All eyes will be on Gelson Martins tonight, apparently, when his Sporting Lisbon side host Real Madrid. But who is he and what could the future hold for the Portugal winger?
Scouts from the continent’s biggest clubs will converge upon the Estadio Jose Alvalade to see if Martins can repeat his form from Champions League matchday one, when the 21-year-old caught everyone’s eye at the Bernabeu with a performance full of the pace, trickery and finesse that has become expected of him this season.
Martins rolled from the same Sporting production line that saw Cristiano Ronaldo, Ricardo Quaresma and Nani develop, and the same clubs that hoovered up that talent – Manchester United and Barcelona – are among the vultures circling around the latest hot prospect.
Sporting’s No.77 is predominantly a right winger but can also play off the main striker in a more central role, having been eased into the side by Jorge Jesus since his Portuguese league debut as a 20-year-old in August 2015.
Martins made 36 league and European appearances for Sporting in his debut campaign, though two-thirds of those came off the bench. This season, though, has seen the Cape Verde-born speedster really establish himself in Jesus’s XI following Joao Mario’s exit to Inter Milan, and the manager’s faith has certainly been rewarded.
Having started all of Sporting’s league matches, Martins has scored two goals and offered seven assists in 10 outings. Such form has elevated him to the Portugal national team, with Martins coming off the bench for the European Champions in their last three matches as 16 goals were put past Andorra, Faroe Islands and Latvia.
Which clubs are watching?
According to various reports in Tuesday, United, Barca, Man City, Chelsea and Bayern Munich will be among the clubs watching Martins on Tuesday night, in addition to Sporting’s opponents Real Madrid.
Reports in Spain on Monday suggested Jose Mourinho had been trying to “seduce” Martins for months and the Portuguese manager has made no secret of his desire for more pace in his attack.
United have a strong relationship with Sporting, having concluded deals for Ronaldo and Nani, who was also loaned back to his boyhood club in 2014-15. The Red Devils, though, missed out on last summer’s biggest Portuguese export when Bayern Munich swooped for Renato Sanches and the club will have to be far more decisive and persuasive if they are to fend off their biggest European rivals in the fight for Martins.
Barcelona reportedly blew their chance when they had a free run at Martins in 2012. Sporting owed Barca €1million following the acquisition of Jeffren Suarez and because the Portuguese side were unable to pay, they offered Barca the pick of their youth players. Martins and Joao Mario were up for grabs but the Catalans instead selected two other players – Edgar Le and midfielder Agostinho Ca – who failed to force their way into the Barca first-team squad.
How much will he cost?
Martins’ current contract situation plays right into the hands of his suitors. The winger has a £52million buyout clause, which Sporting are desperate to increase. But despite reportedly being paid only £2,000 a week, Martins resisted the offer earlier this season to sign a new deal worth 250,000 euros – just over double what he currently earns.
Of course, the likes of United and their rivals can blow Sporting out of the water when it comes to wages and Martins’ current buyout clause is unlikely to frighten any of the big clubs.
What they said:
Sporting Lisbon coach Jorge Jesus:
“In Portugal, there is no one like him.”
“Gelson is no longer a promise; he is a confirmation.”
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane:
“He had a great game and I’m sure that it’ll be the same on Tuesday.
“He’s a top player and playing against Real Madrid will drive him on even more. That’s to be expected, but we’ll be trying to ensure that he doesn’t perform as well as he did in the first game.”
Barcelona official Ariedo Braida:
“We are keeping Gelson Martins under observation. He’s a young player with lots of talent, who Barcelona has been keeping an eye on and will continue to do so.
Barcelona is aware of what’s going on in Portuguese football and I can’t hide that Gelson Martins is one of the players we’re looking at.”