Sporting Lisbon have always had an eye for talent and once again their current crop are garnering plenty of attention – but perhaps none more so than 18-year-old left back Nuno Mendes.
The teenager has already become a regular within Sporting’s first team and his displays have led to interest from the Premier League, with Liverpool keen and Leicester and Newcastle also linked with a move.
And Liverpool have since been put on red alert with Mendes having delayed signing a new deal with Sporting due to fears the reigning Premier League champions would back out of a move if his release clause rises above £40million – according to A Bola.
Here, Sportsmail takes a look at why exactly Liverpool and Co are keeping a close eye on the teenage defender…
Nuno Mendes has emerged as one of the most sought after youngsters in European football
WHAT’S HIS BACKGROUND?
Mendes has enjoyed an incredible journey to the top of the game when you consider he only started playing organised football at the age of nine.
During his early days in football, he was spotted by his former school teacher, Bruno Botelho, who was left more than impressed as he would go on to invite him to train with local club Despertar on the outskirts of Lisbon.
And Mendes clearly made big impressions immediately in his new surroundings, being compared to Brazil legend Ronaldinho.
‘We did a one-on-one exercise against the goalkeeper to see where he was strong,’ Botelho told Record. ‘Nuno lifted the ball over the goalkeeper with a “cabrito” (rainbow flick), and scored with a no-look finish like Ronaldinho used to do.’
One of his other coaches back then, Diego Goncalves, added: ‘We always started training with the “ball-hunter”. We gave six or seven balls to 14 kids and they tried to get the ball off of each other.
‘The exercise ended when Nuno was without the ball, which usually took around 15 minutes. Just to see the quality he had – it was outstanding.’
The Portuguese youngster earned comparisons to Barcelona icon Ronaldinho growing up
SO, HOW DID HE END UP AT SPORTING LISBON?
Mendes certainly wasn’t short of suitors thanks to his incredible ability on the ball as a kid, and he would soon attract heavy interest from Sporting Lisbon, Benfica and Porto – Portugal’s three giants.
Soon Porto found themselves out the running and it was between Sporting and Benfica for his signature.
Despite attending training with Benfica, Mendes finally opted to sign on the dotted line with Sporting back in 2012 having spent a year with Despertar.
Mendes was convinced that Sporting was the right project for him after a meeting with the club’s scout Akil Momade, even if he was initially suspicious when the latter turned up at his door.
‘He saw me playing and called me to talk to him. Later, when I was alone at home, he knocked on my door. I found it strange and went to get a knife from the kitchen,’ he explained to Record. ‘I thought they were going to rob me.
‘When I opened the door I saw that it was him and I was calm. He even showed me a Sporting card so I wouldn’t be suspicious. He told me they wanted me there and I went with all my heart.’
Mendes didn’t pick up organised football until nine, and he has enjoyed a rapid rise since
HE WASN’T ALWAYS A LEFT BACK… AND IT WASN’T AN EASY RIDE!
Mendes hasn’t always been a left back by trade, and it was Sporting who believed this was the position he would end up flourishing in.
Growing up, the Portuguese youngster – born in Sintra – played in the No 10 position or as a wide forward.
However, Sporting soon converted him into a left back where he has since attracted the interest of some of Europe’s elite clubs.
The Portuguese giants were firm in their opinion that his immense speed and attacking attributes would help him become one of the most coveted left backs in the game.
However, it wasn’t all plain-sailing for Mendes – whose time in Lisbon could have been up before he knew it.
The club’s youth coaches previously admitted that they thought about releasing him as he was struggling to convert into a left back.
Portuguese giants Sporting converted Mendes into a left back after he joined back in 2012
WHAT ARE MENDES’ STRENGTHS?
Mendes certainly hasn’t looked back since his initial problems at left back, and is now attracting interest from across Europe thanks to his mature and blistering displays on the flank.
Mendes, who idolises David Alaba and Marcelo, earned his chance to shine in the first team after the coronavirus pandemic brought an early end to the youth season – with the 18-year-old one of a number of academy players called up to the senior squad.
The defender, on the eve of his 18th birthday, would go onto become the youngest star to be named in Sporting’s starting line-up against Tondela since Cristiano Ronaldo.
He has gone from strength to strength since, showing incredible pace, and strong crossing and dribbling skills going forward to help out his attack-minded team-mates.
But in defence he is just as impressive and is a hard left back to beat. Mendes, in his 19 appearances in Sporting’s first team so far, has displayed great positioning and is strong in the tackle while his athleticism allows him to track back efficiently.
It’s not hard to see why Liverpool and Co are interested in the teenager’s signature…
Mendes has brilliant athleticism, which has helped him flourish at left back for Sporting
BUT IT WILL BE VERY HARD FOR LIVERPOOL TO GET THEIR MAN
Mendes, who has yet to feature for Portugal’s senior team, is in high demand already but Liverpool and those others in pursuit have a tough job on their hands to snap up their man.
Sporting will look to do everything to keep their exciting young talent in Lisbon, with the club’s president Frederico Varandas having previously labelled him as the ‘best under-19 left back in Europe’.
After making the grade in Sporting’s first team and emerging as one of the most sought-after youngsters in Europe, Mendes was tied down to a new contract in Lisbon until 2025.
Sporting have since made improving his terms a ‘priority issue’ and want to increase his £12,000-a-week contract already to fend off interest from Europe’s elite.
Mendes may be delaying signing a new deal with the club amid Liverpool’s interest but Jurgen Klopp’s side still have it all to do to persuade Sporting to sell their prized asset.
Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool have a tough task on their hands to acquire Mendes’ signature