Ingenious, magical, awe-inspiring. It feels like every superlative in the book has been used for Wolves star Ruben Neves in the last four years.
Signed for a Championship record £15m, the midfielder swapped Champions League football and Porto’s captaincy for the second tier of English football in 2017.
It was a mind-boggling transfer but one which set the tone for Wolves. With the appointment of Nuno Espirito Santo and the arrival of Fosun Group, a relationship with super-agent Jorge Mendes was established.
Since Neves’ record move, Wolves have completed several deals of a similar ilk for Mendes’ clients. The likes of Nelson Semedo and Pedro Neto are both on Gestifute’s book, for instance, but the aforementioned midfield wizard is undoubtedly their biggest success story.
Neves has quickly become one of the most impressive and sought-after players in his position in the Premier League.
Links to Manchester City have been discussed but, for the time being, he is still the shining light of Nuno’s midfield.
It’s hard to believe the Portugal international is still only 24 years of age. He plays like somebody who has been at the top for years, conjuring up truly golden moments in front of the Molineux faithful.
When it comes to scoring goals from an improbable range, there are few better in Europe. After scoring his first Premier League goal in August 2018, it marked his 11th senior strike, just one of which had been from inside the penalty box.
Neves is Nuno’s quarterback, the standout and go-to man when Wolves are in a crisis. If he were in high school, he’d be the most popular in the class.
Very rarely does the Portuguese prop up inside the penalty area, something that’s proven to be one of the most eye-catching traits in the top flight. For instance, in August 2019, he racked up a 13th goal for Wolves. That happened to be a tenth from outside the box in Old Gold.
At that moment in time, only Harry Wilson (12) and Christian Eriksen (11) had scored more often from outside the box since Neves’ debut in English football.
It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that he has earned phenomenal reviews down the years. His former teammate Sylvain Deslandes once said: “He is a very, very talented player. We immediately saw it.”
Deslandes continued: “From his very first minutes in the Championship, he blew everybody’s mind with the science behind his ball placement and his aesthetically pleasing way of playing. But especially, we were astounded by his passing skills and his great shot capacity from long range.”
Such is Neves’ tendency to do things from outside the box that, at one point in 2018, he had scored more goals (6) than taken touches inside the area (4).
This season has seen him move slightly further forward. He is making more passes per game in the final third than he has done over the last four seasons. The way he popped up with a rare goal inside the penalty area against Everton in January typifies that.
Neves is now adding another layer to his game, something which is exemplified by his five Premier League goals in 2020/21. Coincidentally, Neves hasn’t scored that many goals in a single season since Wolves’ promotion-winning campaign.
All of this has led to the midfielder’s transfer value increasing exponentially. According to Transfermarkt, he is now worth an eye-catching £45m; an increase of 200% in four years from when he first penned terms in the Midlands.
“He can defend he can attack, he’s so talented,” Jamie Redknapp said in July 2020. “He can do it at Wolves but I think he’s going right to the top of the game, it’s effortless for him,” the Sky Sports pundit added.
Those words analyse Neves perfectly. He is a footballer who makes football look like art, a player who uses the ball like a paintbrush to convey his feelings.
Simply put, Neves is magic.