Portugal’s ability to generate top-level players is unrivalled and now it is the turn of Matheus Nunes to be picked off the conveyor belt.
With that in mind, Sportsmail looks back at Nunes’ early years and what he would offer in midfield should he be snapped up this summer…
Sporting Lisbon midfielder Matheus Nunes is generating Premier League interest this summer
Portuguese newspaper A Bola ran the story of Chelsea’s imminent bid on Wednesday morning
Who is he?
The first thing to note about Nunes is that he grew up in humble beginnings in a favela in Brazil.
His dad was not a part of his life and he was guided through those early years by his mother, who he has since said ‘still says today that she doesn’t know how I never became a thief or a drug dealer.’
It was, unquestionably, a difficult childhood that helped shape him into the hard-working, industrious midfielder we see today.
Speaking to Portuguese newspaper Record last year, Nunes explained: ‘Sometimes we didn’t have anything to eat… although my mother never stopped working.
‘She is a warrior who instilled in me a love of football. With her I got my first touches. If we didn’t have the ball, my brother and I played with socks.’
Honing his skills with a ball of socks, Nunes soon began to play in a more orthodox and organised setting before he uprooted life and moved to Portugal as a 12-year-old.
The family needed a new start to life and Europe was seen as a landing spot that could lead to a more prosperous future.
Nunes grew up in tough conditions in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and credits his mum (right) for keeping him away from crime while he was raised without a father figure at home
After moving to Portugal, he spent time as a teenager working a job in a bakery to earn money
While trying to further his credentials as a footballer, Nunes worked in a bakery to learn the disciplines of a job and the value of money.
All the while he was studying the player that inspired him most: Ronaldinho.
He started GDU Ericeirense in the lower leagues of Portugal and soon began to catch the eye of local talent spotters, enough to earn him a switch to Estoril in 2018.
Into the Under-23 side he went but it was clear to all those there for his first few training sessions that Nunes was destined for far loftier heights.
‘You could see that he was a player with a very large chance of progression, which it has turned out to be,’ one of his then-team-mate’s Francisco Mascarenhas told Desporto ao Minuto.
He has always been taller than many of his peers and has the blend of both flair and discipline that has transformed him into the box-to-box player he is today.
But that did not stop him dreaming of being as good as the man he watched tear up European football in his hey-day.
Brazilian icon Ronaldinho (left) was the one player that most inspired a young Nunes (right)
‘Ronaldinho is my idol,’ he once told Sindicato dos Jugadores. ‘I’ve always tried to imitate him since I was a kid, and I’ve always liked the way he played.
‘When he was at Barcelona, I liked Barcelona, When he was at AC Milan, I liked AC Milan, and it was unbelievable when he went to Flamengo because I’m a Flamengo fan. He’s my idol because I’ve always had him as the image of what I wanted to be as a player.’
His experience at Estoril lasted just six months before he penned a five-year deal to make the big move to Sporting Lisbon. It was all a far cry from the impoverished upbringing he had back in the favela in Rio de Janeiro.
Now, drawing similarities in his game to Xavi due to his immense vision and arsenal of passing, Nunes is set to head for England in his latest ascent.
What is his game style?
As mentioned above, close observers of Nunes in Lisbon view him as a traditional No 8-style box-to-box player that is the more attacking option in a double midfield pivot.
Sporting have often leaned towards a 3-4-3 or 4-2-3-1 and he has been deployed on the left side of the central two, with Fulham’s latest recruit, Joao Palhinha, his partner in crime in the engine room.
That is not to say he neglects his responsibilities defensively – he learned in the bakery that shirking necessary work is a complete no-go.
He is a terrier of a player out of possession, reading the game brilliantly for a young player and is a notorious pest in hassling opponents.
But it is definitely going forward where Nunes has shone.
Nunes is a No 8 but that does not mean that Nunes (right) shirks his responsibilities defensively
Nunes has caught admiring glances for his exquisite range of passing, which has seen him dictate the flow of matches with long-range switches that are far trickier than he makes them appear.
He has also shown an aptitude as one of the Portuguese top flight’s best ball carriers, using his 6ft tall frame with grace to glide past opponents as a dribbler.
Granted, he is no Ronaldinho in his pomp but the influence is undeniable as he looks comfortable driving into space despite oncoming traffic.
Nunes’ energy would be any manager’s dream and it was a credit to his rising stock that Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola specifically name-checked him ahead of a Champions League meeting last season.
‘Sporting are a fantastic team, they are the champions of Portugal, which have a very strong league, with Porto and Benfica, they change the ball well, they have fast and intelligent players,’ Guardiola said at the time.
‘I would say that Matheus Nunes is one of the best players in the world today.’
High praise indeed.
Man City boss Pep Guardiola described Nunes as ‘one of the best players in the world today’
What’s been said about him?
Those Guardiola comments quickly became the talk of Lisbon and to some who know Nunes best, 12 months prior it wouldn’t have seemed a realistic assessment for a player still finding his feet.
‘It was crazy because nobody expected, from what I felt from the other players, all this success,’ Sporting striker Luiz Phellype told ESPN.
‘Even in the Champions League, Guardiola said he is one of the best in the world. To think that a year earlier he would be one of the best midfielders in the world was a joke. The boy works very well and trains a lot. He is a very good and hard-working person.
‘What stands out is his intensity in games and his power. It’s a style very similar to that of Kaká, without wanting to compare, of course, because Matheus plays further back.’
He added: ‘He has a very wide stride and puts the ball in front, it’s very difficult for someone to stop him.’
There are those at Sporting, however, who believe he still has plenty to work on on his game
It should be stressed, though, that nobody at Sporting wants to get too carried away with any of Guardiola’s talk that the youngster is among the best in the world.
Sporting boss Rúben Amorim said last season that he still sees room for improvement.
‘I like that other coaches, like Guardiola, recognise the quality of Matheus, but I think he can be even better,’ Amorim said.
‘He must be happy about the praise, but not believe it too much. Football changes too fast, for the good and for the bad.’
Perhaps a ploy to convince the youngster to stick around at Sporting for a while longer?
The thing is, Nunes is happy at Sporting on a contract that runs until 2026. But if teams move quickly for him, it may be too good an offer at close to €50million (£43m) to turn down.
Who wants him?
In short, Chelsea are front of the queue if reports in Portugal are to be believed.
The Blues are reportedly ready to make their first signing of the Todd Boehly era by pressing ahead with an offer for Nunes.
According to Portuguese outlet A Bola, Chelsea are ready to ‘attack’ the market and make an offer for the Sporting Lisbon midfielder this week.
Wolves are said to hold an interest in Nunes but the report says that a switch to Molineux ‘doesn’t appeal’, leaving the door open for Chelsea to plot their move.
Recognised by Portugal, Nunes made the tough decision to reject an offer to play for Brazil
Interestingly Nunes is a client of Jorge Mendes’ Gestifute agency and it was Mendes who reportedly met with Boehly recently with the topic of a move for Cristiano Ronaldo on the agenda.
Therefore it would be no surprise to see Nunes’ name crop up and given his rising stock, this one may be too good an opportunity to pass up for the west London side.
Thomas Tuchel has not made a single addition so far this summer despite interest in defender Jules Kounde, Raheem Sterling and Raphinha, as well as growing talk around Cristiano Ronaldo and now Nunes and so will want to rectify that sooner than later.
Brazil boss Tite wasted no time in putting a call in to Nunes, keen to get him settled in the Selecao’s set-up.
Only Portugal got wind of this and made their own call, leaving him with a decision to make.
Ultimately, he went with Portugal and from then he has not looked back, making his international debut in a 3-0 win over Qatar.
That meant sharing a dressing room with none other than Ronaldo and he is said to be the only player Nunes has ever been ‘nervous’ to meet for the first time.
If the cards fall in the right place this summer, both men could find themselves winding up at Stamford Bridge. Stranger things have happened.
He is Portugal team-mates with Cristiano Ronaldo and both are said to be interesting Chelsea