João Neves: Benfica’s Homegrown Superstar in Midfield

Club: Benfica
Nationality: Portugal
Position(s): CM, DM, AM
Preferred Foot: Right
Height: 5’9”/174cm
Age: 19
Strengths: composure, dribbling, technical ability, tackling, duels, passing, vision
Areas for Development: experience


On September 22, 2006, Benfica launched the state-of-the-art Benfica Campus training ground, taking their academy to the next level and ushering in a new wave of youth development. Since then, the Seixal academy has produced a treasure trove of world-class talents and Portuguese internationals such as António Silva, João Cancelo, and Bernardo Silva.



This investment in youth has paid dividends for Benfica, who have sold the likes of João Félix, Rúben Dias, and Gonçalo Ramos for mouth-watering sums in recent years, and there’s every reason to believe that their next big-money sale will be João Neves. Born in Tavira, Portugal, Neves began his development at Casa Benfica Tavira, one of Benfica’s feeder clubs, before leaving the Algarve and making the move to Benfica’s main academy in 2016.


Neves signed his first professional contract with Benfica in December 2020, working his way up the youth ranks and winning the 2021/22 UEFA Youth League title with the Águias. The following season would see him break into the first team under new manager Roger Schmidt, making his senior debut on January 1, 2023 shortly after penning a contract extension through 2028.


30 days later, Benfica sold Enzo Fernández to Chelsea for €121m on the back of a breakthrough performance in the FIFA World Cup. This sale would pave the way for Neves to emerge as a starter in central midfield, pushing Florentino Luís out of the starting line-up and making 17 league appearances across 2022/23.


He scored his first goal for the club on May 21 as Benfica erased a two-goal halftime deficit and pulled off a 2-2 draw at Sporting, earning the Man of the Match award for his troubles. One week later, Benfica beat Santa Clara 3-0 on the final day of the campaign, edging Porto to the championship and winning their first title in four years.



He hasn’t looked back since then, winning the Man of the Match award as Benfica kicked off the 2023/24 campaign with a 2-0 win against Porto in the Supertaça Cândido de Oliveira. Neves has emerged as one of the first names on Schmidt’s team sheet, and he continues to rise to the occasion and flourish in big games. On November 12, he levelled the scoring in the 94th minute against Sporting, whilst Casper Tengstedt’s 97th-minute goal would see them snatch a valuable win in the Derby de Lisboa.


It has been nothing short of a meteoric ascent for João Neves, who made his senior debut for the Portugal national team in October. Whilst he faces daunting competition from the likes of Matheus Nunes, Rúben Neves, Vitinha and Otávio, Neves not only has a golden opportunity to win a call-up for the upcoming European Championships in Germany, but lock down a starting spot for Roberto Martínez’ side.


Neves has continued to go from strength to strength for a Benfica side that is pushing for even more silverware under their German manager. Benfica sit second in the table, one point behind Sporting who have a game in hand, they will meet Marseille in the UEFA Europa League quarterfinals, and they will be looking to overturn a 2-1 deficit at the Estádio da Luz on Tuesday as they face Sporting in the second leg of the Taça de Portugal semifinals.


At 19 years of age, Neves has established himself as the finest midfielder in Portugal, winning the Primeira Liga’s Midfielder of the Month award in September, October/November, December and February — Rodrigo Zalazar and Gaius Makouta claimed the award in January and August, respectively. It’s rare to see a teenager as composed on the ball as Neves, and it’s yet another aspect of his game that stands out amongst his colleague.



With a low center of gravity and grace under pressure, Neves is a two-way dribbler whose aggression in duels allows him to hold off opponents and keep possession. Whilst he is usually one of the shortest players on the pitch, he is nevertheless a physically dominant player who uses his body to shield the ball when carrying the ball, a lethal combination which enables him to keep possession in difficult circumstances.


Moreover, his stellar technical ability and vision allows him to see the game better than other midfielders, identifying spaces with ease and exploiting the gaps with his top-notch passing ability. He is a high-volume passer with 79.49 passes attempted per 90, putting him in the 98th percentile amongst midfielders over the past year. He completes 88% of his attempted passes (91st percentile) and is racking up an astonishing 6.96 progressive passes (87th) and 6.73 passes into the final third (93rd).

The Portuguese midfielder’s technique isn’t just about his passing, but his shooting as well. Whilst he’s only registered 2 goals and 2 assists in 45 appearances this season, Neves has the technical ability to become a regular contributor in the goal-scoring department. He excels at volleys, boasting the right composure and body positioning to execute the shot to perfection by striking through his laces.


Despite standing at just 1.74m (5’9″), Neves isn’t simply a lightweight midfield technician, but rather a versatile threat who can hold his own in ground duels. He relishes physical battles and has the discipline to play as a defensive midfielder, as evidenced by various statistical metrics: 2.03 blocks per 90 (97th), 2.91 tackles (91st) and 1.34 interceptions (77th).


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Although he plays for a possession-dominant team, Neves has been forced to come up with the goods on the defensive side and help prevent dangerous counter-attacks. He reads the game well and has a formidable timing of his tackles where he can win the ball back, turn whilst on the floor before getting up and dribbling out of pressure. Similarly to Santi Cazorla, he is skilled at regaining and retaining possession, carrying the ball past opponents and progressing it to his attacking teammates.


Even with his short frame, Neves is no slouch when it comes to aerial duels, winning 1.8 aerial duels per 90 (87th) and coming out on top in 58.8% of his aerial duels (83rd). He has beaten out competition from the likes of Florentino Luís, Chiquinho, Fredrik Aursnes and Orkun Kökçü and solidified himself as one of the pillars of this Benfica side, and at 19 years of age, he’s only going to get better.


Whilst his current deal runs through 2028, Benfica president Rui Costa is reportedly keen to extend his contract and raise his release clause from €120 million to €150 million, but with the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United, Barcelona and Bayern Munich casting their attention on the teenage midfielder, it seems only a matter of time before he departs the Estádio da Luz for a sizable outlay.


By: Ben Mattinson / @Ben_Mattinson_

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / SOPA Images / LightRocket