João Moutinho's name has been on the tip of everyone's tongue lately, particularly after a move to Tottenham Hotspur fell through at the very last minute. Furthermore, it now seems he is becoming an absolutely essential clog in the wheel of the Portuguese national team. Where is all this buzz coming from, you might ask? The answer follows shortly.
In all fairness, Moutinho hasn't improved that much overnight. For the most part, he is basically the same player he has ever been - energetic, apparently exhaustless, intense and a jack-of-all-trades in midfield, where he has played in every single position. After becoming a regular fixture in Sporting's starting eleven at age 18, he chalked up 259 appearances in 6 seasons, becoming the team captain in 2007, the second youngest in the club's history.
During that time, he won over virtually every Portuguese fan and pundit and grew a reputation not only as an all-around midfielder, but also as a tenacious, reliable player. Nevertheless, foreign clubs kept regarding him as "potential" talent, often scouting him, but never stepping up to pay the price. The only time it happened was in 2008/09, where he was actually very close to signing for Everton - which was widely regarded in Portugal as a huge step back for a player of his calibre.
His transfer to FC Porto in 2010 was when things really started to change for Moutinho, who forced his way out of Sporting, afraid that his career had stalled at 24. FC Porto had no second thoughts and forked over the necessary €11 million (approximately £8.8 million), while simultaneously hiring André Villas-Boas to lead the team. FC Porto would enjoy an impressive season, amassing 4 titles, including the Portuguese Cup, the Portuguese League and the Europa League.
His transfer to FC Porto in 2010 was when things really started to change for Moutinho, who forced his way out of Sporting, afraid that his career had stalled at 24.
Moutinho was critical for all that success due to his relentless pressing and impressive work rate, but he also benefitted from playing the whole season in the same position (except the odd match) - the one he is best at, as one of the shuttlers in FC Porto's 4x3x3. Throughout that entire season, the Portuguese midfielder dictated the team's tempo, helped the holding midfielder Fernando (one of the best in Europe in his position and oddly underrated) out and led by example. He recorded 53 appearances, 2 goals and 9 assists.
The following seasons was not as prolific for the team, but Moutinho managed to maintain his high-octane game and became essential for the new manager of the Portuguese national team, Paulo Bento (his former coach at Sporting). FC Porto managed to end the season in a relatively high note and Moutinho's name surfaced once again in the British media.
Moutinho first became an international for Portugal at 18 and became a regular fixture from 2006 onwards (or so it seemed). He started establishing his presence and getting higher up the ranks with Luiz Felipe Scolari, despite the presence of household names such as Petit, Maniche, Tiago, Costinha, Pedro Mendes, Raúl Meireles or Deco. He was even picked for the squad-of-23 for UEFA Euro 2008, where he showed his usual set of skills.
However, the appointment of Carlos Queiroz as the new coach proved a hindrance in Moutinho's path. Favouring a much more defensive-oriented style of play, the former Manchester United assistant often chose Pepe as holding midfielder for the tougher matches and remained loyal to Tiago, Deco and Raúl Meireles for his 4x3x3. During Queiroz's reign, Moutinho earned a meagre 8 call-ups.
Initially hampered by Sporting's lack of visibility in Europe, Moutinho's career took off when he started proving his mettle in harder contests for FC Porto and became a definite fixture in the Portuguese national team.
Paulo Bento implemented a whole new style, based on possession and intense pressure. Moutinho (and Meireles) fitted the bill perfectly for that demanding type of play and it was hardly surprising to see Moutinho play every single minute of UEFA Euro 2012 and win over many pundits, this time at international level.
In short, Moutinho has probably been one of the worst kept secrets in Europe. Despite selling several players for huge sums year after year, the Portuguese league is not among the European viewers' preferences, which may help explain why Moutinho has become a must-have player for some clubs apparently out of the blue. Initially hampered by Sporting's lack of visibility in Europe, Moutinho's career took off when he started proving his mettle in harder contests for FC Porto and became a definite fixture in the Portuguese national team.
It is hard to be sure whether Moutinho would make an (immediate) impact in the Premier League. On one hand, he is dynamic, energetic, reliable and versatile - somewhat different from the typical South European cliché in England. On the other hand, Moutinho is not a dribbling midfielder (a la Luka Modric) or a finisher (a la Frank Lampard) and his play is often very low-key. In fact, Moutinho will most likely not decide several matches singlehandedly and he is the archetypical team player - someone who allows others to shine, rather than hogging the spotlight. Assuming his transfer would fall in the £20-25 million frame, it would be hard for the typical fan to see their money's worth out on the pitch. Even though they're slightly different players, would you consider that high a sum for Scott Parker or Aaron Ramsey?
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