Portugal, A New Home for English Talent

In the last few hours, 16-year-old Benicio Boater-Bakey put pen to paper on a deal that sees him join FC Porto in a move that will see him initially link up with the Dragons youth sides, with an ultimate goal of promotion to the first team. Just two weeks ago the same club announced the arrival of Danny Loader, the 21-year-old ex-Reading man who also chose to look abroad, and more specifically, to Portugal, for more first-team chances.

(Danny Loader Image courtesy of FC Porto)

These two signings are just the latest in what has been a flurry of movement between England and Portugal in the last two seasons. Stereotypically, English players have previously been reluctant to move abroad and in the past, those players that have moved, tended to be more high profile players moving to huge clubs at the peak of their powers. However, there has been a significant shift in the past couple of years, English players are now choosing to move abroad at a much younger age with one thing in mind, playing time. The Bundesliga has benefited from this English exodus recently, giving playing time to the likes of Jadon Sancho, Reiss Nelson and Jonjoe Kenny, all three who had previously failed to play consistent football for their respective sides in England. Portugal, however, has never really been seen as a hotbed for young English talent, sure Benfica had it’s mini ‘English revolution’ for a year or two in the late ’90s but fast-forward to 2013, when Eric Dier stepped on to the pitch for Sporting CP, he was the only Englishman playing in the entire top flight. Eric’s case itself is a particularly strange one, this isn’t a player who had moved to Portugal in search of game time at 16 or 17 years of age, this was a player who had been raised in Portugal from a very young age and who came through the academy at Alcochete, before finally breaking into the first team.

Eric Dier was developed by Sporting CP’s famed academy, Alcochete.

What we are now seeing in Portugal is English players looking for game-time at a much younger age, with the ever-increasing influx of foreign footballers into England’s top flight, the pathway from youth academy to the first team is becoming increasingly crowded. Some of these talents, perhaps inspired by the success of those in Germany, are now wondering if they can forge a similarly successful path in Portugal, a country that is less physically demanding than England and will provide greater first-team opportunities than both the Premier League and the Bundesliga respectively. Both Danny Loader and Benicio Baker-Boatey are not yet expected to play for the first-team, Loader will go straight into FC Porto B whereas Baker-Boatey, who is just 16-years-old, will presumably feature initially for the youth sides. The fact that Baker-Boatey in particular, has moved to Porto at such a young age shows his hunger, he isn’t coming mid-way through his career solely for first-team action, he is coming at a much lower level in a country that will developed and mature his natural ability, only then when he is deemed ready, will he feature for the first-team. If he stays in Portugal throughout the rest of his youth career, we may and should see a playing style influenced by the Portuguese youth system, the blend between Portuguese flair and English steel. As Eric Dier once said, “But for me, if you get 50% Portuguese and 50% English, it really is the perfect mix.”

Marcus Edwards in action for VSC in the Europa League (Photo T-F images,/Getty Images)

Vitória Sport Clube, a historic club based in Guimarães boast three English talents among their ranks, all three of them have a similar story. Marcus Edwards, the prodigious former Golden Boy nominee who was frustrated and disappointed by his lack of game time, boasting just one Tottenham Hotspur senior appearance to his name (15′ v Gillingham in the EFL Cup), looked to Vitória SC, an ambitious outfit with dreams of competing in Europe. Edwards himself stated recently: “Obviously, I wanted to play for Tottenham more times than I did because that’s my childhood club, but I don’t dwell on it. I just move on.” And that is exactly what he has done, his first season in Portugal was a huge success, nine goals and nine assists in 36 games for Vitória was the reward for his hard work, perseverance and bravery to move abroad and try something new. It wasn’t long until his former club Spurs, as well as many others, became linked with big-money moves to bring Edwards back to the Premier League. Easah Suliman, the central defender who was part of England’s U19 European Championship success in 2017 is another Vitória man. With no clear pathway to Aston Villa’s first team following loans to Cheltenham, Grimsby and Emmen, he followed in the footsteps of Edwards and headed for Guimarães in the January transfer window of 2020. He was given game time toward the end of the season and took his chance to show his qualities both on and off the ball well and it is expected that he will be given even more chances next season. The newest English recruit for Vitória is 21-year-old attacking midfielder Jacob Maddox, part of the same England U17 team as Suliman and Edwards, Maddox struggled to breakthrough to Chelsea’s first-team, a treacherous path from youth to senior football that not many players have been able to successfully navigate in recent years. After loans to English clubs Southampton, Tranmere Rovers and Cheltenham, Maddox has left Chelsea permanently with Portugal as his chosen destination, all in the pursuit of first-team action.

Angel Gomes, like Marcus Edwards is a previous European Golden Boy nominee, will spend the season on loan in Portugal for Boavista FC following a permanent move from Manchester United to Lille OSC. Gomes is a player with business in both Portugal and England. He was born and raised in England, playing for United’s youth set-up since he was five, and is also the son of Gil Gomes, the former Portuguese youth international who was part of the historic side that won the U20 World Cup in 1991, as well as featuring in the top flight for both SC Braga and Estrela da Amadora. Angel is still just 20, has the world at his feet and like the aforementioned players, has chosen to find pastures new in firstly Portugal and then onto France with Lille.

Angel Gomes at his loan club, Boavista FC

If these players are successful like Edwards has been and continue to develop in the right way, there is no doubt that there will be more Englishman following the same path to the Iberian Peninsula.

Aaron Barton | @AaronBartonUK | Proxima-jornada.com |

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