Will Wolves sensation Ruben Neves be a Premier League star?

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Dubbed ‘the new Paul Scholes’ and modelling himself on Andrea Pirlo, a 21-year-old talent will be rubbing shoulders with England’s elite in 2018-19

Wednesday April 11 and one swing of a Portuguese right boot sparks scenes of wild celebration.

At Santiago Bernabeu in the heart of Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo has just swept home the most dramatic of stoppage-time penalties to keep European fires burning in the Spanish capital.

Some 1,200 miles away in deepest, darkest Wolverhampton, an international team-mate of the five-time Ballon d’Or winner has been indulging in some roof-raising of his own.

The stage for Ruben Neves is the Championship, not the Champions League, but a stunning strike against Derby is worthy of gracing any arena, and every bit as important to the Molineux faithful as Ronaldo’s spot-kick is to Madridistas everywhere.

One touch, with the outside of the boot, to nudge the ball into the air and another to send a lopping volley arching into the top corner - if you squinted a little, you could have been forgiven for thinking that you were watching CR7 rather than RN8.

This was a golden moment from a man in a golden shirt.

Not one which will put him into contention for a Golden Ball, but one which has helped Wolves down a Premier League path paved with gold.

The Black Country outfit are back where they feel they belong, and in Neves they boast an ace in the pack that is ready to take the English top-flight by storm.

Questions will inevitably be asked of a star turn stepping out of the second tier to rub shoulders with the elite: Can he do it at the highest level? Is he ready for such a challenge? Can his skill set transfer favourably from a promotion push to a potential relegation dogfight?

Before a ball is kicked in 2018-19, the answer to all of the queries above is a resounding ‘yes’.

Neves is not your standard youngster to have come out of nowhere and suddenly found himself on the top rung of the ladder.

He has already appeared, on numerous occasions, at a level above the Premier League – becoming the youngest player to captain a side in the Champions League when passed the armband by Porto in October 2015 at the tender age of 18 years and 221 days.

Ruben Neves new Paul Scholes

He has taken in 130 outings at club level and earned five caps for his country – a country good enough and boasting enough depth in their talent pool to have been crowned champions of Europe in 2016.

Neves is no mug and has been punching below his weight following a record-breaking £15.8 million move to Molineux.

Former Wolves academy star Stan Collymore has already suggested that Liverpool could be a potential future home, while Derby boss Gary Rowett told reporters after witnessing the aforementioned wonder strike on a wet and windy night in the West Midlands: “At 21, to play with that poise and control… He should be playing in one of the top four teams in this country.”

Conspiracy theorists will tell you that has been the plan all along, that so-called ‘super agent’ Jorge Mendes – who boasts fellow Portuguese luminaries Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho on his books - negotiated a deal last summer intended to ease a client into English football before the big boys come calling.

Such enquiries may not be too far away, with Manchester United among those keeping a close eye on the second coming of a man likened to Old Trafford legend Paul Scholes.

That comparison is easy to make, with Neves boasting the ball-playing ability and eye for the spectacular which made a modern day icon out of a member of the Red Devils’ fabled Class of ‘92.

His rocket against the Rams was his sixth goal of the season, and all of those have come from outside the box (a record nobody in the Championship can match) – with his collection including a curled effort against Hull City, a 20-yard stroke into the net against Sheffield Wednesday, a free-kick versus Brentford, a shot which cannoned in off the angle of crossbar and post to down Sheffield United and another set-piece stunner to overcome Cardiff.

Ruben Neves 2017-18
Goals 6
Assists 1
Goals outside box 6
Free-kick goals 2
Total shots 86
Shots on target 26
Shot accuracy 37.14
Chances created 34
Fouls won 30

Scholes would be proud, as would the man that Neves models himself on.

“Andrea Pirlo is a reference for me because of the style of play,” he told Wolves’ official matchday programme ahead of the Derby game.

No hair out of place, the hipster beard, an archetypal ‘quarterback’ as at home pinging a 50-yard pass as he is bending a free-kick into the top corner – Neves has more than a hint of Pirlo about him.

He should, therefore, be tailor-made for the Premier League, with more time on the ball and the promise of a greater calibre of team-mate arriving during the summer transfer window allowing him to scale even greater heights and earn even more plaudits.

He will be sticking around, too, having said at the recent EFL awards after being beaten to the Championship Player of the Year award by Fulham’s Ryan Sessegnon despite being the best player in the best team in the division: “Honestly, I love to play here. I love the boys and I love the fans. I am really happy here. I have it all to stay, but in football we never know. Yes, I would like to stay.”

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That ‘love’ is understandably reciprocated from the stands.

“He’s come a long, long way from Porto, to play at Molineux. His name is Ruben Neves, and he’s Wanderers through and through.”

Make a note of the tune; it is coming to a Premier League stadium near you and you are going to be hearing plenty of it.

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