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What Does the Future Hold for Goncalo Guedes, La Liga's Fastest-Rising Star?

Speedy Goncalo Guedes has lit up La Liga. The young Portuguese winger only made his first start for Valencia—having arrived on a season-long loan from Paris Saint-Germain—towards the end of September, in a league tie against Malaga at the Mestalla. Valencia romped home 5-0, and Guedes chipped in with an audacious assist for the fifth goal. His team-mate Rodrigo passed to him on the edge of the box. Guedes, with his back to goal, controlled it and then stabbed the ball with a backheel straight into the path of Rodrigo, who scored with a single touch. Guedes has added another four assists and three goals—each goal better than the other—in six games, which has helped keep Valencia unbeaten and on the heels of league leaders, Barcelona. "Guedes has won over the fans even though it's a short time. He's become an idol," says El Pais journalist Salva Folgado, who reckons no player since Predrag Mijatovic has adjusted so quickly and so decisively at the club. The iconic striker arrived in 1993 from Partizan Belgrade. "Mijatovic changed Valencia," says Folgado. "I can't think of any other player who has generated the same impact in the team—and who has adapted so rapidly—like Guedes. "Guedes is only 20, but he's very mature. He carries himself like an adult. He's got a very sensible disposition. He takes care of himself. He's very professional. The manager Marcelino and the team's physical trainer Ismael Fernandez are very content with him. He trains well. He doesn't go out socialising to nightclubs; he stays at home. It seems like he's only interested in football." Joao Diogo Manteigas, a TV football pundit and lawyer who works for Benfica, has followed his career from close quarters. Manteigas' brother-in-law played with Guedes at Benfica, the club that Guedes joined as an eight-year-old in 2005. Manteigas concurs with the picture painted of of the player as a football obsessive. "The kid is consumed with football," says Manteigas. "The last time I saw him, a couple of months ago, he was driving an old Audi van. It possibly belonged to his family. This kind of sums up Goncalo: he's one of the most straight-up kids there are in football. He's not your typical young football player—who's obsessed with cars, his haircut, shoes and baseball caps. Just take a look at how he dresses." Manteigas points towards Guedes's background for clues. Guedes comes from Benavente, a small town in the heartland of Portugal about an hour from Lisbon. It's known more for bullfighting than football. "Guedes likes bullfights which is very traditional from that area," says Manteigas. Guedes' father used to drive Guedes and his brother—who is a goalkeeper—to Benfica's youth academy for training on a daily basis. Luis Nascimento trained Guedes at Benfica's academy. Guedes' personality made an immediate impression. He was a livewire. "Guedes was an extremely extroverted young man, almost a hyperactive kid," says Nascimento. "He couldn't stay put, always running around. He transposed that energy to the game. He was an aggressive player, an animal in competition. He hated losing a game, even in training." Nascimento saw in Guedes an irreverence, an ability to handle pressure that stands him in good stead in the bear pit of professional football. "He was always a real brat," he says. "We say in Portuguese he's 'traquinas,' totally extroverted, but he was never a rude kid. He was very polite, but not an easy kid to handle. We had to help with his education, to cut the edges off him, as we always do with every kid. He was very bold on and off the pitch. He never feared his opponents. He was never afraid of making mistakes. He was ambitious. He didn't have a lot of patience for small talk in the locker room or on the pitch. "I remember an episode when he was playing under-13 and we had a very decisive match against our rival Sporting Lisbon. Guedes was having lunch with his mates and he was relaxed, playing with the others. He never succumbed to the pressure. He was always happy. He loved to get out on the pitch and play the game. As soon as possible, he wanted the game to start. "In that occasion a team-mate asked him: 'Goncalo don't you feel the pressure of the match?' Guedes replied: 'It is just another match and all I want is to play it!' He was just like that. For him playing against Sporting Lisbon, FC Porto, FC Barcelona or Real Madrid was the same. He didn't fear his opponents. He didn't fear having the ball, taking risks and I believe that comes from his personality." Guedes had a knack for scoring five or six spectacular goals a season, as he came up through the ranks at Benfica while invariably playing on teams with boys a year older than him. "I remember a goal he scored against Barcelona in a tournament final," says Nascimento, "when he was under-13, where he picked the ball up in midfield and finished by striking the ball into the top corner of the net." Benfica guarded Guedes closely. He was never loaned to another club. "He was one of the few that Benfica betted on since the very beginning," says Manteigas. He made his debut for the first team at 17 years of age, and he became the youngest Portuguese scorer in the Champions League group stages since Cristiano Ronaldo when he scored against Atletico Madrid in September 2015, per ESPN FC's Graham Hunter. It's notable that Marcelino handed Guedes the No. 7 jersey, with all the history that number bears in Portugal following the exploits of Luis Figo and Ronaldo over the last two decades. It was only a matter of time before Benfica would have to cash in on him. Valencia came within a whisker of signing him in August 2016. "It was the first time that Jorge Mendes [Guedes's agent] offered him to the club," says Folgado. "Guedes was in camp with the Portugal U21 team. Guedes left with the permission of the team's management. The information I have is that he left to go to Valencia for a medical check-up." Everything was set for him to join Los Che. The only problem was the fee, which was set at €20 million. Valencia had just spent €24 million on Ezequiel Garay, per Transfermarkt; they had also closed a deal with Eliaquim Mangala from Manchester City. They were short the cash to sign Guedes. "[The club's owner] Peter Lim wouldn't authorise it," says Folgado....


Published By: Bleacher Report - Wednesday, 15 November, 2017

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