From Brandsen To Antas: The Rise Of Alan Varela

Few nations on the planet have had a bigger impact on the footballing landscape than South American juggernaut Argentina. From Lionel Messi, to Gabriel Batistuta, Diego Maradona, Mario Kempes, and Alfredo Di Stéfano, La Albiceleste’s legendary pantheon of players and its three World Cup wins are woven into the beautiful game’s illustrious tapestry.


As one of the leading exporters of talent to Europe’s top leagues, Brazil’s bitter rival maintains a seemingly endless conveyor belt that runs nonstop while churning out a wealth of talent year on year, and so often, more quietly, than their more illustrious neighbors. One of the latest talents to emerge from the CONMEBOL giants is 22-year-old FC Porto midfielder Alan Varela.



Born in Greater Buenos Aires in the city of Isidro Casanova, Varela is coming off his first season on Portuguese shores under manager and former A Seleção das Quinas winger Sérgio Conceição after his €8million (plus €3million) move from Argentina giants Boca Juniors. And despite coming into a midfield that already contained Stephen Eustaquio, Marko Grujic, and fellow newcomer Nico González (FC Barcelona), Varela has already cemented his place in the heart of the Dragões engine room.


After featuring forty-four times across all competitions in 2023-24, Varela is already thrust into a position where his future is called into question on the back of growing interest from Premier League giants Liverpool, as well as Bundesliga bigshots Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. However, questions surrounding whether or not the Reds will pull the trigger on what would likely be a £60m (€70m) bid on the back of the massive midfield overhaul that transpired at Anfield twelve months prior are certainly valid.


At current, incoming boss Arne Slot can call upon a central quartet featuring Dominik Szoboszlai, Alexis Mac Allister, Wataru Endo, Ryan Gravenberch, and, at times, academy product Curtis Jones. Considering the options already on Merseyside and how they have settled after coming into the fold during Jürgen Klopp’s final season, it is difficult to see how a move to the northwest of England would ultimately serve Varela for the time being.


All data collated from


More to the point, from a pure numbers perspective, Varela falls well short of Szoboszlai, Mac Allister, and Gravenberch in the vast majority of the compared data points. But as a player who has seen most of his minutes at Porto come as a holding midfielder, Varela stacks up far more favorably against the 31-year-old Endo, who he would likely be competing with over minutes on the pitch.


What would fall in the Argentine youth international’s favor is the fact that Slot regularly deployed Feyenoord in a 4-2-3-1 schematic that utilized a deep-sitting Mats Wieffer, which mirrors Conceição’s similar 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 (with a double 6) at Porto. Though Slot also did call on a more familiar 4-3-3 that Liverpool have been accustomed to under Klopp, it could be postulated that, at least from a tactical perspective, Varela would fit in under the Dutchman fairly well once he would theoretically adjust to life in the English top flight.


Capable at both pressing further up the pitch while also sitting deeper as a reliable shield who can utilize a solid range of passing as well as an ability to control and recycle possession, it is easy to see why Varela has already garnered considerable interest from some of Europe’s biggest club’s in a relatively short space of time.


2023-24 Liga Portugal Betclic heat map gathered from Sofascore


In truth, however, there will always be a degree of hesitancy surrounding a young player who has just one season in Europe under his belt and how he could effectively make the jump from Liga Portugal Betclic to the gauntlet that is the Premier League. When considering that, there is scope to suggest that, should Varela already put Porto in his rear-view, that one of Bayern or Dortmund would make much more sense.


Beyond the fact that both clubs are in need of reinforcement in the center of the park with a view of the long-term shape of the squad coming into play (especially Dortmund), a gradual progression up the European ladder could serve him quite well rather than coming into a team who is expected to challenge for Premier League honors regardless of Klopp’s exit. Nothing about Varela’s overall game presents a problem on paper; anything but. His skillset showcases a player who is very much a tone-setter when in possession, while capable of sweeping up the opposition’s build-up rather well at the other end. 



Varela has certainly proven reliable on both sides of the ball, and despite Porto competing in a league that – for many – is far less challenging than both the Premier League and the Bundesliga, expectations at the Portuguese outfit remain high given their status as a perennial favorite for domestic honors in both the league and cup, while also pushing as far as possible in the Champions League.


There is not much to suggest that Varela could not necessarily handle the level required on the red half of Merseyside, and certainly, expectations are just as high – if not even higher – in Bavaria at the Allianz Arena. But there is something to be said about a young player being able to develop and progress at a steady, sustainable pace, much like he did at Boca across three credible years at La Bombonera before crossing the Atlantic.


An example that perhaps presents a fair comparison comes by way of Portuguese international and former Wolves fan-favorite Rúben Neves. In the wake of coming through the youth ranks at Porto, Neves completed three seasons with the first team as one of its brightest performers while even wearing the captain’s armband despite being just 20 during his final season with the club before his move to the Molineux.


And while that move certainly played into the connection the English club had via his former manager in Nuno Espirito Santos and the Portuguese influence that was brewing through Jorge Mendes, plying his trade in the Championship with aplomb allowed the then-youngster to adapt to life in England and in an environment that would not potentially right him off should he have had a less-than-stellar inaugural campaign.



Perhaps Varela would need the same for similar reasons, though he certainly has the same experience on his CV as Neves had in terms of what comes with playing at both Porto and Boca. Still and yet, it is largely expected that Varela’s stock will only continue to rise, and quite quickly as well, given that his current market valuation is three times that of the initial €8 million fee that Porto shelled out for him last summer. 


Whether or not a club of the size and scope of Liverpool, Bayern, or even Champions League finalist Dortmund, should make a play for him now remains to be seen, But one thing is for certain when it comes to Alan Varela; that his future is bright, and it is all-but-guaranteed to witness him making a big move in the not-so-distant future.


By: Andrew Thompson / @GeecheeKid

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Eurasia Sport Images / Getty Images