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Who is Portugal's starlet Renato Sanches?

Why Renato Sanches could be Portugal’s next big thing after Cristiano Ronaldo

July 5, 2016 By Michelle Bonsu
All eyes will be on Cristiano Ronaldo as Portugal take on Wales, but there is another player to watch out for: Renato Sanches. We take a look at this youngster's rise and what's next in store for Bayern Munich's huge signing.

Unless if you are based in Portugal, or follow Portuguese football on a regular basis, then you probably did not know much about a certain youngster making waves.

That is, until now. One of the great things about Euro tournaments, Copa America competitions, and World Cups is that fans worldwide get the opportunity to see players in action that they were not previously aware of.

Portugal's Renato Sanches falls into that category. Although those who tune into Portuguese football's top tier will already be well-aware of the starlet's talents, the football fanbase at large were not - at least not until he made quite a splash during Portugal's last two games against Croatia and Poland.

But who is this lad? Where did he first begin his journey, and what's next in store for this promising player? Let's have a look.

Who is Renato Sanches?

Every top footballer comes from somewhere, naturally. Most of them, from very humble backgrounds. And Renato Sanches is no exception. Born on August 18, 1997 in Portugal's capital city as Renato Júnior Luz Sanches, he grew up in Musgueira - a neighborhood best described as a "ghetto" - poor, dangerous, and overall a place in which its denizens dream of better things.

Sanches, naturally, was one of those big dreamers and like many other boys his age, first began playing football in the streets. At the age of eight, he signed on to feature for his first official club - local side Águias da Musgueira.

Back in the day: A young Sanches in the colors of Benfica. Who would have thought he would be setting records about a decade later?

But he would not be there for long. About a year later, it was on to Portugal's most successful club - Benfica - who signed him up to join their youth system.

So, how much did the Eagles offer to pick up this budding talent?

Apparently a grand total of...750 euros. Oh, and 25 footballs thrown in as an added bonus. However, there have been recent reports that the club are claiming they are still waiting on those footballs from Benfica - which apparently was a promise given to Águias da Musgueira once he turned professional.

Working his way up through the ranks

After arriving at Benfica in 2006 as a nine-year-old, Sanches would spend a total of ten years with the Eagles - literally growing up within the club's ranks. By 2014, however, he had already outgrown the youth squad and began training with the reserves.

Sanches's first foray into the professional world took place on October 5th, when he featured for the second team in the first 45 during a road match against Feirense. By all accounts, he put in a solid shift, but discipline and keeping a cool head was also an issue.

Given that he was only 17 at the time, that is certainly understandable. After all, there are players over a decade older who are still prone to excessive aggression on the pitch. During the second half of his debut professional season, the budding talent was ejected during a major clash at home against Porto in January (which Benfica won) and then again two months later during an away fixture versus Santa Clara.

Making waves at Benfica

In total, Sanches made 24 appearances in all competitions for Benfica B, and despite not being a permanent fixture in the starting XI, his performances were impressive enough to earn him a call-up to the first team.

As he was still just in training, Sanches, who had just reached the age of majority, featured for three different Benfica sides in the 2015/2016 season. On August 30th, he scored his first goal for the reserve side during a 2-1 defeat to Varzim. Over the span of the next two months, he added two more goals, played in the UEFA Youth League with the youth team, and at the end of October, came on as a late sub as Benfica cruised to an easy 4-0 win over Tondela.

The Eagles certainly were rapidly becoming well aware of the starlet's growing potential, as in November, they decided to tie him down to a new contract that was designed to keep him put until 2021 and increased his release clause to €45 million. Of course, as we all know, the moment a club starts renegotiating the terms of a player's contract and release clause, it is obviously due to other teams starting to take interest.

During the 2015/2016 campaign, Sanches played for the youth, reserve, and senior teams, making a total of 45 appearances and scoring five goals across all competitions for Benfica B and the first team

Within two weeks spanning from the end of November to early December, Sanches had made two full appearances for Benfica in European and club competition, and more important, written his name into the club's long and storied history books.

On December 4th, his spectacular long range effort against Academica made him, at 18, the youngest ever goal-scorer for Benfica since the turn of this century.

All in all, it was a widely successful campaign for the youngster, but it was not all as smooth sailing as he would have liked. Unfortunately, not everyone was happy to see the rise of a new star in the middle of the park. In April, racism again reared its ugly head as some Rio Ave fans made offensive monkey noises toward the youngster as he headed off the pitch.

Many players far older have reacted in an angrier fashion, as it obviously is never pleasant to be heckled because of one's ethnic background. However, Sanches, surprisingly, handled this awful situation in a fashion that belied his youth, as you will see in the video below.

Translation: Sanches's reaction to racist taunts

A record-breaking fee

Impressive performances and a rising profile. Cue Europe's biggest starting to circle. And that's what started to happen in the second half of the 2015/2016. But just as many thought his next stop would be the Premier League - with English giants Manchester United apparently being interested - things took a very interesting turn.

On May 10th, "Welcome to Manchester" became "Willkommen in München" as Bayern Munich, seemingly out of the blue, pipped Manchester United to Sanches's signature. The deal, which cost die Roten an initial €35 million - but could potentially rise in total to a whopping €80 million (with €45 million in add-on incentives) set several records, including:

  • Most expensive Portuguese player to leave the top flight. The previous record was the €30 million spent on three players - the most recent being Fabio Coentrao when he departed Benfica for Real Madrid in 2011
  • Second highest transfer fee received by Benfica. The highest fee the Eagles recouped was for Belgium international Axel Witsel, when Russian outfit Zenit Saint Petersburg paid €40 million for his services in 2012
  • First ever Portuguese player to sign for Bayern Munich
  • Fourth most expensive signing by Bayern, after Javi Martinez, Mario Gotze, and Arturo Vidal

Worth the price? Bayern Munich certainly think so...as they shelled out an initial €35 million this past May for 18-year-old Renato Sanches. This could rise to over double - to the tune of €80 million

An impressive debut on the international stage

Bayern fans, fortunately, did not have to wait until the 2016/2017 Bundesliga season to see their club's new signing in action. In March, Sanches received his first call-up to the senior squad, and despite only featuring for less than half an hour, he impressed Fernando Santos enough to include him in his 23-man side for Euro 2016.

Santos's decision certainly has paid off, as the young midfielder has already picked up two man of the match performances. The Portugual-Croatia round of 16 tie was arguably the most boring and frustrating match so far of this tournament. Nonetheless, Sanches's showings were one of the bright spots in a rather dull affair that dragged on for 116 minutes until Ricardo Quaresma finally broke the deadlock with Portugal's first real attempt on goal.

He deservedly earned his second MOTM award for his excellent performance during Portugal's win over Poland in the quarter-finals. In fact, it was his goal that gave the team the equalizer en route to a penalty shoot-out - which he also participated in to help them defeat the Poles 5-3 on penalties.

Many players would be nervous to feature in a must-win spot-kick shoot-out...especially during the quarter-finals of your debut international tournament! Well, not so much for Renato Sanches, who is shown here with his second MOTM award after the win over Poland

Not bad for a player who was barely seven years old when Portugal made it to the 2004 Euro final...and when a certain Portuguese superstar was making his own international debut at this very same tournament.

Following in Cristiano Ronaldo's steps?

Given his rise to prominence, it's not surprising that Sanches has already drawn comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo. Although they do not play the same position, he has already broken three records at this competition. In 2004, CR7 became the youngest-ever player to receive a call-up to the senior side. That record now belongs to Sanches.

During the quarter-finals, Sanches was included in Portugal's starting XI, which also ended his skipper's position as the youngest starter in Portuguese football history. And with his goal against Poland, he is now, of course, the youngest player to score in a knock-out match not just for the "Seleção das Quinas", but in the competition's history.

Twelve years ago, Cristiano Ronaldo announced himself to the world when Portugal hosted Euro 2004. Although it was an impressive debut - during which he scored two goals and two assists - it ended in heartbreak as they unfortunately lost to a Greek side that managed to win the tournament using an ultra-defensive (and dull, but efficient) style of football.

The king and the crown prince? It's early, but some have already crowned Sanches as the "next big thing" in Portuguese football as Cristiano Ronaldo's heir apparent

This time around, Portugal, despite not playing their best football - they have yet to win a game inside 90 minutes - have nonetheless earned their spot in the final four.

With his past two appearances earning him rave reviews around the world, it goes without saying Sanches will definitely be in the starting XI for their upcoming clash against Gareth Bale and Wales.

What's next for Renato Sanches...at Euro 2016 and beyond?

Portugal, as we all know are within touching distance of this summer's final - provided that, of course, they can edge out Wales.

After that, it's anyone's game - although they will face a stern test against either hosts France or reigning World Cup champions Germany.

Sanches has been impressive since the knock-out rounds, but what can we expect from the 18-year-old? Well, here is a look at his stats from the game against Poland:

He's already proven that he does not suffer from stage fright once the going gets tough, and is willing to step up and help the team cause to take some of the pressure off Cristiano Ronaldo. Bayern's new signing has shown the kind of confidence that one would expect to see in a player a decade older than him by stepping up to take one of Portugal's penalties during their tense shoot-out against Poland.

All in all, if he plays like the way he has done so far since Portugal got into the knock-out stage, Wales will have someone more to worry about besides, of course, Cristiano Ronaldo. And even if Portugal's Euro 2016 tournament ends this Wednesday, or they fail to win Sunday's final, the future looks bright - both for the nation and its potential major star in the making.

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