Sporting CP have a rich history of producing one young star after another. The latest off the production line, according to reports, is 17-year-old winger Joelson Fernandes.
A proposed £40m move to Arsenal has been suggested out of nowhere for the youngster, who has been offered the chance to impress in the Sporting first-team since football’s return. However, he’s yet to play major minutes and is somewhat of an unknown commodity to most.
Let’s take a look at what you need to know about him.
There’s arguably no harder job in football than coming through as a winger in an academy which has produced Cristiano Ronaldo, Luís Figo and Ricardo Quaresma… but that’s what Joelson has been tasked with.
Seen as the crown jewel in an academy which also boasts the likes of Matheus Nunes, Eduardo Quaresma and Nuno Mendes, Joelson is well aware of comparisons to some of the world’s all-time greats, but he tried not to let it overwhelm him.
He told Joueurspt: “It is sure that being compared to his players puts a little extra pressure on me. I try to follow their example and play the best I can in every game.”
Primarily a left winger, Joelson is just as happy playing over on the right, and he’s even prepared to turn out as a central striker if needed.
In terms of his play style, it’s the kind of style which can get fans off their seats without even trying. He’s tricky, skilful and ludicrously quick, and he comes with the kind of youthful exuberance which makes him an absolute nightmare.
A perfect analysis of Joelson came from Victor Espadinha to JN: “Don’t forget this name. I saw him play at the Academy and he always wanted to dribble, leaving his opponents seated! It’s the kind of extreme skill which hasn’t been seen in a long time! A new Paulo Futre!
At the age of 17 years, four months and three days, Joelson was handed his Sporting debut in a 2-1 win over Gil Vicente, which moved him into third into the club’s list of all-time youngest debutants.
He moved ahead of Ronaldo, who was 17 years, eight months and two days old when he made his debut – before Fernandes was even born.
He was five months too late to set the record, which was set by 16-year-old Santamaria back in 1999.
Alongside Arsenal, we’ve seen interest in Joelson from Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona and RB Leipzig, but the winger isn’t interested in listening to those offers just yet.
In an Instagram conversation with former teammate Umaro Baldé (via O Jogo), he said: “I joined Sporting when I was 11 years old and I only think about leaving at 50.”
He also admitted that he prefers Ronaldo to Lionel Messi, but that hardly comes as a surprise.
The excitement surrounding Joelson is nothing new. Sporting chiefs have always had him lined up for stardom, so much so that they fast-tracked him into the first team.
Just days after his 16th birthday, Joelson was promoted to the senior side for his first training session, and he has split his time between the seniors and the Under 23s ever since.
Sporting chose not to rush his debut so as to ensure they didn’t risk stunting his development, and it all looks to have worked out.
During his time with Sporting’s first team, he struck up a close relationship with midfielder Bruno Fernandes.
Fernandes, who left to join Manchester United in January 2020, was often referred to as the ‘godfather’ of Sporting’s young core as a result of his leadership and willingness to work with the young talent.
I wonder who he’ll be speaking to if a move to England lands comes up..
After making a mockery of youth football, Joelson was promoted to the Under 23 squad ahead of the 2019/20 season, meaning he spends most his time playing against people six years older than him.
“Yes indeed, but that’s normal, they are older,” Joelson said of the situation. “To overcome that, I have to think faster, and do things faster, but that’s what makes us become a great player. You have to play with the older ones to improve.”
It’s helped him work on his footwork and mental speed, which is why he seems to stand out from the rest of his peers on the pitch.
Born in Guinea-Bissau, Joelson has made no secret of his desire to play for Portugal instead of the country of his birth, and that’s pretty normal. The people of Guinea-Bissau are used to that.
However, it’s some Portuguese people who took exception to his decision, or rather his reasons for doing so.
“It’s not that I wouldn’t like to play for my country, of course I would like to do it, but the Portuguese selection offers more visibility and allows to show more,” Joelson said of his choice.
There was an argument that Joelson doesn’t actually want to help Portugal, but is instead only bothered about showcasing his skills to the world. There was even an online petition set up to ban him from playing which managed a whopping one signature.
However, it’s probably got more to do with the fact that Guinea-Bissau have never qualified for a World Cup.
For more from Tom Gott, follow him on Twitter!