The new £35m Arsenal Playmaker

Porto- A Club which Guarantees Talent?

English clubs really are taking note. Sign from a Portuguese giant and more often than not things will work out. The next player to join that list, is Porto midfielder Fábio Vieira.

Porto were forced to sell Colombian winger Luís Diaz to Liverpool after a summer that did not include a single-player sale followed by a failure to reach the Champions League knockout round, with Liverpool paying €45 million rising to €60 million in add-ons – Porto have received just €36 million so far due to Barranquilla having 20% of his economic rights. Diaz has quickly slotted into the left side of attack and immediately impressed for Jürgen Klopp’s Reds with 4 goals and 3 assists in 13 Premier League matches, as well as grabbing 2 goals and 1 assists in the Champions League. It seems like just about every transfer window, some player is leaving one of Portugal’s Três Grandes (Benfica, Sporting and Porto) for a Premier League giant. 

Did I say every transfer window? Try every week. Four days after Benfica completed the sale of Uruguayan striker Darwin Núñez to Liverpool for €75 million plus €25 million in add-ons, Porto have sold Fábio Vieira to Arsenal for an initial fee of €35 million with €5 million in bonuses with Vieira signing a contract through 2027, and they look set to follow that up by selling his midfield partner Vitinha to Paris Saint-Germain for €40 million. 


As opposed to the recent deals for Darwin and Díaz, which came after a prolonged transfer saga, Fábio Vieira’s departure from Portugal has certainly come out of the blue. Unlike the aforementioned players who left the Primeira, he wasn’t an undisputed starter and he also hadn’t reached the senior national team, although there are few tasks harder when you’re a diminutive attacking midfielder than breaking into a team featuring Bernardo Silva, João Félix, Bruno Fernandes and João Moutinho. However, Arsenal aren’t just paying for potential here – they’re paying for a playmaker who’s capable of threading the needle and unlocking deep blocks with a vision and speed of mind that is rarely found in 22-year-olds.

Born in Santa Maria da Feira, Aveiro District, Vieira joined Porto’s academy in 2008, rising up the Olival ranks before spending a year out on loan for Padroense’s U-17 side in 2015/16. Vieira enjoyed a spectacular 2019 which saw him play a leading role in Porto’s run to the UEFA Youth League Final, opening the scoring within 17 minutes to secure a 3-1 victory in Nyon against a Chelsea side featuring Tariq Lamptey, Marc Guéhi, Conor Gallagher, Billy Gilmour and more. Two months later, Vieira jetted off to Armenia where he would score two goals and play all five matches as Portugal topped their group and thrashed Ireland in the semifinals, before losing to Spain in the 2019 UEFA European Under-19 Championship Final as a brace from Ferran Torres saw La Rojita defeat their Iberian rivals in Yerevan. Vieira finished as the joint-second top scorer behind Benfica striker Gonçalo Ramos (4 goals) and was voted into the Team of the Tournament.

One year later, Vieira made his competitive debut with Porto’s first team on June 10, 2020, and he would go on to score 2 goals and 1 assist`in 7 substitute appearances and 1 start across Project Restart, before racking up 19 league appearances in 2020/21 – almost all of them coming off the bench.  However, this did not stop him from playing an integral role for Portugal in the U-21 European Championship, scoring the winner in Portugal’s 1-0 win over Croatia before starting in their following 2-0 win over England and 3-0 win over Switzerland to top the group side. Vieira would end the season by coming off the bench and providing an assist in a 4-0 win vs. Belenenses-SAD – his lone goal contribution of the season – before jetting off for international duty in Slovenia. Portugal would defeat Italy 5-3 in extra time and beat Spain 1-0 before losing 1-0 to Germany in the Final. Despite their heartbreaking defeat in Ljubljana, it appears that Portugal’s impressive display has caught the eye of Porto manager Sérgio Conceição, often criticized for his lack of trust in young players from the club’s Olival academy.


A Future Star for Portugal?

In midfield, the two shining lights of Portugal’s magical U-21 Euros campaign came to light at the Dragão in Vítor Ferreira and Fábio Vieira. After struggling to convince Conceição before spending a season out on loan at Wolves, Vitinha has become a key figure in Porto’s double pivot alongside Colombian enforcer Mateus Uribe, capable of not only weaving together possession and dribbling past opponens, but also doing an effective job off the ball. Vieira has also had to adapt to these non-negotiable demands of Conceição – maintaining an aggressive press to win the ball back in the final third after losing possession, tracking back and keeping a compact shape, and fighting for loose balls. It’s true that neither Vitinha or Vieira, the latter of which is 5’7”, seem readymade for the Premier League’s physical style of play, but neither did Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, or Luís Diaz. Whilst Vieira will need to hit the weight room in order to cope with this aspect and compensate for his lack of height and speed, he has a unique combination of characteristics that make him ready to make an impact in England.

Having come off the bench in three of Porto’s first five league matches, Vieira started in a home match against Morereinse and repaid his manager’s trust. After Mehdi Taremi opened the scoring from the mark, Vieira set up Diaz’s two goals before the Colombian was subbed off for Pepê, who would score within seconds of coming on after receiving an assist from Vieira to secure a 5-0 victory. He would start the next match – a 2-1 win vs Gil Vicente – provided an assist vs Liverpool after replacing Otávio within 14 minutes, before coming off the bench and grabbing another assist vs. Tondela on October 23, but he would play just three times in the league over the next two months – all of them from the bench, before closing out 2021 with his first start in three months and opening the scoring in a 3-0 win vs Benfica in the Taça de Portugal. After coming off the bench and scoring a penalty in a 3-1 cup win vs. Vizela, Vieira bagged another hat-trick of assists in a 4-1 win against B-SAD on January 16, grabbed an assist vs. Famalicão and a brace of assists vs. Arouca as Porto began the new year with six consecutive victories before hosting Rúben Amorim’s Sporting on February 11 in a decisive title match. 

Two of Vieira’s strongest attributes – his quick thinking and his ability to understand his teammates’ movement and passes, a player who is capable of linking up with everyone in midfield and attack and finding a way to beat the opponent whether by eye-of-the-needle through balls or one-two combinations with his teammates


What will Fábio Vieira Bring to Arsenal?

Whilst he wasn’t always a starter, Fábio Vieira nevertheless proved to be a vital component in attack and midfield as Porto claimed their second domestic double in two years, operating in a wide variety of positions, racking up 20 goal contributions in the league, and taking on a new importance in the second half of the season after renewing his contract in November, which was set to expire the following summer. Whilst Vieira would struggle for playing time immediately after the renewal, the sale of Luís Diaz to Liverpool saw him take on a new importance at the Dragão – Conceição rewarded him with a chance in the first team and Vieira quickly repaid his trust. Porto gambled that, even by selling their best player midway through the season, they could achieve their objectives with the sum of their parts, be that a strong defensive cohesion, a proper midfield balance, or a deadly attack. They were proven right; Porto ended the season with 91 points, the highest tally in the history of Portuguese football, claimed a domestic double, and will go down in history as the joint-longest unbeaten run in Europe’s major leagues. However, they face a daunting rebuilding job following the sales of Vieira and Vitinha as well as the departure of Chancel Mbemba on a free transfer.

Fábio Vieira has showcased his world-class potential for several years for Porto and Portugal youth teams, but it has only been since the start of 2022 where he has been given regular starting opportunities under Conceição and delivered on the top stage of Portuguese football. At 22 years of age, he prepares for a new adventure, joining Arsenal for €35 million plus €5 million in bonuses.

With his combination of anticipation, versatility, ball-striking and above all, his ability to thread the needle and unlock a deep block with an inch-perfect through ball, Fábio Vieira could end up being a shrewd signing for the Gunners. Similarly to Martin Ødegaard, he is a left-footed player who likes to operate in the right half-spaces, but his intelligence and technical brilliance makes him suited to most positions across the front six, whether that’s cutting inside and whipping in a cross from the left flank, or weaving together the attack from a #10 position – arguably his most natural position – or linking up with Evanilson or Taremi, a more traditional center forward, and he could find a synergy with another Portuguese-speaking striker with Gabriel Jesus linked with a move to North London. Above all, he is a player who makes the players around him better, who knows where to move to receive a pass or how to position himself before firing a low shot at the edge of the box, who can link up well with teammates and deliver a killer pass in behind the final line of defense. He is the locksmith you call when your team is struggling to break down a deep block, and he has everything it takes to play a key role in Arsenal’s 2022/23 season under Mikel Arteta.


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