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Premier League • England

Who is Man Utd target Joao Neves – A deep dive into the potential Casemiro successor

James Pennington
Benfica teenager Joao Neves

Benfica teenager Joao Neves has been linked with a move to Manchester United.

Joao Neves is a Portuguese midfielder currently starring for Primeira Liga giants Benfica, with a switch to the Premier League being heavily speculated.

TEAMtalk’s Fraser Fletcher revealed on Monday that Man United have tracked the 19-year-old for a number of years but are not the only admirers of the midfielder.

Neves has come through the youth ranks at Benfica and made the leap to senior football less than a year ago following the departure of Enzo Fernandez to Chelsea.

Benfica currently sit second in the Primeira Liga, one point behind rivals Sporting CP with Neves having appeared in all eight games so far, starting on five occasions.

Neves has also played the full 90 minutes in each of Benfica’s three Champions League games this campaign.

With Man United in need of midfield reinforcements, the 19-year-old has been lined up as a long-term option for the Red Devils.

Neves’ career so far

Neves joined Benfica’s youth system in 2012 and has played at every youth level for the Lisbon outfit ever since.

He made his U23 debut in the 2021/22 season at the age of just 17 and made seven appearances and scored the Goal of the Tournament as Benfica’s youth team romped to a 6-0 victory over Salzburg in the final of the UEFA Youth League – the first time they had won it.

The midfielder would continue to feature for Benfica’s youth teams where rumours of Enzo Fernandez’s move saw him called up to train with the first team.

Neves made his competitive first team debut for Benfica on 30th December 2022 as a late substitute in a 3-0 away loss at Braga.

On the March 7 2023, the then-18-year-old would make his Champions League debut as a substitute in Benfica’s 5-1 victory against Club Brugge, providing an assist for the fifth goal.

Neves would go on to displace Florentino Luis in the final months of the season and would score a late equaliser away at Sporting CP, securing a 2-2 draw in a dramatic comeback.

At just 19 years of age, Neves would make his debut for the Portuguese national team as a late substitute in a 5-0 victory away in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

What is Neves like as a player?

Under Roger Schmidt, Benfica often play in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Neves usually pairing Orkun Kokcu in The Eagles’ double pivot.

Neves can do a bit of everything. Despite his age and smaller frame, only standing at 1.74m (5ft 9), Neves can hold his own physically at the highest level and is not afraid to get stuck in and go up for headers.

In possession, he is very switched on, with this awareness allowing him to always stay one step ahead of the opposition and regularly progressing the ball into the final third with his passing.

On the ball, Neves is an exceptional dribbler, with his low centre of gravity and willingness to run with the ball often drawing opposition where he can then either earn a foul or pass to a team-mate.

Even when bullied to the ground, he can shield the ball using his body and move the ball with his legs before springing back up and retaining possession.

Neves has flair in his game as well, not afraid to try a nutmeg or another skill move when necessary.

Where will Neves go?

Neves’ current market value is around 20million, according to Transfermarkt, though it would be surprising to see Benfica depart with their homegrown talent for anything less than five times that amount.

Signing a new contract until 2028 as recently as August 2023, Neves’ release clause is around 120million, similar to the figure Chelsea paid Benfica for Enzo Fernandez.

It is clear that Benfica are reluctant to sell their academy product any time soon, though are powerless to stop any move should that release clause be activated.

Man United have been the team most heavily linked with the 19-year-old as Erik ten Hag hopes to reshape his midfield in the near future.

With Christian Eriksen and Casemiro already 31, – and the latter reportedly regretting joining United in the first place – the Dutchman wants to add some youth to his midfield project.

United would have to break the bank to get Neves out of Portugal and may be unwilling to meet the release clause following a string of unsuccessful big-money signings – including Paul Pogba, Antony, Harry Maguire and Jadon Sancho – struggling at Old Trafford.

Free-spending Chelsea has also been linked, but it is hard to see where he would fit in following the acquisitions of Moises Caicedo, Romeo Lavia, Enzo Fernandez, Carney Chukwuemeka and Lesley Ugochukwu with the academy product Conor Gallagher also competing for minutes.