A team sport should never be reduced to a man only. And the sport we all know and love shouldn’t be an exception to that rule. Of course that there are times when someone completely out of this world comes up and takes the game by storm, and to those we give credit. To those we give the headlines, the individual awards, the spotlight. The ones whose
talent is so out of the ordinary that we can’t help but praise. The Ronaldo’s, Messi’s, Maradona’s and Cruyff’s. Those are the ones that kids look up to.
But it’s time for us to value the ones who leave their heart, blood, sweat and tears on the pitch. It’s time for these players to take the spotlight as well. André André is one of those and he got his turn on the spotlight this monday. But success is built up over time, not achieved in only one match or play. From watching his father play in the old Estádio das Antas to leading Porto’s midfield at the Dragão in the “Clássico”.
After climbing through the youth ranks at Varzim, André ended up at Vitória where he broke through last season. Coach Rui Vitória (ironically now at Benfica) played him either higher up the pitch, in front of the two more defensive midfielders or as the second central midfielder in more of a box-to-box role. Though definitely not the classic number 10, he was incredibly effective even when played as the most attacking of the midfield trio. Knowing how to pick the last pass to the forwards, helping defensively by pressuring the opposition like no other, appearing in goal scoring positions himself and missing only 2 out of 10 penalties taken. Three goals from open play to add to the 8 penalties scored, let the Portuguese end the season as the club’s top scorer. Several European sides had their eyes on him, the big Portuguese teams had their eyes on him and so did the national team (André had his first and only cap in March of this year).
FC Porto won the race against Málaga to what was once one of their youth products, having André sign a 4 year contract after paying 1.5 million € to Vitória.
During Pre-Season several questions were raised about how would the Portuguese international fit into Porto’s side. The team from the north of Portugal had lost 2 of their starting midfielders in Oliver Torres who moved back to Atlético after a year on loan and Casemiro who also moved back to Madrid after a loan but to Real. With that said Porto picked up another Portuguese international in Danilo to compete with the youngster Rubén Neves for the most defensive spot of the midfield triangle.
Herrera was a regular starter last season and is a must for the Mexican national team, Sergio Oliveira was brought back to the club after several great performances at the U21 Euro and to top it off Imbula was bought from Marseille for a staggering amount of 20 million €. Not to mention Evandro who’s still at the club and Brahimi who can play through the middle as well. With Porto not being a team known to prioritize home-grown/national talent, many ruled him out before pre-season. But the truth is: he’s the most important midfielder that Lopetegui has on his roster.
In the first match day of the season, against his old club Vitória SC, André came in as a sub early in the second half and brought the game back to life as soon as he entered the pitch. The same happened in the next two games, while on the fourth match day of the season (in which the Portuguese league runner-ups visited Arouca) he finally won his place in the starting eleven. Lopetegui dropped Herrera to the bench, creating what is from my point of view Porto’s best midfield trio at the moment.
Porto won away against Arouca. Benfica had an “easy” match winning 6-0 at home versus Belenenses. The “Clássico” was in a week. The players, coaches, supporters – everyone had at least a bit of their mind on it. It’s the kind of game that builds up tension during weeks prior and that gives supporters “bragging rights” over weeks following. The two rivals have been the main title contenders in the country for years. This is the match that everyone wants to watch, the match that every player wants to play.
There was still the Champions league’s first match day happening midweek with Benfica predictably beating Astana 2-0 and Porto having a tougher match in Kiev tying 2-2 with Dynamo. André was again an integral part of a midfield that was on this game composed by four members with the usual central midfielder being deployed more on the right side of the pitch. Afterwards the focus changed solely to the weekend match, and what a match it would turn out to be.
Rui Vitória made only one change to his team from the CL clash midweek, with the versatile André Almeida coming in to partner Samaris in the midfield. Something that happened often last year under coach Jorge Jesus as well, in an effort to bring more bulk and ability to retain the ball in the midfield. On the other side, Marcano was brought back into the heart of the defense alongside Maicon, Imbula started and Corona came back to the team after an outstanding debut versus Arouca.
While both teams presented what was in my view their best starting eleven’s for the occasion, Porto definitely appeared more prepared for the match. What was a 433 on paper, unfolded into a clear 442 as soon as the match started. Corona played in a pairing up front with Aboubakar, surprisingly enough with the Mexican being the one more “static” in between the defenders while the ex-Lorient man drifted to the wings to find spaces. Brahimi started from the left progressing inside often to open space on the wing for Layun. André André would start from the right in a clear attempt to pressure the mistake-prone Eliseu and win the ball higher up the pitch, with the supplementary responsibility of supporting the right-back Maxi defend Benfica’s main threat Gaitán.The side from Lisbon had their best period in the middle of the 1st half, controlling more of the ball but with no real chances from open play. Porto was back on top to end the 1st half and the momentum carried on to the start of the second one. Moving back to a 433 with André on the higher vertex of the midfield triangle, the chances started to appear and the eagles had less and less of chance to leave their own midfield.
Playing higher up the pitch, the engine created plays and took the control of the game. And when most weren’t expecting it anymore, he managed to appear in the right place at the right time to give Porto the deserved win. And no one deserved that goal more than him, the hardest worker who built up his luck through his quality to achieve this moment.
Just remember: he’s not being overrated now because he was lucky enough to score such an important goal, he’s being fairly rated now because he worked hard to the point of having luck on his side in such a crucial moment.