S.L. Benfica have taken the rather unusual step of releasing a club statement denying they are in “talks with Manchester United” over a potential deal for João Neves.
Interest from Old Trafford in the young midfielder is long-standing with Fabrizio Romano revealing the club dispatched scouts to Portugal to watch Neves in November.
A report by The Peoples Person detailed how United were thought to have made the midfielder one of their top targets last year.
The 19-year-old is admired by major clubs across Europe, however.
Manchester City and Liverpool join their Northwest rival in the pursuit of the Portuguese protégé while both Spanish giants – Barcelona and Real Madrid – are also reported to be interested.
Possessing a potent pairing of physicality and technique, it’s easy to see why these clubs have been put on red alert.
Standing at a more diminutive 5’9, Neves has a low centre of gravity and legs like tree trunks. He is strong in the challenge and ranks in the 93rd percentile for tackles and 98th for blocks. He also, somehow, clocks in at the 89th percentile for successful aerial duels, demonstrating height is but a number for him.
Yet it’s his ability with the ball at his feet which makes him truly stand out.
Neves is a capable of playing in defensive midfield, central midfield or attacking midfield due to his dribbling, intelligence and passing range.
He ranks highly across every metric commonly associated with top midfielders, demonstrating a maturity on the ball which belies his years.
United fans would be forgiven for indulging in a daydream of a Kobbie Mainoo-João Neves pivot in United’s midfield for the next decade.
The club were even reported to be “set to initiate talks” with Benfica over a prospective move for the 19-year-old.
Multiple outlets in Portugal describe United as in “pole position” to sign Neves and his agent, Jorge Mendes, has extensive experience negotiating at Old Trafford.
But the Portuguese giant have issued a firm rejection of these reports, stating there is zero truth to the notion that they have entered talks with any club over a deal for Neves.
🚨🔴 Benfica statement on João Neves and Man United.
“Benfica denies the existence of any right of preference over João Neves”.
“Under no circumstances has Benfica started talks with Manchester United or any other club about João — nor does it intend to do so”. pic.twitter.com/BYgkyUZf1K
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) January 16, 2024
The club statement reads: “O Sport Lisboa e Benfica desmente a existência de qualquer direito de preferência sobre o seu jogador João Neves. Em nenhuma circunstância o Sport Lisboa e Benfica encetou com o Manchester United ou qualquer outro clube conversações sobre este jogador oriundo da sua formação, – nem o pretende fazer – pelo que são falsas quaisquer informações que apontem noutro sentido.”
Translation – “Sport Lisboa e Benfica denies the existence of any right of preference over its player João Neves. Under no circumstances did Sport Lisboa e Benfica enter into talks with Manchester United or any other club about this player from its formation, – nor intends to do – so any information that points in another direction is false.”
The fact Benfica released a similar statement about Enzo Fernandez a month prior to the midfielder joining Chelsea last season should offer United hope they may be able to strike a similar deal for Neves, despite the Portuguese club’s protestations.