Soccer fans in Portugal are suffering because their national team — with greats like Cristiano Ronaldo — has never claimed a World Cup title. So you can bet they’re looking to put their best boots on the ground this summer, when former colony and five-time World Cup winner Brazil hosts the planet’s biggest sporting event.
And who better to boost their spirits than a budding young player named Carlos Mané? Several European clubs, including Manchester United, have already taken notice of this captivating Portuguese footballer — some are saying he’s cut from the same cloth as Ronaldo and are speculating whether the legend and newcomer willl play side by side in Brazil.
If he keeps up his good form, then he may be a possibility for a late call-up to the World Cup squad.
Mané’s secret weapon? Speed. At 5’5” and 135 pounds, he darts between players so fast that it’s often hard to keep up with the state of play. “He’s extremely quick, which makes him difficult to defend against because he’s got such exceptional pace and trickery on the ball,” says Mané’s agent, Daniel Chapman.
He’s also made of muscle and extremely versatile — like Ronaldo, Mané’s both a right and left footer. Chapman estimates that only about 10 percent of players can play well on either side, which “makes [Mané] more marketable,” he says.
Mané, 20, made the first team this year at Sporting Clube de Portugal (aka Sporting Lisbon) — a club he has called home since age 7. He started to make a name for himself in 2012 in the Next Generation Series — the youth equivalent of Europe’s Champions League tournament.
This season Mané broke through to the first team, debuting in October 2013. His greatest memory to date? “My goal against Olhanense, the first goal scored in the league, and a very good goal, too,” referring to the goal he scored in the 13th minute, kicking in a cross and securing Sporting’s 1-0 win.
For the national squad, Mané has yet to break through to the first team, but he’s played for all of the youth squads, including now for its Under-21s. “To be able to represent Portugal at the junior levels, I already have a real honor, and if I get the opportunity one day to play for the full national team it would be an amazing privilege,” Mané tells Ozy.
Whether that opportunity arrives this summer rests on his ability to consistently deliver for Sporting’s top squad this season. Mané is doing well enough now that “national manager Paulo Bento has spoken to Carlos and let him know that he is in his thoughts, and if he keeps up his good form, then he may be a possibility for a late call-up to the World Cup squad,” Chapman says.
Mané’s parents left Guinea Bissau — one of Africa’s poorest countries — for Portugal before he was born. He showed promise on the pitch from a young age, catching the eye of Sporting. His home life, however, was less promising. After his parents split, he was raised primarily by his mother, who has since remarried and moved to England. Carlos’s half-brother Sanny lives in London and works as a cleaner.
To be able to provide for my family will mean a lot to me.
— Carlos Mané
Then came the news earlier this year that his father was being sought by police on drug-trafficking charges. Breaking a player’s focus can derail a career, but Mané says that he’s trying to use the difficult situation to draw strength. “To be able to provide for my family will mean a lot to me,” he adds.
Sporting’s manager, Leonardo Jardim, rallied behind his young winger, saying the father’s troubles would not destabilize him. “Mané is an example for the other players,” Jardim said.
Mané’s agent has been on a whirlwind tour on his behalf in recent weeks, which could signal growing interest from European clubs — but only time will tell.
It will happen “one day, and it may be next week, this summer, next summer — or maybe never,” Chapman hedges. He also insists not all young players should follow Ronaldo’s quick-paced leap to the Premier League. “It’s not always necessary or essential that a player move quickly.”
And some question the comparisons to Ronaldo, fearing they may be a curse. For his part, Mané is honored by the comparisons but insists he’s perfectly happy to stay put in Lisbon for now and learn as much as he can. But with family in England and so many rumors, the young player surely has a Premier League move on his mind. “Yes, if Sporting were at any point to sell me to another club, I would very much hope it would be in England,” he admits.
I will not consider success just being a good footballer. I want to be one of the very best.
— Carlos Mané
For now, though, his sole focus is performing well for the rest of the season at Sporting. And with the World Cup looming, he has ample reason to keep his head down and feet flying for the chance to play for his country in Brazil.
“If I get the opportunity one day to play for the full national team, it would be an amazing privilege,” Mané says. It would also mean the chance to play alongside his hero, Ronaldo, and “words could not explain what that would mean.”
Portuguese soccer fans would be thrilled to see Mané join ranks with the legend and, at the same time, shore up their team’s odds for victory in Sao Paolo, but it’s not what Mané uses as his measuring stick for success.
“I have a very long way to go,” Mané says humbly, “but I will not consider success just being a good football player. I want to be one of the very best.”
Why you should care
Because the world of soccer is never too small for two Ronaldos, and this young man has his mind set on greatness.