This is Portugal’s class of ‘99. Every single player here was born in 1999, every single player here has played for Portugal at some level. What a golden generation.
This isn’t even including other promising talents like Estoril’s Duarte Valente, Portimonense’s Paulo Estrela, or Benfica B’s David Tavares etc. There’s plenty of others like Wolves’ Pedro Neto, Benfica’s Nuno Tavares & Porto’s Romário Baró, who were born a few weeks shy of ’99.
This class of 1999 won the U-19 Euros in 2018, they reached the U-19 Euros Final in 2017 before losing to England, and they won the U-17 Euros in 2016. In other words, they’re hardly a fluke.
None of these players are older than 20, and yet so many of them are already playing regular minutes of top-level football. João Félix has been one of the breakout stars in Europe, Florentino and Gedson play regularly for Benfica, Vinagre gets plenty of minutes under Nuno, etc.
The two main right backs of Portugal’s class of 1999 (Diogo Dalot and Thierry Correia) have already earned transfer fees amounting to a total of €36 million. Dalot has played Champions League football for Porto and Man United, Correia could do the same for Valencia this year.
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Each of the three goalkeepers are currently 2nd-choice at their clubs: João Virgínia (on loan from Everton) is backup to Rafael Cabral at Reading, Luís Maximiano is 2nd-choice to Renan Ribeiro at Sporting, and Diogo Costa is backup to Agustín Marchesín at Porto.
Even if they don’t manage to usurp their elders for the starting spots this season, they’ll still get minutes in cup matches. Diogo Costa, the main starter for Portugal’s youth sides, will be third-choice once Iker Casillas returns, but this will likely be Casillas’ final season.
Portugal’s youth have benefited from their managers’ trust, but also from teams deciding to replace their big-money sales not with signings, but with youth products. When Porto sold Óliver Torres to Sevilla for €12m, they didn’t buy a replacement; they promoted Romário Baró.
While Sérgio Conceição has been incredibly stingy with giving youngsters minutes during his time at Porto, that might change this season. Baró is currently a starter, Diogo Leite could eventually beat out Marcano and Mbemba for a starting spot in defence alongside Pepe.
Credit: Zach Lowy