What do Australian footballers Cameron Watson, Kaz Patafta, Aden da Luz, and Jason Davidson have in common? Portugal. All four players spent part of their youth development in this country known as a proficient producer of footballing talent.
Although the careers of the aforementioned players have taken divergent paths since their time on the Iberian Peninsula the credentials of Portugal as developer of skillful footballers are unquestionable. Now there’s a new crop of young players from Down Under hoping to come through this fertile football ground.
Dylan Collard was making the news back in Australia even as a 10 year old. Portuguese giants Benfica ended up inviting him over where he was with them until recently. He was sent to affiliate clubs, Casa Pia. and Esp. Lagos but has now been released by Benfica.
The now 15 year old will play for the U17s of Nacional de Madeira in the national competition from this September where he’ll take on the likes of Benfica, Sporting, and Porto. At 184cm, the natural number 10 has also been encouraged to develop as a number 7 not unlike Portuguese icon, Cristiano Ronaldo who also came through the Nacional youth system.
For 16 year old Carlos Ribeiro Junior he is following a similar path as his father who himself was a Benfica junior. Carlos too has been tracked since an early age by the Portuguese clubs, namely Benfica and Sporting Lisbon. After trialling and impressing Benfica at the age of 12 the Sydney native chose to return to Portugal with Sporting. Sporting sent him to Lisbon regional side S.G. Sacavanense where he was a part of their title winning U17 side albeit with limited minutes.
This season Sacavanense have loaned him to the U17s of G.S. Loures who play in the same competition. The winger who is friends with recent Joey call-up, John Roberts, is hopeful to be a part of the Australian national youth team set up if given the chance. But for now the former Mt Druitt Rangers junior is hoping to make the most of his chance in Portugal and impress on the pitch.
Carlos’s best friend, Luca Da Silva, is also hoping to get a chance with Australia’s youth teams. The soon-to-be 15 year old is also a player for S.G. Sacavanense in their U15 team. The forward from Croydon joined Benfica’s Academy at 12 years old after picking up interest also from Sporting and Porto. When asked by a Benfica scout at the time if he wanted to be like Cristiano Ronaldo, he replied, “I don’t want to be Cristiano Ronaldo, I want to be Luca Da Silva.”
Former Altona City and Melbourne Knights junior, Anthony Laus, joined UD Vilafranquense last season after a move to English Premier League side Sunderland was scuppered due to visa issues. The striker impressed in his short time at the Portuguese club and even attracted interest from the likes of Benfica and other Liga NOS clubs. The 18 year old has signed on for one more year with Vilafranquense where he’ll hope to continue catching the eye with his goals and performances.
There are also two brothers from Sydney who have made the move abroad to join Sporting and Belenenses respectively. Aged just 10 and 8, they have a long way to go in their football journey but European countries like Portugal are seen by some parents as a more affordable option which offer the experience and level of footballing expertise Australia doesn’t at the moment.
If the trend for players choosing to develop in Portugal contiues we could see Terra do Camões become Terra dos Cangurus.