests leadership qualities and a strong character, traits which may prove invaluable as Wolves attempt to return to the Premier League.