Joao Pedro Sousa on honing the 'next Bruno Fernandes' in Pedro Goncalves, Fabio Martins and Middle East opportunities

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  • (EPA).

    For future superstars to fulfil their dizzying potential, it’s vital formative years are spent working under exceptional coaches.

    For the latest mega talent to emerge from Sporting Lisbon, Pedro Goncalves, that man was Joao Pedro Sousa.

    The long-term acolyte to Marco Silva branched out for the first time on his own at Primeira Liga upstarts Famalicao in 2019/20. An enlivening season witnessed the aforementioned Portugal Under-21 attacker show flashes of sublime talent – with six assists and five goals in 33 run-outs – under him as a promoted side stormed to their surprise sixth-placed finish, despite boasting the youngest average age of 24.9-years old.

    Goncalves – nicknamed Pote – would depart for the capital in a €6.5 million deal last summer.

    Fast forward to the present and 15 goals plus four assists in 26 appearances has made him one of the next transfer window’s hottest prospects. Portuguese sports daily A Bola has already reported interest from Manchester United for a rich prospect held to a €60 million release clause.

    Speaking to Sport360, Sousa – who is fielding overtures from the Middle East – reflects warmly on his time honing a dark horse for Portugal’s European Championships defence and anointed ‘next Bruno Fernandes’.

    “First of all, this [Goncalves] is an amazing kid,” says the 49-year-old, who exited Estadio Municipal 22 de Junho in January. “A good professional, I think he will even do much, much better than he is doing now.

    “He is a player who can move to the big, big clubs. A very technical player, very good tactically.

    “He plays in midfield, like a no8 or no10. Scores a lot of goals, this is why he’ll jump to a big, big club.

    “An amazing kid. He likes to work hard, but also likes to joke with his team-mates and coach sometimes.

    “Even then, he’s very serious in his job. He tries to do his best every day.”

    Comparisons to United superstar Fernandes are obvious. But are they fair?

    “They are different players,” Sousa replies. “Bruno is one of the biggest players in the world.

    “Pedro can be there one day. They are different – Pedro is playing a little bit further up on the field.”

    Joao Pedro Sousa at Famalicao (EPA).

    Joao Pedro Sousa at Famalicao (EPA).

    Goncalves is only 22-years old, yet a circuitous route has taken him to the top of scouting notebooks.

    The Chaves-native bounced between the Braga, Valencia and Wolverhampton Wanderers’ youth systems, before landing at relative-minnows Famalicao in July 2019 for €1.3m.

    It would be there under Sousa’s care he’d experience a debut season of regular first-team football. The right winger would blossom.

    Goncalves’ technical gifts are obvious even to the untrained eye. But for Sousa, a winning mentality and clear focus beyond his age sets him even further apart.

    He recalls: “Against Braga last season [a 2-2 draw in November 2019], we had one player [Roderick Miranda] who received a red card. We had to play the entire second half with 10 players.

    “At half-time it was 0-0 and Pedro said to me: ‘We will score, for sure. If I do not score, I will give an assist to my team-mate to score.’

    “After less than 10 minutes, we scored. It was Pedro with the pass to Toni Martinez.

    “This is the mentality of Pedro. Very ambitious.”

    The breeding ground at Famalicao also honed the talents of another fine attacker.

    Former Portugal youth international Fabio Martins’ figures of 12 goals and six assists in 36 run-outs were, comfortably, the best of an itinerant career.

    Such performances convinced Saudi Professional League outfit Al Shabab to agree a lucrative one-year loan with parent club Braga for the frizzy haired winger. A starring role alongside Argentina metronome Ever Banega and ex-Manchester United loanee Odion Ighalo has propelled his temporary employers into an intense battle with Al Hilal for the title.

    Sousa has remained in contact with the 27-year-old and is not surprised by his continued success.

    Joao Pedro Sousa at Everton.

    Joao Pedro Sousa at Everton.

    He says: “I spoke with Fabio Martins many, many times. Fabio is a very intelligent player.

    “When I worked with him, I saw a very big quality within him. With Fabio, it was just a matter of time to jump to a fantastic league.

    “Saudi is perfect for Fabio. Saudi is an important league, with tactical and technical players.

    “I follow him and believe he can help Shabab win many things.”

    Angola-born Sousa would go from team-mate with Marco Silva in Portugal’s lower leagues at Trofense, to assistant manager alongside him across the continent from 2012-19.

    This partnership brought silverware at Sporting and Greece’s Olympiakos, plus stints in the Premier League at Hull City, Watford and Everton.

    With full backing from his friend, an opportunity to strike out arrived at a Famalicao in May 2019 who were celebrating their Primeira Liga-return after 25 years away.

    “He [Silva] told me to go and be happy,” Sousa remembers. “Marco is my good friend for many years.

    “He supports me all the time.”

    Sousa won manager of the month in August and September 2019 after an unbeaten start. Ultimately, they would be denied European qualification on the final day.

    A subsequent squad churn made 2020/21 an exacting affair. Sousa departed in January with Famalicao one place above the drop zone.

    They’ve since dropped to bottom under successors Silas and Ivo Vieira.

    Sousa says: “It was a magnificent season [at Famalicao]. We had a group of very young players with good potential and talent.

    “Some from last season transferred to big clubs. Pedro Goncalves who is now at Sporting Lisbon, Uros Racic who is back at Valencia

    “It is important to remember how it was formed. There were 24 new players, only two players from 2019/20.

    “The average age was the lowest in Portugal and one of the lowest in Europe. It was an amazing season.

    “It is a big step, but I was prepared. When I started at Famalicao, I was surrounded by competent assistants and used the latest technology to utilise my ideas.

    “I built these ideas for 10 years. As a coach, I learned with Marco and my team-mates.

    “I like balanced teams and teams looking always for the win. All aspects are important for me.

    “I am experienced in different, important leagues. This gave me knowledge.

    “Working in the Middle East intrigues me. We have options there, Europe and the United States – we shall see.”