How Renato Sanches could follow in Cristiano Ronaldo's footsteps
When I was 18 years old, I won the Euro 2016 with my country. I was so good that not even a last bit of anxiety could shroud me when I was taking a penalty against Poland in a quarter-final penalty shootout. In the end, my performances earned me the best young player of the tournament.
And then I woke up from somnolence and the dream broke.
For one boy, however, it was no dream. When he wakes up in the morning, he can look back with the epiphany that what he saw was actually real. That boy is none other than Renato Sanches.
On the Rise
His career is on the rise. Prior to the tournament, when fewer people knew him, Bayern Munich made a quick move and signed him for €35 million, which could rise up to €80 million if the add-on clauses are met.
The Bavarians didn’t need to witness the Euro to know how good he was—and they will be thanking themselves for that since he almost certainly would have cost a bit more had the negotiations taken place after the tournament ended.
From Kid to Kid: Terrible to Beautiful
The last time a teenager played in the final of the Euros, things didn’t end up well for that kid. He was in tears. Devastated. The golden generation of his nation was on the brink of its end. Perhaps, he thought, this was it: the first and last chance to win a trophy with the national team. And it was blown.
12 years later, that same kid—now the captain of Portugal—went on to lift the trophy, and he had an 18-year old Renato Sanches to thank for helping his dream come true.
Cristiano Ronaldo career is one that every footballer aspires to have. Coming out of Sporting’s fabled academy, he joined Manchester United. There, he won many trophies as well as acclaiming the individual honour of the best in the world in 2008.
Then he joined Real Madrid in 2009. 7 years later, he has two more Champions League and Ballon d’Ors to his name, another league title and, most importantly, a Euro with Portugal—something that many predicted would elude him.
Contrary to popular belief, this Portugal team did have some really good players. Even Rui Patricio churned out some incredible displays for his country. It was no longer one man carrying the team as players like Joao Mario, Pepe and William Carvalho provided brilliant support.
In fact, this time, it was Portugal that carried Cristiano Ronaldo to glory.
The crown jewel among them all was, of course, Renato Sanches. Most kids don’t even have proper facial hair at 18, something that we see with the new Bayern starlet, but Sanches already has the world under his feet.
And now, his career trajectory is moving in a similar way to that of the Real Madrid number 7. After a move to a big club, he played a major role in his country’s Euro triumph. Given his strengths as a player and the talent that he possesses, he will only go higher.
Playing on the right-hand side of midfield, Sanches is a creative box-to-box midfielder that can change the course of the game at any given moment. In fact, it was his surge from deep against Croatia that resulted in Ricardo Quaresma’s extra-time winner.
His greatest strength, however, lies in his mind. When he walked to take Portugal’s second penalty in the shootout against Poland, most might have been nervous given that this was an 18-year-old taking a penalty in a high-octane game. But the man himself showed no sign of tension.
This mental strength allows a player to do anything, making him highly adaptable and compliant.
The Caged Beast
Fernando Santos’ Portugal played the direst brand of football one could imagine. All of his players, apart from Cristiano Ronaldo, were deprived of their expressive freedom in order to keep the defensive balance of the system intact.
Renato Sanches was no different. In such a rigid system, we didn’t get to see his best creative and attacking best as he was busy guarding his zone on the right-hand side of midfield.
Despite playing in a different role than his natural one, he shone. Rarely could any player get the better of him and it was for this reason that Portugal’s defensive play in this tournament was commendable.
The Unleashed Beast
With Bayern Munich, he will be played in his natural role and that is when we will see the true him—the unleashed beast that was caged during the Euros to suit the laws of the zoo.
At Bayern, it will be more like a jungle where he will have the freedom to move around as he likes. In such conditions, it is only natural to assume that he will grow and become an even better player and follow in the footsteps of the greatest Portugal player of all time.
As he now enjoys his well-earned holidays, he knows that he could become just as huge a figure as Cristiano Ronaldo in the future. Who knows, he might even captain Portugal someday. What can be said with assurance is that if he continues the way he is, he will follow in the footsteps of a great man.