Ricardo Pereira is one of a number of young prospects who were thrown in at the deep end at Vitória Guimarães – and grew up fast.
The northern club was in financial meltdown in 2011 when newly appointed coach, the aptly named Rui Vitória, decided to start from scratch, relying on largely unknown youth players. In truth he had no choice as any bankable assets in the squad were sold off, but the policy led to a spectacular change in fortunes
Forsaken by Sporting
As well as building a consistently competitive side, in 2013 Vitória Guimarães won their first piece of major silverware, lifting the Portuguese Cup. Ricardo Pereira played a key role in their success. It must have been particularly satisfying for the Lisbon-born 19-year-old, having had to head north to further his career after failing to make the grade at Sporting’s famed Alcochete academy.
Known simply as Ricardo in Portugal, he crowned an outstanding 2012/13 season with a late winner in the shock 2-1 win over Benfica in the cup final. He had also been decisive in the semi-final, notching a brace in the 2-0 victory over Belenenses, but it was on that sunny May afternoon that he first experienced true adulation after a mazy run saw him skip past a number of challenges before firing a deflected 20-yard shot low into the net to seal the cup triumph.
“It was without doubt the highest point of my career,” he told Portuguese website zerozero.pt. “Neno (the assistant coach) said we would only realise the enormity of what we had achieved a few days later, and it was true. It’s always great looking back on it, belonging to that team, winning that trophy for fans as passionate as the Guimarães supporters.”
Eye for goal
But it was not just Ricardo’s heroics that day that earned him a move to FC Porto. In his first full season in Portugal’s top flight his direct, skilful and productive wing play was allied to a lethal eye for goal as he scored 8 goals in all competitions.
He has also prospered at international level, hitting 6 goals in 13 appearances for Portugal’s U21 side, making himself a mainstay in the team despite fierce competition as one of what many pundits consider an emerging golden generation.
At Porto he has had to show patience with limited playing time in an expensively assembled squad. He has been adapted into an attacking right-back this season, with conspicuous success, even playing a Champions League quarter-final there.
His former coach Rui Vitória has no doubts he has what it takes to go far in the game: “He’s got enormous potential, an excellent capacity to learn, strong belief in what he does and he reacts very well to challenges.”
With Porto right-back Danilo sold to Real Madrid, Ricardo is gearing himself up for his next challenge: to establish himself as a first-team regular for the Blue and Whites. Don’t put it past him.
Written by Tom Kundert
Follow Tom on Twitter @PortuGoal1
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