Wolves must keep Ruben Neves at all costs
Ruben Neves joined Wolverhampton Wanderers last summer with a reputation slightly above the Championship, pretty much like a veteran in an age-grade tourney. His performances have only backed up that reputation. Even with Premier League football sealed next season, the Portuguese still appears excessively astute at Molineux. Wolves must hold on to him at all costs.
Derby had a clear blueprint to stop Wolves. Gary Rowett knew he couldn't match Nuno Espirito Santo’s side pound for pound. Nor could he outsmart the Portuguese's tactical prowess. Instead, he attempted to take Neves off his usual rhythm.
Ruben Neves is the player we’ve got to try and keep quiet if we can -- Derby first team coach Kevin Phillips
Indeed, Neves has proven Santo’s most influential performer throughout a dominant campaign. A classy deep-lying midfielder with a heck of a long-range pass on him, he has been Wolves’ livewire in the centre. Utterly eccentric, he is dynamic and unpredictable on the ball. He is overflowing with goals, too, especially from long range and set-pieces, as shown in Cardiff the previous week. The Rams were aware who and what they were up against. It didn't matter.
Neves still managed to hit his stride. Diogo Jota opened the scoring for the Black Country side before his compatriot unleashed another terror. Neves sealed the victory with a stunning 30-yard strike, his sixth of the campaign. The previous five thunder bastards as well. He flicked the ball up, took careful aim and drilled a dipping right-foot volley just under Scott Carson's bar. A stunned Rowett couldn’t help but applaud the 21-year-old.
That's the best goal I've seen for a long while. It was sensational. I have said it before but for me, Neves is the best player I have seen in the Championship. He is too good for the Championship.“
Rowett’s assertion pretty much sums up Neves’ debut campaign. Signed for a Championship record fee, he was deemed too good for the division even before kicking a ball. That wasn’t unexpected. As Porto-golden boy, Neves climbed superbly through the ranks to skipper when just 18. He racked up almost a century of caps even before entering his third decade. For Portugal, he's been privileged to wear the armband at almost all youth levels. He is heralded to take up Cristiano Ronaldo's mantle in no distance time.
His decision to join Wolves raised eyebrows. There was purported interest from top teams. Neves' stock crashed considerably the season before, though. Perhaps he took the soft Championship route to the Premier League. For the Wanderers, it was the opportunity to buy low and sell high.
If they do, Wolves could be making a grievous mistake. Liverpool, Tottenham, and Everton have allegedly enquired about the 21-year-old. It appears the Reds are most keen for his services. Reports also claim Brazilian Anderson Talisca, currently on loan at Besiktas from Benfica, is being lined up as a replacement. Even Neves reckons the future may be out of his hands.
If it is possible, I would like to stay here to have my first year in the Premier League.
Following just one season in English football, Neves has endeared himself to a legion of fans, even beyond his club. Wolves shouldn't want to lose such talent. These days, however, awkward things happen in the transfer space. It won't be entirely strange if he leaves the same way he came.