The Telegraph, The Athletic and Record have all recently reported that Benfica and Portugal U21 striker Henrique Araújo is expected to join Championship side Watford on loan until the end of the season. The Madeira man is one of the hottest young talents in Portugal but has struggled for game time this season and it seems that the club believe it would be better for his development if he went out on loan to a team competing at the top end of the table in a competitive league – a better option than dropping Araújo back into the Segunda Liga with Benfica B given that Araújo has proved in the past that he is more than comfortable at that level.
We take a look at what the Portuguese hitman could bring to Vicarage Road.
Career So Far
Born in Funchal on the island of Madeira, Araújo came through the ranks at Marítimo before joining Benfica as a 16-year-old. In his last season at Marítimo – whilst he was playing with the U17 side – Araújo scored 54 goals in just 30 games. The prolific young forward was quickly developing a reputation as a natural-born goalscorer, tearing through the youth football levels and putting up frightening numbers along the way. In his first season with Benfica U17, he scored 37 goals and provided 14 assists in 33 games before moving up to play for both the U19 and U23 teams.
Araújo continued to impress in the youth teams and in the 2021/22 season, he was called up to Benfica’s B team, who compete in the Segunda Liga. This move represents a significant step up as it sees a player go from competing with fellow youth players at U19/U23 level to playing against second-division sides full of seasoned professionals who are either battling for promotion to the top flight or fighting to stay in the division.
His Time with Benfica B – First foray into professional football
The 21-year-old adapted well to professional football, in his first season with Benfica B he scored 11 goals and provided four assists in 26 starts, including a brace against Estoril and a goal against Vizela, the two sides who would go on to finish 1st and 2nd and thus gain promotion to the Primeira Liga.
The 2021/22 campaign was his strongest so far at this level, a season which saw him hit 13 goals and provide six assists in 26 games, leading Benfica – the top scorers in the division with 61 goals – to a fifth-place finish. His superb performances led to him being voted the Segunda Liga Young Player of the Year. He made five appearances for the Benfica first team during this season and despite his Primeira Liga appearances totalling just 131 minutes, he managed to find the net three times – an average of a goal every 43.6 minutes.
Now a fully-fledged senior player, Araújo wasn’t a part of the Benfica U19 team in the group stages of the UEFA Youth League but made his return to the team to feature in the UEFA Youth League final, a competition they had never won. Despite it being his age group, having a player as good as Araújo in the lineup was almost like having a cheat code – no surprise then that he scored a hat-trick and fired Benfica to a 6-0 win, seeing them lift the trophy for the first time.
The Search for Game Time – Why are Benfica open to Araújo leaving on loan?
This season under Roger Schmidt, Benfica have been flying on all fronts and the Madeiran forward has understandably struggled to break into the team. Since selling Darwin Nuñéz to Liverpool, 21-year-old Gonçalo Ramos has taken his chance with both hands and is currently the Primeira Liga top scorer with 11 goals, outscoring the likes of Mehdi Taremi and Ricardo Horta. Ramos’ form, plus the fact Benfica only play with one striker, means that Araújo has had to be patient for his chances. In the league, Araújo has come off the bench on five occasions, totalling just 65 minutes. Croatian Petar Musa and new signing and Denmark U21 international Casper Tengstedt are also at the club competing for a place.
It took Araújo just five minutes after coming on against Maccabi Haifa to score his first UEFA Champions League goal, timing his run brilliantly to latch onto a through ball and strike it first time past the goalkeeper. It was Benfica’s fifth goal of the night and contributed to the Lisbon side topping the group above Paris Saint-Germain.
A move to Watford could be hugely beneficial for both parties, allowing Araújo to get precious game time to aid his development in a competitive and physical environment. For Watford, the second-lowest scorers in the Championship top seven, they get a player that is capable of finding the back of the net and potentially boosting their promotion hopes.
Key Attributes – What type of player is he?
Standing at just under six feet, Araújo is a forward with exceptional movement and positioning. He is a striker who is always seemingly in the right place at the right time due to his ability to read the game and sense where the chances are.
In the penalty area, he is a nuisance for defenders due to his constant movement. A trademark of his is a first-time finish from close range following a cut-back from a winger or a full-back, Araújo has the ability to peel away from an opposition defender to find a yard at the right time before rifling home. This is the type of goal he has scored countless times in his young career so far.
He comes alive in and around the 18-yard box and due to his reading of the game, he is able to profit from rebounds and goalkeeper mistakes. In the Primeira Liga match vs Vizela last season, Gonçalo Ramos struck a low effort towards goal and Araújo was already on the move just in case of a deflection or a mistake, meaning that when Vizela goalkeeper Pedro Silva pushed it away and Araújo was on hand in a flash to poke it home after just one minute on the pitch.
The Madeiran is an aerial threat too, often coupling his ability to find a yard in the box with his heading ability to rise highest and score for his side.
He has played predominantly in a 4-3-3 for Benfica B and thrives off service from the wide players. He’s not just a penalty box striker however, his link-up play is good too, something we see more frequently when his side counter and use Araújo as a target, he is then able to hold the ball up before laying it off to other onrushing attackers before getting himself into an attacking position.
If Araújo drops deep in search of the ball, he is able to play intelligent forward passes and bring his side back up the pitch into attacking areas.
After previously being courted by the likes of Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Liverpool, it would be a huge coup for Watford to bring the striker in on a simple loan until the end of the season and as always we will keep our readers updated with any movement on this potential transfer on Proxima-Jornada.com and on Twitter at @ProximaJornada1.