Midfielders who can spray around a ball like it’s nobody’s business while also doing the dirty work are a dying breed, hence why they often cost a small fortune to buy these days.
And that’s only if you can find one with that complete profile, who is good enough to be able to slot into a top side and continue playing with eyes in every side of their head.
Manchester United seemed to have spent every single summer since Michael Carrick’s retirement attempting to sign that calibre of midfielder, yet every transfer window without fail, they’re back to square one – and with much lighter pockets.
Seeing any midfielder linked with the club is enough to send shivers down that poor player’s spine. It’s a place where most go to rot away and die in footballing terms.
But Joao Neves might just be the one to break the curse, if United are to formalise their interest.
At just 19, the Portuguese midfielder is stealing headlines, breaking hearts and pinging balls for fun, all of which is while wearing a tucked-in shirt that absolutely screams future star.
We say ‘future’ lightly, because the way Neves is playing, he’s not far from already being there. A big move from Portugal feels increasingly imminent.
Plying his trade at Benfica, what is immediately noticeable about the 19-year-old is his short but stocky build and deceiving pace to make recoveries.
Equipped with the tenacity of prime Neil Warnock on a Saturday afternoon, Neves combines a pitbull-like behaviour with a gloss that not many possess. The swaz that turns a combative midfielder into an incredibly expensive and attractive one.
At a glance, the tucked shirt might be doing a lot of heavy lifting. But open your eyes wider and you’ll see it’s not just a facade; for every bullish tackle he makes, Neves has a gorgeous pass down the field to match.
Balancing ruthless aggression with technical excellence is a priceless quality and almost sounds too good to be true in today’s game, but that’s what’s made him such a commodity to Benfica at such a young age.
When watching him and thinking about United’s midfield, it’s not difficult to understand why they’re keen to jump the queue for his services.
João Neves – The Next Kimmich
— ' (@TheShowtimeReds) November 15, 2023
Joshua Kimmich, Sergio Busquets and a tiny bit of Paul Scholes all rolled into one – purely in terms of profile and potential of course.
Even if that is just a way to profile how Neves plays his football, that’s one hell of a set of characteristics.
It’s no wonder that his international colleague Bruno Fernandes is desperate for him to come to Old Trafford.
He told Portuguese outlet Sport TV: “I would love to have him at United, he has top quality! But it’s João choice…
“He’s great player,” He exclaimed, adding: “He will have a great future, in United or somewhere else.”
Hard to dispute it, especially coming from a man who sees him up close and is the one receiving the ball off him in midfield. Neves is a serious gem and a bit of a freak in terms of his array of abilities.
Not all midfielders have to be physically imposing giants. The teenager is a boundless energy source constantly hacking players down and snuffing the ball away from their feet, the perfect fuel to send people into the dressing room raging with fury or into the stands in heaps of pain.
And when he’s not doing that, he’s ticking all the boxes for a modern-day creator – sitting in the gaps and spraying perfectly weighted passes that make you go ‘ooooo’.
Whoever lands Neves has one of football’s top prospects. United need to absolutely make sure it’s them to finally fix their midfield woes for good.
By Mitch Wilks