Scouting Report: Joao Moutinho

August 18, 2012 in Primeira Liga, Transfers by Ballsy Banter

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Let’s start with some facts. Joao Moutinho is one of the players produced at Sporting’s world-class academy and is a regular in the Portuguese national team, having made 48 appearances since 2005. He has two league titles, three cup titles, five Supercups, and a Europa League winners medal, all at the age of 25. He became the second youngest man ever to captain Sporting, aged 20. On the face of it, it sounds like the tireless midfielder has had a flawless career, free of controversy. But that could not be further from the truth.

Born in Portimão, Algarve, he played for his local team, Portimonense. When he turned 13, Sporting came knocking, and so transferred to Lisbon to continue his education and train at the academy. Aged 17, he joined the youth team (managed at the time by current NT manager, Paulo Bento) and played alongside current Portuguese internationals Nani and Miguel Veloso. The trio helped the youth team to win the national title, and his performances earned him a call up to the first team.

He first played for Sporting as a substitute in January 2005, playing 20 minutes in a cup match. He played 90 minutes in the next game, a 3-0 league victory over Gil Vicente, wearing the number 28 that had become vacant since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo. By the end of the 2004/05 season, he had quickly established himself into the first team, owing to highly consistent displays as a box-to-box midfielder. Sporting reached the UEFA Cup final in 2005, and Moutinho duly started the game. Despite losing the final, he signed a one-year contract extension with the club. The very next season, his performances remained regularly high. He was the only player to play every minute of every match in the domestic league and helped the club finished second, and also scored the goal in the last game that ensured Champions League football returned to the green half of Lisbon.

Following the departure of Sá Pinto (who now manages the first team), Moutinho was made vice-captain. In 2007, two more veterans left, leaving Moutinho to captain the club aged just 20. During the seasons until 2010, he became a fan favourite, often starting every game and becoming one of the league’s best players.

But something snapped. Moutinho wanted a move away from Sporting. The club insisted he waited for a team other than Porto to make an offer, but he forced the move, and signed a five-year contract in July 2010. The chairman at the time said that if “I had not experienced the situation, I would not believe it was possible to descend so low”. The club gave up on trying to keep him, stating they they didn’t want any ‘rotten apples’ in the team.

Since moving to Porto, the crowd in Lisbon, who praised and praised Joao Moutinho as their idol, now give Moutinho the worst reception imaginable. They booed his every single touch, and Marat Izmailov, who played with Moutinho for two years at Sporting, refused to shake Moutinho’s hand. He had turned his back on the club that formed him and the club he led as captain.

But Moutinho carried on his dogged performances at Porto. He is not known for being a goalscoring midfielder, rather one who chases players, tracks back to defend and bursts forward in the attacking phase. He possess great technical ability, and would rather slide the ball to someone else than take a shot himself. He has since won the league twice and found Europa League glory since signing for Sportings rivals.

 He has displayed such performances at international level, too. He first played for the national team in a 2-0 friendly victory over Egypt in 2005, and was picked for the 2006 World Cup squad. Since then, he has appeared in every major international tournament (bar the 2010 World Cup, where defensive minded Carlos Queiroz, who failed to bring any success to the team, only called Moutinho up into his reserve squad). Moutinho played in every minute of Portugal’s successful Euro 2012 campaign, where only a penalty shootout prevented them from reaching the final. Moutinho managed to miss Portugal’s first penalty, but the general consensus is that Moutinho had a fine tournament. In that tournament, Joao Moutinho was just one of six Sporting graduates part of the Portugal squad.

In the pre-season of the 2012/13 season, Moutinho has been battling for his position with Belgian international Steven Defour. There has been consistent reports and rumours linking him with a move to Tottenham, which may possibly be his most likely destination, but there has been nothing concrete. However, with 17 days left of the transfer window, anything can happen yet. Whichever club Moutinho ends up playing for, as long as he continues the promise that he has shown through his teenage years, he is certain to become one of the greatest Portuguese players of this era.