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Who is Pedro Goncalves? Sporting’s ‘new Bruno Fernandes’ out to end Man City’s Champions League dreams

7:19 PM MYT 14/02/2022
Pedro Goncalves Sporting CP Primeira Liga 2021-22
The 23-year-old attacking midfielder has, incredibly, proven even more prolific for the Portuguese side than the Manchester United ace

It is quite unusual for a club to win a very elusive title immediately after selling their best player, but that is what Sporting CP achieved last term.

In their first full season without Bruno Fernandes, who joined Manchester United in January 2020, the Lions sensationally roared to finish top and become champions for the first time since 2002.

The brilliant young coach Ruben Amorim was rightfully praised for masterminding such success, and one of his most remarkable feats was unearthing a replacement for Bruno who actually proved to be even more prolific.

Fernandes had a stupendous season in 2018-19, scoring 20 league goals, but Pedro Goncalves outdid him by netting 23 times in 2020-21.

In doing so, he became the Primeira Liga's first Portuguese top scorer since Domingos back in 1996. Not bad for a player who is, at least on paper, a midfielder – just like Fernandes.

Nicknamed Pote, Goncalves was rather anonymous before signing for Sporting in the summer of 2020.

He had just completed a decent season at newly-promoted Famalicao, scoring five goals and providing five assists as a central midfielder.

However, paying €6.5 million (£5.4m/$7.4m) for his services was actually considered a massive gamble, but Amorim had a clear plan for him.

While Pote tried to emulate his role models Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves, the Sporting coach thought that he should be used further forward – and that proved to be a masterstroke.

His ability to come from behind and find spaces in the penalty area is phenomenal and he can finish as a pure striker.

Naturally right-footed, Goncalves is capable of clinical strikes with his left foot as well, and his great form has continued into this season.

Pote has netted six times in the league so far and added two braces versus Besiktas and Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League as Sporting survived defeats in a couple of opening fixtures to qualify for the last 16.

Those who witnessed Pote's games in his childhood were not surprised by this development, because he was a regular goalscorer as a kid.

When playing for tiny Vidago at the age of 10, he scored 72 times in a single season, including no fewer than seven against his own little brother Andre, who happened to be a goalkeeper.

He liked to eat and was a bit chubby – hence the nickname – but loved football much more. In fact, he literally grew up on the pitch, because his family house was situated right beside Vidago's stadium.

His mother worked at the club, taking care of clothes and equipment, and young Pedro always ran with the ball at his feet, unless his stepfather – a fireman like his biological father, who died when Pote was a few months old – took him to the fire station nearby.

The journey from that little house to stardom was long and unique. At the age of eleven, Pote was recommended to the Braga academy and had to leave home in order to fulfil his dream.

Agostinho Oliveira, the veteran coach who worked as chief coordinator of the youth system, took the kid under his wing and helped him to progress over six years.

"I told him it wasn't enough to be talented, and he had to improve in every aspect of the game," Oliveira recalled in an interview with Diario de Noticias.

"He had a lot of quality and did everything well, but it was important to be more involved in the game."

Braga mainly saw Pote as a midfielder, but he wasn't highly rated by other coaches, and wasn't offered a contract when Oliveira left the club in 2015.

Aged 17, Pote had to find a new path, and Nuno Espirito Santo offered him a golden opportunity at Valencia, where he trained with the likes of Carlos Soler and Ferran Torres.

When Nuno joined Wolves after a successful spell at Porto, he remembered the youngster and offered him the chance to join on a very lucrative contract that was impossible to refuse.

Thus, Pote moved to his third country before even making a professional debut.

Do Wolves fans even remember him? The number of young Portuguese talents at the most Portuguese club in England was huge, and Pote joined at the time alongside Boubacar Hanne, a winger who was supposed to be a major talent.

Hanne failed and is now on the bench at Gil Vicente, but Goncalves impressed for the Wolves' Under-23 team.

He used to train with the senior squad frequently, and his admiration for Neves and Moutinho is understandable because that was his position at the time.

Playing deep, he still managed to find the net eight times in 35 matches for the reserves, and was especially prolific in derby clashes versus West Brom.

Rui Pedro Silva, Nuno's assistant at Wolves, told O Jogo: "Pote stood out. He was excellent in possession, always able to find space, didn't misplace passes and had an ability to finish too.

"At the first team, though, he was the victim of the tactical scheme."

He was even named as captain and should have been given chances to progress.

However, his contribution to the first team was limited to a single substitute appearance in the Carabao Cup in August 2018 and, a year later, it was clear that Pote would have to leave in order to avoid stalling completely.

The club might regret letting him go these days, but it is likely that the move to Famalicao saved his career.

Under the guidance of Joao Pedro Sousa, Pote's self confidence grew, and he effortlessly became a major performer for the team that sensationally led the table in the first couple of months of the 2019-20 season.

"I usually describe him as a street player because he doesn't care who he plays against. He doesn't feel the pressure of the big games," former Famalicao team-mate Fabio Martins told BBC.

Amorim liked that quality, which is quite similar to Fernandes, and decided to bring the rising star to Sporting.

"He is revealing an ability to get to the last third and attack that I didn't know about, so I have to congratulate Amorim for that," Joao Pedro Sousa said when the midfielder-cum-attacker suddenly topped the scoring charts last season.

"It is any coach's dream to have a player as versatile as Pote."

It would be impossible to overestimate his contribution to the title triumph, and Portugal coach Fernando Santos duly included the starlet in the Euro 2020 squad – albeit without giving him a single minute of play during the tournament.

Weirdly, Pote wasn't called up for the World Cup qualifiers since, but his recent performances must change Santos' mind ahead of the crucial play-offs in March.

Six goals and five assists in Primeira Liga this season is a decent return, but four goals and an assist in the Champions League is even better.

Pote tends to flourish when stakes are high, and Sporting were hugely disappointed when he missed the big game at Porto on Friday through a mild injury.

He should be fit to face Manchester City on Tuesday, though, and Bruno Fernandes – as well as Cristiano Ronaldo – would love their former club to win.

Pote's contribution will be important and Pep Guardiola must find a way to stop the man who is capable of finding spaces and shooting with precision.