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.

Sanches made a total of six league starts for Bayern under Carlo Ancelotti in 2016/17. © imago / Thomas Frey

Of course, not every season can bring as much success as his first in the professional game and the 2016 European Golden Boy has endured a trying first campaign in Bavaria. Still, the negative experiences – injuries and a lack of first-team football – will likely teach him as much as the positive.

Still starting out in the game, it’s better to learn from setbacks earlier rather than later. With his precocious talent, calm demeanour and all that he has achieved thus far, it’s fair to say Sanches can deal with whatever challenge comes his way.

Bernie Reeves

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