Tiago Tomas: Sporting's €60m wonderkid on Arsenal's transfer radar

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Making your debut for your boyhood club at the age of 18 would be a nerve-racking experience for any player.

Doing so while wearing the name of a five-time Ballon d'Or winner on your shirt, then, adds a whole extra layer of pressure.

That was exactly the situation that Tiago Tomas found himself in, though, as he stepped off the bench against Gil Vicente in July 2020.

On a day in which all of Sporting C.P.'s players wore the name of a club legend on their shirt rather than their own to celebrate the 114th anniversary of the club's foundation, Tomas was the player entrusted with having 'Cristiano Ronaldo' on his back.

If fans in Lisbon wanted an illustration of how highly thought of the teenage forward is at Estadio Jose Alvalade, there was their evidence.

Tomas, however, has been keen to avoid the added burden of potentially being 'the new Ronaldo' as he establishes himself in the Leoes' line-up.

Having been offered Ronaldo's former No.7 shirt by club president Federico Varandas ahead of the 2020-21 season, Tomas – according to AS – responded by saying: "I do not want it, president. I do not want that pressure. I prefer to be Tiago Tomas."

Being his own man has certainly seemed to have been beneficial for the 19-year-old, with Tomas playing a key role in Sporting winning their first league title since 2002.

He appeared in 30 of the club's Liga NOS matches last season, starting 16, and finished the campaign with six goals and three assists in all competitions.

That goal tally puts him level with Nani for the most goals scored by a Sporting teenager during a single season since the turn of the millennium, though the ex-Manchester United man was a year older when he found the net on six occasions back in 2005-06.

Unsurprisingly, then, there is huge excitement around the man Sporting fans and players call 'TT'.

"Given his age and the rate of progression he has shown, in the future he will be an excellent striker," Manuel Fernandes, the man with the second-most number of goals in Sporting history, told Record. "He's not just a striker who plays in the box, but a mobile forward. 

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"Sooner or later, big clubs in Europe will appear to sign him."

Those clubs have already begun to appear, with Arsenal having held informal discussions with Tomas' representatives regarding a move to the Emirates Stadium this summer.

Roma have also reportedly shown interest, but Goal can confirm that the teenager is likely to stay with Sporting for next season so as to play Champions League football for the first time.

Doing so will mark another major step on a footballing journey that began for Tomas at local side Carcavelos in the coastal town where he grew up.

Despite being aged just eight when he joined the club, it was clear immediately that he was a few steps above his team-mates in terms of ability.

"We imposed limitations on him," Paulo Bolrao, his former coach at Carcavelos, told Record, "like only giving him two or three touches of the ball at a time.

"Sometimes, he sulked, so then we had to explain why we were doing it."

Tomas only spent two years with the club before his father decided his career would be better served playing elsewhere, due in part to Carcavelos' decision not to promote the youngster to play in an older age-group.

He instead spent a year playing solely for his school side at Colegio Marista before catching the eye of top-flight side Estoril with both his talent and determination to win.

"He played for the Maristas, in the school team, and there was a game in which Tiago, who had already scored a goal, got injured," recalled childhood friend and former Sporting team-mate, Miguel Verissimo, when speaking to Zero Zero.

"He left, went to the nearby hospital, was told he was fine, went back to the game, and scored another goal!

"It's something that we always talked about between friends because it was so funny. It was like he was a superhero!"

Tomas spent just a year at Estoril before both Sporting and Benfica came calling, and it was the former who won the race to enrol him into their academy structure.

There, he joined the likes of Nuno Mendes, Eduardo Quaresma and Joelson Fernandes – all of whom have gone on to break into the first team under current head coach Ruben Amorim before being named to Goal's 2021 NXGN list of the world's top teenage footballers.

Tomas' breakout season at youth level came in 2018-19, when he scored over 30 goals for the club's Under-17s, before his performances for both the U19s and U23s in 2019-20 earned him a call-up to Amorim's squad following the coronavirus-enforced shutdown of football last summer.

"Nobody knew Tiago Tomas before this coaching team bet on him," Amorim told reporters during the most recent campaign. "It is good to remember that he is only 18 and still a junior.

"He does not get tired of working. He is a striker who is not a typical No.9, he is more than that. He offers many things to the team in addition to those offered by the other forwards on the squad."

Tomas' work-rate and selflessness are regularly cited as two of his main attributes. His willingness to work backwards to get involved in link-up play may limit the amount of goals he scores, even if it facilitates others in finding the net.

"You can count on me to run until my last breath," he said in the immediate aftermath of his first-team debut. "I'm a player like that and I always will be. I'll give everything for this shirt."

When given space, however, he can be a devastating attacking weapon, with his pacey, long-legged running style having been compared to Kylian Mbappe and Thierry Henry in the past.

That is accentuated on the rare occasion he is moved out from his favoured central striker role to play off the right-hand side, while his control and dribbling ability has been likened to that of Kaka.

Those are huge comparisons to live up to, but Tomas certainly seems to be moving in the right direction, even if his long-term future is away from Sporting.

"He has a profile that is not typical of Portuguese players, so he is very interesting for the international market," his agent, Carlos Goncalves, told AS. "He is still very young, but he has a lot of strength and technique.

"Tiago also has a lot of mental strength. It is what marks him out as being different, because technique and talent are preordained.

"If we talk about his qualities, technically he is very good, he is strong, he is able to find space very easily and he makes strong decisions. He has almost everything a striker needs.

"He doesn't have to rush [to leave]. There is still more to do in Portugal. In the end, it will depend on the club that comes in for him – if they need an immediate performance or if they plan to let him grow."

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Given the five-year contract that Tomas signed in 2020 includes a €60 million (£51m/$72m) release clause, any club that does make a formal bid will likely need plenty of cash reserves to sign a player who started three of Portugal's matches in their run to the final of the U21 European Championship final earlier this year.

And while he might not be 'the new Ronaldo', there is no doubt that they will be picking up a player who has both the ability and drive to reach the very top.

Additional reporting by Charles Watts.