Ruben Neves: The Wolf of Waterloo Road
Background Photo: Ruth Sharville, CC BY-SA 2.0
Wolves hunt in packs. Every pack needs a leader. For ambitious Chinese-owned Wolverhampton Wanderers, the alpha-male is shaping out to be Portugal international playmaker Ruben Neves.
Wanderers shelled out a Championship-record £15.8 million to bring Neves from Porto last summer. Everyone was baffled. His reputation labelled him a Premier Leaguer. The Championship was too poor a hunting ground for his pedigree. No one is questioning the wisdom of his choice to join countryman Nuno Espirito Santo in the Midlands.
A local boy who had been on Porto’s books since the age of eight, Neves was plucked out of the youth system by Julen Lopetegui to become the youngest-ever Champions League captain at 18. It is easy to understand why.
The Molineux tenants have enjoyed their Premier League rollercoaster ride so far. They entered the weekend in ninth with eight wins, 29 points and the chance to remain in the table's top half with a win over Leicester City tonight. Neves deserves all the credit coming his way. His influence has made Wolves a possession-based attacking club.
An instinctive reader of the game, Neves’ key strength is his ability to make interceptions or failing that, a strong tackle. In his breakthrough season, over-the-top comparisons flew thick and fast but one, describing him as the new Sergio Busquets, carried more weight as it came from former team-mate Cristian Tello, himself a product of Barcelona’s La Masia.
Neves has more than defensive nous in his locker though. Technically adept, he can drive play back the way it came after winning the ball. He can pick out a crossfield pass from either flank. He takes up smart positions in and around the box that make him a great option for long-range shooting opportunities. The 21-year-old is the archetypal midfield maestro, capable of dictating tempo in as he likes.
Ruben is a passing machine. He's also drawn comparisons to Xavi, the pint-sized playmaker in the heart of Barcelona's legendary midfield. In truth, he resembles another Barcelona legend: Deco. He can keep the ball ticking over nicely in midfield but is at his best when he opens up.
It’s not just passing. Ruben Neves can shoot. This is where the similarity to Deco really hits home. Neves is absolutely deadly from range. He’s scored 13 goals in his career, 12 from outside the box. He is not a prolific scorer but is often on hand for the crucial ones. Liverpool can attest.
While Neves continues to impress, Wolves themselves are enjoying a honeymoon period in the league. Nuno Espirito Santo has taken this side on an all-time high not only in terms of results but also their style. Playing fast tempo football has yielded sweet results. Since much of this play passes through Neves, there can be no doubt he is Santo’s main man.
He’s Nuno Santo’s man,
He’s better than Zidane.
Wolves' supporters may stretch credibility with their chant but it reflects his impact at the club. Neves is the undisputed star man at the centre of Molineux’s ‘Nuno revolution’.
Rudyard Kipling wrote, “the strength of the pack is the wolf and the strength of the wolf is the pack." Rightly so, Wolves’ strength lies as a collective group. With a strong supporting cast that houses the likes of Joao Moutinho, Rui Patricio, Diego Jota and many others, Wolves can challenge and cement their place in the upper half of the table, Neves continues to set the stage on fire.
Nuno Santo aims to turn Wolves’ little honeymoon into a season outing and he may succeed with Neves leading the pack. The Alpha.