Why Nélson Oliveira could be Portugal’s hidden gem

by Jonny McConnell

Nelson OliveiraHaving played for five clubs in three different countries by the age of 22, it would be fair to say that Nélson Oliveira is well travelled already. Unable to settle at Benfica, they have sent him out on loan four times in four seasons – Rio Ave and Paços Ferreira in his native Portugal, Deportivo La Coruña in Spain, and, this season, Rennes in France.

Sometimes considered a selfish player, this season so far in his 14 appearances, he has averaged 0.8 dribbles per game, but also Oliveira has averaged 20.9 passes per game, having a pass success rate of 78.5%. The young striker has become one to watch under Philippe Montanier, whose teachings have helped Oliveira discover his own ability. His temperament is still not a desirable asset, as in these 13 appearances Oliveira has racked up two yellow cards and a red card.

Improvements are gradually showing through; The talented striker is learning when to make passes and when to take a shot – this will take time, but when the promising striker tweaks his style, he will reach his potential.

With seven Ligue 1 goals so far this season, Nélson’s finishing is undoubtedly one of his strong points. Compare this to the goalscoring statistics during 2013/14 of the Portuguese National Team’s first-choice striker Helder Postiga, and Oliveira comes out on top. The Valencia forward has made 17 (club) appearances this season, scoring just three goals. Maybe this could be put down to a poor vein of form, but Helder’s goal record has never been spectacular. Neither Postiga or Oliveira are the fastest of players, but where Postiga would slow down the tempo of a game with a lack of creativity, Oliveira can fashion a chance from nothing and this benefits Rennes, and himself, greatly.

Paulo Bento must consider Oliveira to go to the World Cup as his new first choice striker. Postiga does not merit his place in the starting 11. He does not provide anything that can’t be provided by other players already in the Portugal line-up. Nélson, despite only gaining promotion to the senior team in 2012, has played 14 times. Bento recognises that he is a great option, but feels the need to stick with Postiga. The 31-year-old can, at times, be a liability. His attempted headbutt vs Northern Ireland is a perfect example of this. Discipline is a weakness for both strikers. Valencia’s main striker does have the experience, having played at three European Championships and one World Cup. Oliveira can only boast four substitute appearances at Euro 2012.

The youngster was a key feature in the U-20 World Cup of 2011, winning the Silver Ball for the second best player in the tournament due to some fantastic performances – Portugal finished as runners-up to Brazil. Expect to see the ferociously talented and rapidly-maturing Nélson Oliveira featuring even more for the Portugal National Team in the near future, he is already pressing his claims as the front-man.

3 Responses

  1. José Palma says:

    Man, I am Portuguese and a Benfica supporter, I can tell you this: maybe he has improved in Rennes (I don’t follow Ligue 1), but in Portugal, at least, Oliveira couldn’t make a right decision. Me and my brother call him Titanic, because he has everything to succeed but at the end he sinks… Maybe it is lack of experience, but it really seems lack of footballistic intelligence. Of course, Postiga and Almeida are awful, but I’m not sure if Nelson Oliveira is much better as a player. Ok, he has more skills but a player that can’t decide is a too-heavy burden on a team. Just my opinion though, many Portugueses disagree with me

  2. Jon says:

    I agree with Jose. Nelson has plenty of raw potential, but his decision making is still extremely poor. I have watched him several times for Rennes this season and his overall performances haven’t been great. The potential is still there, but I certainly wouldn’t start him. Eder is, by far, Portugal’s best option at center-forward.

  3. Adam says:

    Bento dropped Oliveira because the last time he played (in a crucial qualifier) Ronaldo sprinted into wide open space and instead of passing to him, he shot right over the net. That demands punishment of the bench which is a learning experience. Now Postiga may not be a prolific goal scorer, but like Nuno Gomes, he scored when we needed it (unlike Pauletta who raked up countless goals in unimportant games). The reality is, Portugal has Ronaldo doesn’t need mediocre strikers getting in his way. He needs creative midfielders and solid defenders behind him.

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