Joao Palhinha during the FIFA World Cup match between Portugal and Uruguay at Lusail Stadium, Doha, Qatar, November 2022.

Joao Palhinha & the unbelievable, soul-stealing 11 seconds to get Man Utd fans drooling

Joao Palhinha has got Arsenal preening their Tinder profile, Chelsea frantically buying petrol station flowers, Liverpool applying an enhancing layer of fake tan and Manchester United getting an emergency skin fade. He’s that good.

After years of underrated excellence for Braga and Sporting Lisbon, Palhinha’s move to one of the Premier League fat cats seemed inevitable. Instead, he signed for newly-promoted Fulham last summer and appeared to hunker down for an inevitable relegation battle.

But Palhinha has become an integral part of a Fulham team that’s defied convention by nestling comfortably in mid-table. After years of being a soft touch, nobody defines the Cottagers like the tough-tackling, all-action 27-year-old.

In fact, Palhinha has made 102 tackles this season, 13 more than any other Premier League player. Opponents travel to Craven Cottage with extra medical supplies when this particular midfielder is playing.

However, to pigeonhole him as simply a midfield battering ram would be dismissive. In reality, Palhinha is capable of cuter footwork than a ballerina navigating a minefield and skill to take the breath away.

Cast your minds back to the summer of 2021, when a continent was slowly coming out of lockdown and the European Championship was a throwback to a more carefree era of football.

Palhinha was part of a Portugal squad that would ultimately underwhelm in their title defence, but not before holding tournament favourites France to a high-quality 2-2 draw.

The midfielder played like his predetermined destiny was to tidily recycle possession and close down opponents, but his humiliation of N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba lives long in the memory.

Winning the ball with a no-nonsense slide tackle, Palhinha nutmegged the onrushing Kante while his arse was still intimately acquainted with the pitch.

After managing to shake off his opponent with a cute one-two, the Portugal substitute looked set to lose the ball to one of Pogba’s telescopic limbs.

But, as France’s midfield general strolled across, Palhinha sat him down with a nutmeg cheekier than your Sunday League team’s trip to Nando’s. Glorious stuff.

“Yes, he certainly has the quality to do so,” Dimitar Berbatov said when asked by Betfred about the prospect of Palhinha moving to a top-six club this summer.

“He’s having a great season for Fulham and he’s at that moment in his career, at the age of 27, where he can become even better. He has everything that a holding midfielder needs.

“He’s not afraid of challenges, he can pass, he’s great at spraying a diagonal ball and switching the play. He’s also capable of scoring goals too.

“If a team like Manchester United, or a team of a similar calibre, comes for him, then he’s going to think it’s time for the next step and to win trophies.

“He’s had a brilliant first season in the Premier League but he needs to maintain that level of consistency. He can’t believe that all the hard work is done after one season because remaining consistent is going to benefit his career a lot more.

“He is good enough to play for Manchester United at the moment.”

Yes, he is. Years of proving himself at club and international level makes Palhinha one of this summer’s no-brainer signings for any club with title-winning aspirations.

And his future employers will be getting a player capable of embarrassing the most vaunted of opponents, whether with a bruising tackle or a dignity-shredding nutmeg.

By Michael Lee

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