This summer could be the summer of Nuno Mendes.
The Sporting CP sensation has seen his name pop up in transfer rumours for weeks now, with some of Europe’s biggest clubs vying to sign the teenage left-back in a deal worth close to £50m, and a big showing at the Euros would only boost the hype.
Let’s take a deeper dive into what to expect from Mendes at this summer’s European Championships.
Cursed with the lower profile that the Portuguese league holds compared to some of the others around Europe, Mendes’ outstanding showings with Sporting have often flown under the radar.
Spending most of his time as a left wing-back in Ruben Amorim’s 3-4-2-1 setup, Mendes has been an integral part of Sporting’s success at both ends of the field. He’s been phenomenal in attack – something his return of one goal and two assists in 35 appearances does not do justice – but he has not sacrificed his defending at all.
Comfortable on the ground or in the air, the teenager played an enormous part in Sporting’s keeping of the best defensive record in Liga NOS. Amorim’s champions shipped just 20 goals in 34 games, and very few of them came down Mendes’ side.
He might be comfortable as a traditional left-back, but you’re wasting Mendes if you use him in a role which limits his contribution in attack.
One of the main reasons Sporting enjoyed so much success with their 3-4-2-1 setup was Mendes’ impact as a wing-back, but as Portugal coach Fernando Santos points out, you can trust him to shine even in a back four.
“Nuno Mendes plays in a different system for his club to us, but for the Portugal U21s he has played in a four-man defence and he is a quality player who will have no problem adapting,” says Santos. “Our full-backs usually contribute to our attack, and Nuno is very adept at going forward.”
In the current game, it’s hard to think of a full-back so impressive at both ends of the field with the same kind of physicality as Mendes. Most excel at one end of the pitch and survive at the other, but Mendes dominates all over.
It’s for that reason that you’d have to say you can see a bit of Patrice Evra in Mendes’ game. When at his peak, the Frenchman was a dominant force in both defence and attack for Manchester United, bringing enough strength and aerial prowess to fill in at centre-back in emergencies as well.
Mendes obviously has nowhere near the level of Evra’s experience, but he plays as if he does. The Portugal starlet just oozes composure and maturity, but knows how to mash that up with the flair and excitement that comes with youth.
“He is a young man full of quality. Everyone has seen Sporting’s last games. Make no mistake about it, he is a young man full of talent who will give a lot to football for both Portugal and Sporting.”
– Vitorino Antunes
“He has a lot of quality and those who have known him for the longest time know him well. He will be one of the great full-backs Europe in a few years.”
“He’s very adult the way he plays, and physically strong. Nuno Mendes is a pure talent. I think he’s going to be the regular starter at left-back for Portugal for many years.”
– Ruben Amorim
“He plays with a lot of freedom. He has a very promising future.”
– Fernando Santos
This time last year, nobody outside of Portugal knew who Nuno Mendes was, and he wasn’t even included on FIFA 21 Ultimate Team. Despite being worthy of a Team of the Season card, he’s nowhere to be found.
If you want Mendes in your side, you’ll have to take him on Career Mode, where you’ll find him as a 77-rated left wing-back who has the potential to fly all the way up to an 87 with some of the craziest physical stats you’re likely to find.
Obviously, you can only be a wonderkid if Football Manager says so, so we need to see what Mendes’ profile looks like.
Unsurprisingly, it’s very, very good.
He starts off as a very solid left-back, as you can see here:
Nurture him until 2030, however, and you could have someone truly special on your hands.
Mendes has enjoyed turning out in a number of different adidas boots, with the latest addition to his collection being the Nemeziz .1.
With a colour preference as eccentric as his footwork, expect to see Mendes chopping and changing between the reds, the blues and the whites.
Santos has always been eager to give Mendes time to live up to the hype on the international stage, so that may mean the Sporting starlet is kept out of the spotlight more than fans might like to see.
There’s a lot of competition at full-back for Portugal, with Dortmund’s Raphael Guerreiro and Manchester City’s Joao Cancelo both vying for minutes in Mendes’ competition, but the teenager is undoubtedly good enough to play a significant role this summer.
He’s not going to dominate the starting lineup, but don’t start thinking that Mendes is only there for the experience. He’s there because he’s good enough to be, and hopefully we’ll get plenty of chances to see that.