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Francisco Conceicao: Porto manager's son earning Messi comparisons

7:00 AM EDT 5/25/21
Francisco Conceicao NXGN GFX
The diminutive 18-year-old has enjoyed a breakout campaign in Liga NOS having wowed onlookers with his dribbling ability as a youth-team player

When managers find themselves coaching their own offspring, it can go one of two ways.

Either the trainer can think too much of their own child, and find themselves accused of nepotism if things do not work out as they hoped.

Alternatively, the manager may want to avoid such accusations, and instead hold their relation back when, in truth, they are ready to take on more responsibility.

That was the situation facing Porto manager Sergio Conceicao last season after two of his own sons signed professional contracts with the club in the summer of 2020.

The elder of the pair, Rodrigo, had been on Benfica's books, and it was made clear when he signed that the 21-year-old would spend the majority of the campaign playing with the 'B' team.

But the decision facing Conceicao Sr. regarding the fourth of his five sons, Francisco, was always likely to be far more difficult.

Francisco, who is also known as Chico, has been highly touted since arriving at the Porto academy in 2017, and was quickly christened 'Messi do Olival' due to the similarities between his game and the Argentine maestro and in reference to the club's training ground.

As such, pressure was on the Dragoes' boss to blood Chico through the first half of the campaign before he finally relented against Boavista in February.

It could hardly have gone better.

Introduced with 13 minutes left and Porto trailing 2-1, within five minutes he had won the penalty from which Sergio Oliveira equalised.

Six minutes later, Chico wriggled through the visitors' defence before his low shot was parried into the path of Evanilson to score what looked to be the winner.

The teenager turned instinctively towards his father, who in turn had sped down the touchline to greet his son in an embrace that soon went viral around the world.

The only problem? VAR saw fit to rule the goal out for offside, the fairy tale ruined, though Chico's performance had certainly caught the eye.

Any doubts over his ability were put to bed a week later when, having come off the bench against Maritimo, he won yet another penalty in a 24-minute cameo that earned him the Man of the Match award.

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A star was born, though he is a star who - in part - was made across the country in Lisbon.

Chico's formal footballing education began around the age of eight when his father returned to Portugal after his first managerial role at Standard Liege in Belgium.

At that point the youngest of the Conceicao brothers, Chico, was enrolled at Belenenses only for it to quickly become clear that he was a special talent.

As such, Sporting C.P. moved quickly to sign him, and he would spend his formative years learning and playing alongside the likes of Nuno Mendes, Eduardo Quaresma and Joelson Fernandes, who were all named to the NXGN 2021 list of the world's best teenage footballers.

"Mentally, he has always been very strong," Joao Plantier, one of Conceicao's first coaches at Sporting, told Mais Futebol. "He is not and has never been afraid of having the ball and taking a risk. And it is not easy to maintain this courage throughout training, because some coaches limit it.

"Fortunately, Francisco understands the game well and is not afraid to take a risk or give it to someone who is better placed when it is needed. He has a natural balance, easily changes his trajectory and is extremely aggressive in defending and attacking."

Chico spent six seasons with Sporting before, in 2017, his father was hired as the new manager of Porto. As someone who came from a very tight-knit family group, the youngster took the decision to follow Sergio to Estadio do Dragao.

Sporting's loss was undoubtedly Porto's gain, and after a run of 15 games in which he scored 15 goals for the club's Under-17s side in 2018-19, the diminuitive left-footer who plays predominantly off the right-hand side was beginning to turn heads.

"Francisco is similar to Messi," ex-Porto defender Eduardo Luis told Record. "To compare him with someone well-known, it is with Messi. The kid has all the conditions to become a great player."

His father, though, was not so pleased to hear such comparisons being made.

"This is bad," he told A Bola in January 2019. "I think it is bad because it can take you to a different state of mind than what I think a 16 or 17-year-old kid has to have.

"He has to have fun. Football for him has to be played with pleasure, with joy, and obviously by following your dreams, but in a realistic and calm way.

"Do not think that you have reached your maximum by doing two or three dribbles, but then when you track back you drop off a little bit. I emphasise that, this attack to defence transition has to be stronger. Just as the offensive transition is fast, to come back, you have to be quick too."

It is clear that Conceicao Sr. is not about to be accused of favouritism, with Chico also having been on a strict diet over the past year, particularly when he found himself at home during the coronavirus-enforced lockdown in spring 2020.

That tough love certainly seems to have paid off, with Chico having finished the season with 17 first-team appearances, including a Champions League debut against Juventus that saw him become Porto's second-youngest player in the competition's history.

The 18-year-old's performances earned him a call-up to the Portugal squad for March's U21 European Championship group stages, where he in turn became the team's youngest-ever goalscorer at the competition after netting against Switzerland.

He will back in action on Monday when Portugal take on Italy in Monday's quarter-final, with the knockout stages set to be played out over the course of seven days ahead of the senior European Championship this summer.

Conceicao's selection for that squad certainly cannot be linked to any kind of favouritism, either.

What is now clear is that, regardless of name, 'Messi do Olival' has the tools to go right to the very top.