Manchester United have been heavily linked with SL Benfica midfielder Renato Sanches for some time but not many fans would have seen him in action very much.
Now, reports are suggesting Man United are actually close to completing a €60m move for Sanches. With that in mind, we had a chat with David Pritchett, Editor of Planet Benfica in order to find out more about the 18-year-old, how he has fared this season and how good he really is.
Hi David. An easy starting point, who is Renato Sanches?
At the age of 18, Renato Sanches is the fulcrum of the current Benfica side and one of the main reasons why they sit top of the Primeira Liga with three games remaining. The Lisbon-born midfielder is widely regarded as one of the brightest prospects to have emerged from the Benfica academy since Rui Costa in the early 1990s.
“Despite his age, Renato Sanches has only been substituted three times in his 27 starts for Benfica this season which is an indication of how well developed he is at 18.”
What were your first impressions of the player?
The first thing you notice about Renato is his physical presence. His energy is incredible. He is constantly harassing the man in possession and he invariably covers more ground than everyone else on the pitch. He is not the tallest but he is strong enough to knock just about anyone off the ball and has the stamina to run for 90 minutes. Despite his age, he has only been substituted three times in his 27 starts for Benfica.
The other thing that strikes you is his maturity. He is calm, composed and never looks overawed by the occasion. Regardless of whether the opponent is Boavista, Braga or Bayern Munich, he plays with the same dynamism and youthful exuberance.
How would you describe Sanches’ style of play?
Renato is a classic box-to-box midfielder, a real all-rounder. His work-rate and tough tackling make him one of the first names on Rui Vitória’s team-sheet. On the ball, he displays excellent technique and a good range of passing. He is a remarkably positive player, always looking to drive his team forward with an incisive pass or a lung-bursting run. He is pretty quick and has a rocket of a shot. Basically, he has all of the raw materials required to become a world-class midfielder.
“Renato Sanches is widely regarded as one of the brightest prospects to have emerged from the Benfica academy since Rui Costa in the early 1990s.”
Does his style remind you of any other players?
As an energetic box-to-box midfielder, there will be inevitable comparisons with Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba. Although he shares many of their characteristics, he is much shorter at just 5’9”, so he doesn’t possess the same aerial threat. He reminds me a bit of Lassana Diarra, although he offers more going forward and, unlike the Frenchman, I am confident that he will fulfil his immense potential.
What areas of the game does he excel at and where does he need to improve further?
Renato excels at winning back possession and initiating quick counter-attacks. When the opposition’s defence is already set, he dictates the pace of play and probes for an opening. His mobility is vital to the success of Rui Vitória’s preferred 4-4-2 formation. He wins most 50/50 challenges, and shields the ball brilliantly. His shoulder charge is a sight to behold!
The 18-year old’s main weakness is the impetuousness of youth, which manifests itself in several ways.
In his eagerness to win back the ball, he can make some clumsy challenges and give away silly free-kicks in the process. With the ball at his feet, he goes for the high risk pass a little too often and when running at the defence he can hold on to the ball for too long. But it is great that he wants to make things happen and his decision making will improve with experience and coaching.
How has Sanches’ season progressed thus far?
After Benfica made a shaky start to the season, Renato was promoted from the B-team and thrust straight into the limelight. Since his first-team debut in October, he has rarely been out of the side and it is no coincidence that Benfica have barely lost a game during this period.
In the space of just five months, Renato made his league debut, his Champions League debut and international debut. His form has dipped a little in recent weeks but that is also true of the team as a whole. He has a decent chance of going to Euro 2016 with Portugal.
Reports are mounting that Man United are close to signing the player for a fee close to €60 million. Is such a fee justified? Is he ready to move to a club such as United this summer?
I’m not sure any professional athlete is worth that amount of money but based on the current market, the fee is not that ridiculous. Renato’s all-action style is tailor-made for the Premier League and, barring severe injury, I have no doubt that he would be a real asset for Man United for years to come. A lot of people feel that he would be better served by spending another season in Lisbon and while I can see where they are coming from, I’m not convinced that a summer move would stall his career. He is a consummate professional with a superb temperament.