Many players are dubbed the next ‘wonderkid’, but few back it up. Renato Sanches’ exciting performances at Euro 16 showed why the biggest clubs in the world were prepared to gamble €63 million on an 18-year-old with just 24 first team appearances to his name. PDP Technical Advisor, Dan Wright reviews Sanches’ tournament and looks ahead to his time in Germany.

Born in Lisbon to a father from São Tomé and Príncipe and a mother from Cape Verde, Renato Sanches grew up in the impoverished neighbourhood of Musgueira. Here in one of the most problematic areas of the city Sanches started his footballing journey, training with local team Aguias de Musgueira – The Eagles of Musgueira.

The energetic youngster was quickly identified by Benfica and signed with the club aged 11. He progressed through the academy at Benfica and made his debut for the ‘B’ side in October 2014 aged just 16. The midfielder remained with the B side for the start of the 2015­­-16 season, appearing in the UEFA Youth League, but it wasn’t long before he was training with the senior group. Cameo appearances against Tondela and Boavista preceeded a Champions League debut in a 2-2 draw against Astana. Another milestone came on 4th December, when in his full debut at Estádio da Luz he scored from 35 yards in a 3-0 win over Académica. By the end of the season he had helped his team secure a third title in a row, won the League Cup and played for Portugal. In the match before Sanches’ club debut, Benfica lost 3-0 at home to the leaders Sporting and were sixth, eight points behind their city rivals. Benfica went on to win 14 out of 16 games with Sanches in the line-up. Benfica knew they had a top talent on their hands and rewarded the youngster with an improved contract which tied him to the Portuguese giants until 2021.

In May 2016, it was reported that Europe’s elite clubs were competing to prise him away from life in the Primeira Liga. With Sanches represented by Portuguese super agent Jorge Mendes, who also represents Cristiano Ronaldo and José Mourinho, many predicted a move to Manchester United. Instead, he opted for Bayern and a deal reported to be worth an initial €35 million, with add-ons making the potential deal worth a massive €63 million. Perhaps a sign of a young man who can make his own choices: “I had several offers but I chose Bayern Munich,” Sanches said. “Manchester United? I think everyone knows that there was an offer from Manchester United but there were others. I chose Bayern because it’s a big club and I’ll win titles.”

The good news kept coming for the now 18-year-old, as Fernando Santos selected Sanches as part of the 23-man squad to compete in France in the European Championships. Sanches became the youngest Portuguese player to be selected for a major tournament, breaking the record of one Cristiano Ronaldo – an impressive achievement for the youngster given he didn’t appear in any qualifiers and only made his debut for the national team in March 2016, in a 0-1 friendly loss to Bulgaria.

Portugal’s opening game of Euro 2016 was a 1-1 draw with the fearless Iceland, a game in which Sanches made an appearance from the bench deep into the second half. Portugal followed this unexpected disappointment with a frustrating 0-0 draw with Austria. In their final group game they faced Hungary, with the new format of the tournament meaning that despite the two draws Portugal had an opportunity to qualify in third place, but they needed a positive result to have a chance of making the knock-out rounds. After a poor performance in the first half, the inexperienced Sanches was introduced at half time. In a thriller of a game Portugal were behind three times. Santos made a necessarily daring change, introducing the veteran Ricardo Quaresma on the hour, and his impact was instant, with the Besiktas winger presenting his former Sporting team-mate Ronaldo to head his second goal and earn a 3-3 draw for his team. Ronaldo’s two goals should have written the headlines, but it was Sanches who had grabbed the attention, with his unusual capacity to run with the ball for 20 or 30 metres, excellent passing range and seemingly endless energy.

Portugal progressed to face Croatia in the round of 16, but in one of the dullest games of the tournament neither goalkeeper had a save to make until the final three minutes of extra-time. The breakthrough came when Sanches, who was introduced in the 50th minute, picked up the ball from his own penalty box and carried it deep into the Croatian half. With Nani and Ronaldo splitting left and right, Sanches slid the ball to Nani, who squared to Ronaldo who duly managed the game’s first attempt on target, and though Danijel Subasic produced a good save to keep it out, Ricardo Quaresma was on hand to tap in the rebound. Quaresma was once Portugal’s shining light, and in a mixed career it could be argued he has not always filled his undoubted talent.

Without winning a game in normal time Portugal were into the quarter finals. In a game largely devoid of quality, Sanches was the standout player and was awarded man of the match.

After appearing as a substitute in three of Portugal’s opening four games in France, Sanches was given his first start for his country at the Stade Veldrome, Marseille against Poland. The coache’s faith was repaid with another Man of the Match display. Playing at the point of a midfield diamond, just behind Ronaldo and Nani, the young midfielder played with assurance, drive and real quality from the first minute to the last.

Future Bayern Munich teammate Robert Lewandowski opened the scoring early on, but Sanches pulled Portugal back into the game in the 33rd minute, exchanging a one-two with Nani before slamming the ball past Lukas Fabianski from the edge of the box. The equaliser made him the youngest player to score at Euro 2016 and the youngest player ever to score in a knockout game at a European Championship, yet another accomplishment to add to an ever-expanding CV.

Strangely, the goal wasn’t the most impressive part of his performance. His was an all-action display brimming with drive and fearlessness; he was composed in possession, completing 94% of his passes, creating one chance and completing 10 of his 11 trademark dribbles. Without the ball he was tenacious, winning 100% of his tackles and intercepting the ball three times. Sanches constantly looked like the most threatening player in a side that boasted a three-time Ballon d’Or winner. The teenager’s confidence was also reflected when he slammed home his penalty in the shootout with the swagger of a young man who already believes he deserves to play at the very highest level.


DW Sanches


Portugal progressed to the semi-final to face Wales. Chris Coleman’s squad had a fantastic tournament, over achieving with Bale and Ramsay the driving force behind the team. However, this seemed a game too far for the Welsh. After a dour first half, Portugal took control of the game by scoring two quick goals in the second half. A majestic header from Ronaldo and a tap-in for Nan were enough to end the Welsh hopes and see Portugal through to the final. Sanches started and had a effective but less spectacular game; however, he did show his tactical flexibility and maturity, playing on the right-hand side of a diamond, which tucked in tight to allow Nani and Ronaldo freedom.

Fast forward to 10th July, Portugal win the European Championships beating the hosts in Paris with a dramatic extra-time winner from Éder. The 1-0 result was history in the making for the team and Sanches. Portugal had won their first ever international title. Sanches, the youngest ever player to play in a Euro final, was named Young Player of the Tournament. It was a remarkable achievement given he started his first game in the quarter final and had bagged the prize despite the impressive Kingsley Coman, who had impacted French games throughout the tournament.

Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge reflected after the tournament, “We are very happy that we had the courage to spend big on him in April because €35 million is a lot of money. Bayern would not have been able to afford him had we tried to sign him after the Euros. We would be talking about crazy money now.” It was a statement which sums up his rise to fame from B squad to one of Europe’s hottest properties.

So where next for Sanches? Still a teenager, Sanches had shown the world his attributes; physically strong, cool under pressure and oozing quality in possession. He knows when to play simple, with 1 or 2 touches but has shown dynamism to run with the ball with pace and power.  He was also adaptable; playing as a number 10, a holding midfielder or a box-to-box midfielder. Sanches finished the tournament with 85% pass completion and 11 take ons, creating 5 chances and scoring 1 goal.

The obvious challenge on the horizon lies in Germany, with Sanches becoming a member of a world class Bayern team expected to win every game domestically and challenge for the Champions League. First Sanches must impress new boss Carlo Ancelotti to earn a place in the starting line-up from a group that is exploding with talent, including Lahm, Alonso, Gotze, Martinez, Thiago, Vidal and Kimmich.

As with all young players, consistency is key. To date Sanches’ career has gone from strength to strength. Can he continue to progress? Having spent time with Ronaldo and Quaresma he has real life examples of how his career could play out. He certainly seems confident, telling Sport Bild: “I am looking forward to Bayern. And Bayern should be looking forward to me. I have some big objectives. I want to win titles with Bayern. I want to help my new team to success right away.”

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