If there’s one thing Portugal do well as a nation, it’s collating midfield talent good enough to spearhead its hopes in international tournaments. From the days of Rui Costa and Paulo Sousa, to the hopes once placed on the likes of João Moutinho and Miguel Veloso, competition in the middle of the park has never ceased for A Selecção das Quinas.
Cristiano Ronaldo and co. continue to boast quality in numbers within the midfield sector, looking towards William Carvalho, João Mário and more, whereas names such as Renato Sanches, Bruno Fernandes and Rúben Neves perpare themselves for the not-so-distant future.
Desperate to see one of their new-found stars join Portugal’s exciting crop are Sporting de Braga, whose lofty ambitions sees them aim to break the stronghold of FC Porto, Benfica and Sporting to take the Primeira Liga title for themselves by 2021 – a feat unmatched by any of the non-‘Big Three’ sides since Boavista’s title-winning campaign in 2001.
Bruno Alexandre Vieira Almeida, more commonly known as Bruno ‘Xadas’; after the inheritance of a family nickname that was passed down from his grandfather, has quickly seen his professional career spring into life at ‘the Quarry,’ so much so that his talents are being eyed up as the fuel Braga need to top the Portuguese game.
Born in Oliveira de Azeméis, 50 km south of the city of Porto, Xadas escaped the Dragões’ grasp as a 12-year-old, opting instead to play out his formative years at third tier club Sanjoanense in 2010. Braga were on hand to snap up the youngster just before his transition into the professional scene, and neither Braga nor Xadas have looked back since.
After a goalless first year with the youth team, Xadas more than made up for his timid first season to register a healthy 14 goals in 30 appearances in his second year, subsequently earning himself a role with Braga B in the Portuguese second division.
Having attracted attention with his cunning dribbling from central positions, not too dissimilar to that of Manchester City and former AS Monaco star Bernardo Silva, as well as a notable knack for goal-getting, the 19-year-old’s cards began to fall into place at the tail-end of last season.
Much to his advantage, Braga made the bold decision to sack Jorge Simão before the 2016/17 season was up, in order to promote B Team manager Abel Ferreira up to the first team, setting out their plan to become a side whose style of play would see them combine adequate discipline with expansive football, rather than committing outright to one particular stance. After hitting 11 goals in 30 games in his first and only season with Braga B, Abel felt compelled to call on the young star that he had brought through to second tier of Portuguese football in the first place. Xadas didn’t disappoint in the four games he was given to impress with the seniors in the lead up to the end of last season, taking that good form with him to South Korea, where he would represent Portugal in this summer’s Under-20 FIFA World Cup. The youngster had already been under the watchful eye of big-club scouts during Portugal’s campaign and, in a double-act with the equally impressive Benfica winger Diogo Gonçalves, would go on to front the quarter-finalists’ hopes of winning the competition.
Now Braga’s permanent first team manager, Ferreira has often spoken of the need to have players that “take the initiative,” to take their risks wisely when the chances present themselves; orders that are right up Xadas’ street. It is often he who remains on the lookout for that killer pass, utilising his glue-like close control to shuffle in between opponents and gain precious yards, or even looking to turn his opposition to set quick counters – all the hallmarks of a true destabiliser.
It’s thanks to traits such as these that Xadas has been able to position himself as the centrepiece of Braga’s newly-assembled midfield, even with stiff competition from the likes of permanent recruit Ricardo Horta and former Liverpool hopeful João Carlos Teixeira. For now, the 19-year-old primarily takes on duties of a wide playmaker, but seems sure to take his creativity into a more central role sometime into the future.
After 11 official games, Ferreira’s trust in Xadas has already paid dividends, most notably in an August match against Portimonense, equalizing with a wondrous strike from 20 yards out- his first ever goal for the seniors. The screamer of a goal lit a fire inside the hearts of Os Guerreiros do Minho, who would climb from one goal behind to a 2-1 win.
It was much of the same last season, with his searching left foot and ability to evade his opponents in tight areas alerting the main customers of fine, young talent. Lazio, under the recommendation of super-agent Jorge Mendes, were the first to attempt to prize the roaming playmaker away from the Arsenalistas, but Braga were quick to stand firm and reject a €26 million package offer that would have seen him join the highly-rated Pedro Neto in Rome.
Bruno Jordão would take the midfielder’s place in the deal, cementing Xadas’ stay in Portugal, but with like-minded stars such as Isco and Bernardo Silva setting the mainstream alight, who knows where a season in the Primeira Liga limelight will take the Portuguese prospect within a year’s time?
By Patrick Ribeiro/@P_SRibeiro