Renato Sanches joined Bayern from Benfica in the summer of 2016. - © © imago
Renato Sanches joined Bayern from Benfica in the summer of 2016. - © © imago

Stars of tomorrow: Renato Sanches

A European Champion, the best Young Player of UEFA EURO 2016 and a transfer to Bayern Munich, all achieved at the age of 18.

If you’re wondering who’ll succeed Cristiano Ronaldo as Portugal’s best player, you probably don’t need to look much further than Renato Sanches.

Sanches’ transfer to Bayern was made public in May 2016, before the European Championship began. The Reds were well aware of his immense talent, despite him appearing in only a handful of matches for Benfica, but the wider public needed convincing.

It was perhaps therefore a disappointment to Sanches that he did not make the starting XI for any of Portugal’s three group games, sitting out the goalless draw with Austria entirely. An explosive midfielder, adept at ball-carrying, tackling, dribbling and turning defence into attack, coach Fernando Santos knew just when to use him, however.

A second-half substitute against Croatia in the last 16, Sanches’ driving run led to Portugal’s winning goal three minutes before the end of extra time. In the next round, against Poland, Sanches was rewarded with a start and scored the opener, as well as his spot-kick in the shootout.

Watch: Relive the unveiling of Sanches and Mats Hummels as Bayern players

Indeed, so dumbfounded have been some of his opponents by how good he is that they doubted he could be so young. But, as the adage goes: if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. “When he's on the ball you don't notice how young he is,” says former Portugal international Antonio Sousa. “Physically and mentally, he is more than ready.”

He started the semi-final and the final, leaving the kind of mark on a tournament not seen by a boy of his age since - how aptly – Ronaldo 12 years before at EURO 2004.

To have achieved greatness at such a young age, and all before making 50 professional appearances for club and country is truly remarkable, and testament to his Sanches’ physical gifts and mental fortitude.

- © imago / Thomas Frey