For the first instalment of The Scout Report Series, I’m not exactly discovering anything new. The reader for sure has heard about this player, but, for the challenge of talking about young prospects coming out of Portugal, there is only one place to start, Nuno Mendes.
Nuno Mendes is the 18-year-old full/wing-back whose name is currently on everybody’s lips. Born in Sintra, just over 40 minutes away from Sporting’s academy in Alcochete, Mendes joined the club at the tender age of nine. On 12th June 2020, he played his first game for the senior side, just one day before he turned 18. Not long after, the board had seen enough and decided to renew his contract, increasing his buy-out clause to a cool €45 million, it remained at this figure until December 2020, when it was again increased, this time to €70 million.
A week after his first appearance, he became the youngest player to appear in a Sporting starting XI since Cristiano Ronaldo in 2002, playing the full 90 minutes in a 2-0 win over Tondela.
Since then, Nuno Mendes became one of the players that manager Rubén Amorim trusts the most, racking up 29 appearances for the senior side (at the time of writing).
Despite his young age, he is already a full Portugal U21 international, making the jump from U19 to U21 level. In addition to his superb performances for the Seleção youth teams, there is also speculation that Fernando Santos could take him to the European Championships this Summer and with Santos being a manager renowned for picking players based on merit, not reputation, it is a conceivable idea that Mendes could have a spot on the plane.
Nuno Mendes is most competent when operating as a wing-back as part of a back five, but can also play as a full-back in a more traditional back-four, a role he often plays for the Seleção U21. A very fast player, he can run at high-speed with the ball whilst managing to keep it under control. During offensive 1v1 scenarios, he is also very strong and often uses these situations to create spaces to engineer a cross.
The young defender possesses good technical ability and is a proficient passer of the ball, but his best trait is the quality of his crosses. Mendes rarely opts for a high cross into the box, this is because he understands that Sporting doesn’t have a striker who is able to win many aerial duels, so his crosses tend to be low and with pace played into two main areas – to the space between goalkeeper and centre-backs or a cross to the space the Centre-backs leave in front of them, where an onrushing midfielder from Sporting such as Pedro Gonçalves, can attack the ball.
In the system Sporting play, Nuno Mendes’ objective is to give full width to the game. Allowing the left-winger, usually Nuno Santos, to move to a more central area. Another role he has is to be an option going in behind, exploring the space behind the opposition full-back.
Out of Possession
In this aspect of his game, Nuno Mendes is also a player who is clearly ahead of his age. NM has a good 1vs1 defending ability. On average, he has two tackles won per game, three interceptions, and one clearance.
With only one foul committed per 90 minutes, this reflects his great positioning without the ball and precise timing for tackles.
He can still improve his decision making in a defensive sense. Playing as a wing-back, he needs to judge when to go and press the opposition full-back or when to drop to make a line of 5 at the back for Sporting. Sometimes, because of his age, he doesn’t make the right decisions, but his athleticism and speed enable him to recover on most occasions.
He can also play as a left-sided centre-back in a back 3, but in truth, this takes away some of his strongest assets. Physically, he is very strong, which helps when he needs to defend set-pieces and he’s comfortable defending using contact.
The Next Chapter
With all these attributes, his age, and room for further development, it comes as no surprise that some of Europe’s big clubs are after the young talent. Looking at clubs that need a quality offensive full-back as such as Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Inter, or PSG, Sporting can, with Nuno Mendes, negotiate one of the biggest deals in their history.