Joao Neves is an old-fashioned player masquerading as a young upcoming starlet. He tucks in his shirt before the game, always looking neat and tidy, and plays his football the very same way.

The 19-year-old Portugal midfielder is the latest prospect to emerge from the constantly churning talent factory known as the Benfica SL Football Academy.

Joao Neves played for both Casa Benfica Tavira and the Benfica development centre in Algarve before making his switch to the main academy in 2016. From there Neves signed his first professional contract four years later, before bursting onto the scene at a senior level in 2022.

His first competitive game for the senior side was actually New Year’s day in 2023, coming on late in the game during a 3-0 loss to Braga. Since this breakthrough, Neves has made 66 appearances for Benfica, scoring four goals and providing three assists.

But it isn’t the goals and assists that set the standard for this midfield maestro so highly, but his poise and quality at such a young age. Dictating games, running the show and standing out on the highest level, the 19-year-old plays like an experienced midfield general, combining passing, ball carrying, ball manipulation and defensive actions into one.

Neves always looks under maximum control and never rushes on the ball. The expression “eyes in the back of his head” comes to mind.

You only have to take a look at the statsheet to see the level of player we are talking about, he ranks in the top echelon of midfielders in the top five leagues for most relevant stats.

His level of passing is a joy to behold, completing around 70 passes per 90 (around 7 of these being long passes per 90), he progresses the play through the lines whether that is with long switches of play (highlighted by his high volume of long passes completed) or incisive passes into the half spaces, making 6.85 passes into the final third per 90, and making 7.07 progressive passes per 90.

The most impressive trait about Neves is his press resistance. The young man exudes confidence and composure on the ball – exhibiting the mannerisms of players a decade his senior. 51.52 carries per 90 (top 4% amongst midfielders in the top five leagues) confirms the eyetest in that he is always comfortable on the ball and capable of finding solutions even when surrounded by the opposition press.

This is an extremely transferable and valuable skill to have in the Premier League, where many teams want to press high and aggressively to win the ball back. Having a player as poised and measured on the ball as Joao Neves is a weapon, he can receive under pressure, bait the opposition, and then use one of his many tools to find his way out (including his high levels of passing and carrying).

But Neves isn’t afraid to get stuck in either, for a player that is as silky and technical as this, he is more than willing to make a heavy challenge and contest his duels.

The Benfica star averages a whopping 3.02 tackles per 90, 1.29 interceptions per 90, 1.99 blocks per 90, and wins an exceptional 1.77 aerials per 90, despite not being a towering presence standing at only 5ft 9in.

Neves is blossoming before our eyes into a complete midfielder, combative enough to break down opposition counter attacks, and silky enough to progress play, dictate the game and run the midfield.

If we were to try and point out a weakness in this elite level talent, it would probably be the fact he doesn’t offer enough box threat arriving from midfield. However at 19-years of age and the level of technical quality he possesses, there is no reason he couldn’t apply that technique when arriving in the box to offer threat, and this will come with the development of his tendency to arrive (how to arrive, where to arrive etc).

The midfielder averages 1.17 shots per 90, with 0.32 shots on target per 90. Improving his long range shooting, alongside that ability to arrive in the box will make Neves one of the most complete midfielders in Europe.

The young man has also demonstrated remarkable mental strength over the course of his short career. Joao Never tragically mourned the loss of his mother after an extended battle with Cancer, but the loss hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm and love for the game, and his commitment to Benfica. 

This coming in a year wherein Neves was thrust into the spotlight as the replacement for big-money departure Enzo Fernandez. With his side needing a player ready to step in and fill that extremely pivotal role in the side.

And he’s done just that.

Neves continues to impress for Benfica both domestically and in European competition, and has also racked up three international caps in the process. 

His performance over the course of the season has brought with it a host of media attention. Links to Manchester United and Arsenal have emerged at various degrees of credibility, but Benfica issues a stern “hands-off warning” in the January window, ensuring they retained the services of Neves for the remainder of the season.

But as has been proven in the past, should Benfica receive a bid of acceptable value, they will undoubtedly allow the player to explore his options.

The emergence of Kobbie Mainoo in Manchester may halt plans for a big money move to Erik ten Hag’s side, but there will certainly be interest from a variety of clubs on the continent when the Summer window arrives.`