The Wonderkid Files - Gonçalo Ramos, Manchester United’s £100m man?

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The rumour isn’t new, but it went it to overdrive this week – Manchester United are lining up a £100m bid for Benfica starlet Gonçalo Ramos. It’s a ton of money for a 21-year-old, but could it be worth it? In the latest edition of the Wonderkid Files, we dive down into the stats and scouting reports to see whether the Portuguese striker can finally solve United’s centre-forward problem.

If you know anything about Ramos, it’s probably because you remember Portugal’s World Cup game against Switzerland in the last 16 in Qatar. Ramos was the shock selection, chosen ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo. The pressure must have been immense – but he shrugged it off, becoming the first player to score a hat-trick in the World Cup knockout rounds for 32 years. If any scouts had been sleeping on Ramos, that would have woken them up.

This has been Ramos’ real breakthrough season at Benfica – stepping up to the plate to start as the central striker following Darwin Nuñez’s departure to Liverpool. He’s delivered in the domestic game, too – scoring 17 goals in the Liga Portugal and a further three in the Champions League. He’s come on in leaps and bounds this campaign, and the result is a rumour mill turning at a rapidly increasing pace.

As a forward, Ramos bears some passing similarities in terms of playing style to Harry Kane, the other forward heavily linked with a big-money move to Manchester this summer. He likes to drop deep to pick the ball up and bring other forwards into play, and he’s an instinctive finisher with a powerful shot when he gets the ball in the area.

But there are stark differences – Ramos is better with the ball at his feet, demonstrating good close control and the knack of beating his man, and doesn’t have anything like the passing range of Kane. Whereas Kane has attempted 299 medium and long-range passes this season, Ramos has tried out just 83. He drops deep and brings other players in, but it’s with quick interchanges, not by spreading the play and taking out the defence. His passing accuracy stats are respectable but not exceptional, so his habit of dropping deep means he plays more like a false nine than a ‘quarter-back’ of any kind.

And while he has some good finishing instincts, he still sometimes fails to control his body shape as he takes his shots – he likes to open his body up and take chances quickly and shoot hard, but often comes through the attempt too quickly and ends up snatching at the ball or struggling to control the shot. 17 goals in the league is impressive, but actually slightly underperforms his xG. If you want to extend the comparison with Kane, the England captain has scored seven more goals than he “should” have done for Spurs. Kane is reliable in front of goal – Ramos will frustrate and miss presentable chances.

In terms of physical traits, Ramos isn’t particularly quick and relies on good movement to lose his man. That lack of pace does limit his dribbling – he can beat a man to create space but doesn’t often carve through the defence to generate chances from nothing – but he makes up for it with smart positioning. At six foot tall (some sources add an extra inch) he’s hardly small, and he’s respectably strong, but not bulky – he does have a good centre of gravity and that combined with his ball control means he should pass most tests with the ball at his feet, but it would be interesting to see how he handled the more robust centre-backs of the Premier League. He would face a steep learning curve at Old Trafford, but probably has the tools to make the leap.

He has also done a lot of learning already – his technique has come on in leaps and bounds since making his senior debut two seasons ago, and he seems tactically astute and aware of his team-mates’ movements. He’s also demonstrated an excellent work ethic, being more than happy to press and track back when required. The impression is that of a player who is easy to coach and a quick study – all important attributes when splashing big money out on a comparatively unproven player.

Could he be the long-term replacement for Manchester United, as he seems to be for his national side? Perhaps – he certainly isn’t the same kind of physical beast that Ronaldo is, and wouldn’t offer the same kind of aerial threat, nor is he capable of the fast dribbles that a younger Cristiano did so well. But he has the fundamental technical skills and game awareness to become a fantastic forward, especially if his development continues at the kind of pace he’s set over the past two years.

That said - £100m is a massive outlay. Harry Kane is demonstrably worth that sort of money. Ramos might become a £100m player, but it would be optimistic to say that he’s already there. He’s scoring fairly freely, but the Portuguese league is, with the best will in the world, a lower standard than the Premier League, and the deficiencies he has suggests that he’s unlikely to come in and score 20 goals a season straight away at the very highest level. With any transfer fee likely to be so substantial, that could generate some serious pressure from the stands.

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But Ramos seems to be a player who can handle pressure, and perhaps even thrive on it. He stepped up for Portugal in the most extraordinary way imaginable when thrown in at the deep end – he’d only made his senior international debut in the World Cup warm-up game against Nigeria, and was the hero just a couple of short weeks later. He stepped up when Benfica needed him to, and is on course to propel his team to the title. He has a lot of the ability, and seems to have the mentality – so it would be on United to offer the right environment for him.

The Wonderkid Files

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