Best Portuguese Midfielders of All Time
When people, who are familiar with Portuguese football, read the title of this post (best Portuguese midfielders of all time), they think of Luis Figo before any other Portuguese footballer. They’re quite right, but Figo is not the only top midfielder Portugal has ever produced.
Some even consider Figo as one of the Portuguese football player legends. Either they’re right or not, the man is one of the best Portuguese players of all time. There’s no doubt in that, however, as we mentioned above, there are still other top Portuguese footballers who could be among the best Portuguese midfielders of all time.
And there might be the question who the best Portuguese soccer players in 2022 are. Names like Otavio Monteiro, Bernardo Silva, and Joao Felix are actually among the
best Portuguese soccer players in 2022
, however to be one of the best Portuguese soccer players of all time or one of the best Portuguese midfielders of all time - in the case of the first two, they should prove themselves over time.
A List of the Best Portuguese Midfielders of All Time
As we already mentioned, there are players on the list of best Portuguese midfielders of all time who are also among the best Portuguese soccer players of all time. One of them is, for sure, Luis Figo, but let’s see which other footballers like that are on the list and if they can be considered as one of Portuguese football player legends or not.
The only active player on the list of
best Portuguese midfielders of all time
, Luis Carlos Almeida da Cunha, simply known as Nani in the world of football, is a 35-year-old Portuguese midfielder and winger who currently plays for the Italian club, Venezia. With the 24 goals Nani has scored for the Portuguese national team in 112 appearances, he’s currently Portugal’s 5th most capped player and 8th top scorer of all time. Nani is often known as a Manchester United player since he served the English club more than any other club during his career; actually for 8 years between 2007 and 2015 during which he made a total of 230 appearances and scored 40 goals for them across all competitions. This is as he served the other clubs he played for during his career for a year or two.
It might be interesting for you to know that Nani’s style of play when he joined Manchester United in 2007 was often compared to that of Cristiano Ronaldo, however, unlike Ronaldo who developed into a center forward,Nani
remained what they call a traditional winger and, of course, midfielder. Although Nani can be deployed on both wings, he’s more comfortable with the right wing where he can utilize his dribbling skills to create spaces for his teammates. He’s, indeed, less of a striking forward and more of a playmaking winger, though he has been deployed in more offensive roles, too. Except for the 4 club trophies Nani has won with the Portuguese club, Sporting CP, he has won all his club trophies with Manchester United including four Premier League titles and one FIFA Club World Cup in 2008. He has also taken part in 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2008, 2012, and 2016 editions of Euro Championship with the Portuguese national team winning the 2016 edition with them.
The only defensive midfielder on the list of best Portuguese midfielders of all time, Paolo Sousa is a 51-year-old retired Portuguese footballer who played for the top European clubs, Inter Milan, Borussia Dortmund, and Juventus, sometime during his career. Sousa was part of the Portugal’s golden generation in late 1990s and early 2000s alongside names like Luis Figo, Rui Costa, and Nuno Gomes. He took part in Euro 1996 and 2000 and was part of the Portuguese squad in 2002 World Cup though he was sidelined in all the three matches that Portugal played in the latter competition. He also never won an international trophy with the Portuguese national team; his best shot at this was a third place in Euro 2000.
Sousa is one of the only two footballers on the list of best Portuguese midfielders of all time to have managed more than 10 clubs after his career as a player. He’s the current manager of the Brazilian club,Flamengo
, and has managed clubs like Fiorentina, Swansea City, and Queens Park Rangers sometime during his managerial career in addition to Polish national team and Portugal U16 team. As a manager, he has also won six club trophies including an Israeli Premier League title with the Israeli club, Maccabi Tel Aviv, and a Swiss Super League title with the Swiss club, Basel. But back to his career as a player, we should say that although Sousa was not considered as a pacey player, he was known for his work rate, tactical intelligence and versatility which meant he could not only play in the back line - as a defensive midfielder - but also take part in his team’s offensive plays due to his passing abilities, vision, and control which enabled him to support his teammates from the back as a playmaker. These characteristics also enabled him to take the role of a leader for his team, as he really did sometimes.
Considered as one of the best Portuguese footballers of his own time - mainly in 1980s, Fernando Chalana is a 63-year-old retired Portuguese winger and midfielder who, except for the French club,Bordeaux
, served only Portuguese clubs - actually 3 including Benfica whom he served the most - during his career. Chalana made a total of 27 international appearances and also scored 2 goals for the Portuguese national team. In Euro 1984, he was actually considered as one of the competition’s best players helping his team advance to the semi-final stage where they lost 3-2 to France after extra time. He provided 2 assists in that match and was also named on the competition’s Team of the Tournament.
Chalana is actually one of the moderately-decorated footballers on the list with 16 club trophies to his name most of which he won with Benfica including 6 Portuguese top-tier league, Primeira Divisao, titles. He was also named the Portuguese footballer of the year in 1976 and 1984, and managed to score a goal for Benfica at the Portuguese club’s home ground, Estadio da Luz, at the very early age of 17 becoming the youngest player ever to have scored in the same stadium. Ten years after his career as a player, Chalana rejoined the club he served the most as a player, namely Benfica, as a caretaker and assistant and in three different time periods spanning around 6 years.
Jose Augusto Pinto de Almeida
The oldest and also the second and last footballer on the list of
best Portuguese midfielders of all time
to have served more than 10 clubs as a manager after his career as a player, Jose Augusto Pinto de Almeida, shortly known as Jose Augusto, is a 85-year-old retired Portuguese winger and midfielder who served only two Portuguese clubs during his career: Barreirense and Benfica with the latter getting a better share of Almeida’s years of service; actually 10 years out of his 14-year career. Almeida scored 174 goals in his 363 appearances for Benfica which translates to almost one goal (exactly 0.96) in every two appearances that he made for the Portuguese club which is not bad for a winger. However, it was not his goalscoring abilities but his top dribbling that had him dubbed “Portuguese Garrincha” during his career - Garrincha is an old-timer Brazilian footballer who is considered as one of the best footballers of all time and actually the greatest dribbler ever by some.
Almeida won 13 club trophies during his career all with Benfica and managed to finish on the third place in the 1966 FIFA World Cup with the Portuguese national team. He played in all the matches in that competition managing to score three headers; two against Hungary and one against North Korea in the quarter-finals. And as a manager, as already mentioned, Almeida managed more than 10 clubs including Benfica in addition to Portuguese national and U21 teams. He’s also the only footballer on the list to have managed Portuguese Women’s national team after his career; actually at the end of his managerial career, but unlike Sousa who won 6 club trophies as a manager, Almeida won only one and with Benfica in 1969-70 season - actually a Taça de Portugal tournament.
One of the only two passed footballers on the list of best Portuguese midfielders of all time, Jose Travassos served only two Portuguese clubs, namely CUF and Sporting CP, during his career with the latter getting a major share of Travassos’ years of service; actually 13 years out of his 15-year career between 1946 and 1959. During this time, Travassos made a total of 321 appearances and scored 128 goals for the Portuguese club (Sporting CP) which means he scored almost two goals in every five appearances of his for them. He also served the Portuguese national team sometime between 1947 and 1958 making 35 appearances and scoring 6 goals for them in the process - around one goal in every 7 appearances averagely.
The passed Portuguese footballer was actually part of the Sporting CP’s attacking line known as “the Violins” alongside his fellowmen, Albano, Jesus Correia, Fernando Peyroteo and Manuel Vasques, and managed to win eight Primeira Liga titles and two Taca de Portugal trophies with them. He is also one of the first Portuguese footballers to have played for a FIFA team; actually for the FIFA team who beat England 4-1 in 1955 in Belfast. Travassos died in February 2012 at the age of 75 in his hometown, Lisbon.
A Portuguese footballer who served a Spanish club for the majority of his career; That is Paulo Futre with his six years of service to Athletico Madrid between 1987 and 1993. Of course, he served other clubs in Italy like AC Milan andReggiana
, in England, like West Ham United, and in his homeland, Portugal, like Benfica and Porto, but all for a year or two or at most three. This is as he served the Spanish club, Athletico Madrid, for six years between 1987 and 1993 during which he made the most number of appearances for and scored the most number of goals for a single club as it remained his single-club record for the rest of his career; actually 52 goals in 205 appearances.
Futre is not a very decorated footballer but maybe the most prominent individual achievement of his is that he finished second in the Ballon d’Or trophy voting in 1987 with 91 points behind the top Dutch footballer, Ruud Gullit, who actually won the prize with 106 points. In playstyle, he was somehow compared to Diego Maradona. He was a technical player yet with a high work rate and a good vision who could not only score goals but also create chances. He was mainly a winger but was also deployed as a striker or attacking midfielder during his career especially when he was with Italian teams. Unfortunately, he was also prone to injury and that was actually the main reason he retired at the early age of 32 after a 15-year career playing in several countries. Futre also served the Portuguese national team sometime between 1983 and 1995 making 41 appearances and scoring 6 goals for them in the process, but he didn’t earn any real international achievement with them.
Partly considered as one of the
Portuguese football player legends
but definitely among the best Portuguese soccer players of all time, Deco is a 44-year-old retired Portuguese midfielder who served some top European clubs like Barcelona and Chelsea during his career. Deco is not only considered as one of the best Portuguese midfielders of all time but also one of the best players of his own generation. He has a number of club and individual trophies to his name including a Golden Foot award in 2016, Ballon d'Or Silver Ball in 2014, FIFA Club World Cup Golden Ball in 2006, and one Premier League and two La Liga titles.
Although Deco is a Brazil-born Portuguese footballer and was eligible to play for the Brazilian national team in his playtime, he was never called up for that, and the interesting fact here is that his international debut was against the same team: Brazil and in a game that was Portugal’s first victory against Brazil since 1966 FIFA World Cup. In that game, Deco came on as a substitute and scored the winning goal of the match from a free kick to lead his side to a 2-1 victory. Since that time, he actually became a regular in the Portuguese national team.
Deco took part in two editions of Euro, namely the 2004 and 2008 editions, and two editions of World Cup, actually 2006 and 2010 World Cups with the Portuguese national team just to finish as runner-up in Euro 2004 after losing 1-0 to Greece and on the third place in 2006 World Cup after losing 3-1 to Germany. Deco made a total of 75 appearances and scored 5 goals for Portugal during his international career. He also provided 19 assists and received 7 yellow cards and one second yellow card in his international appearances.
Deco was a versatile player capable of playing anywhere in the midfield or even as a winger. He was not pacey or physical, instead, he possessed top dribbling skills, good passing range, high stamina, and crossing abilities which enabled him to act as a playmaker and create chances for his teammates. He also compensated for his lack of physicality by undergoing a physical development program in his late career so that he could protect the ball against stronger opponents, however, he also lost some of his fitness then plus that he was already an injury-prone player who became inconsistent at times, too.
Considered not only as one of the best Portuguese midfielders but also one of the best midfielders in the world during his playtime,Rui Costa
is a 50-year-old retired Portuguese footballer who has assumed the presidency of the sports club, Benfica, since 2021 becoming actually the 34th president of the club in its history. Costa is a product of the same club (Benfica) who played for their youth team for 13 years between 1977 and 1990 and for their senior team for 6 years and in two time periods: Once from 1990 to 1994 and another time from 2006 to 2008. And in between these two time periods, he served two Italian clubs, namely Fiorentina and AC Milan, with the former getting a share of 7 years from Costa’s years of service and the latter 5 years - actually between 2001 and 2006.
Costa also served the Portuguese national team for 11 years between 1993 and 2004 making 94 appearances and scoring 26 goals for them in the process and therefore becoming Portugal’s 7th top scorer and 9th most capped footballer of all time. He is the only footballer on the list of best Portuguese midfielders of all time alongside his fellowman, Luis Figo, to have been named on FIFA 100 list by the Brazilian legend, Pele, which is a list of 125 greatest living players in 21st century. As you might know, there is also another top Portuguese footballer or, better said, legend, namelyEusebio
, on this list, too.
It might be interesting for you to know that in 2000-01 season when Fiorentina’s manager, Fatih Terim, was leaving the club for AC Milan, he also took his key player, Costa, with him to the new club with a transfer fee of almost €44 million which made the top Portuguese midfielder the most expensive player in Milan’s history, though he was not that successful at Milan as he already had been with Fiorentina at least from goalscoring point of view: While he scored 50 goals for Fiorentina in 7 seasons, he only scored 11 for AC Milan in 5 seasons. In fact, he was more of a playmaker than goalscorer at Milan. That also you can see from his stats: He provided 47 assists when with Milan while this number decreases to 22 for his stay with Fiorentina.
Nicknamed “Maestro” - meaning master in Spanish, Costa proved to be a technically-intelligent play-maker during his career. He could not only provide supporting assist from behind as an attacking midfielder but also could sometimes take on more offensive roles such as second striker or winger. He had accurate passing, good vision, good ball control, and dribbling skills which fitted him best for the position of midfielder. He was also an accurate set-piece and penalty taker, and although played mainly as a midfielder, he had always an eye for goal and could send stingy shots from outside the box with his both feet.
The second and last passed footballer on the list of
best Portuguese midfielders of all time
, Mario Coluna served the top Portuguese club, Benfica, for almost all his career. In fact, if he hadn’t served the French club, Lyon, and the Portuguese club, Estrela Portalegre, each for a season, we could have said he had actually served Benfica for all his career. Coluna served Benfica for 16 years between 1954 and 1970 making 525 appearances and scoring 127 goals for them in the process. He also won 19 club trophies with them including 10 Primeira Liga - Portuguese top-tier league - titles with them. Coluna is almost an old-timer footballer with his career span being from 1954 to 1972. During his playtime, he was not only considered as one of the best midfielders in the world but also one of the most talented Portuguese footballers.
Coluna sored the most number of goals in a single season during his career in his first season with Benfica - 1954-55 season - where he managed to score 14 goals in his 26 appearances for the Portuguese club. That was because before he was established as a midfielder, which was indeed from the second season in his career, Coluna played as a forward. He had powerful and accurate long shots, good passing range, and technicality which made him a better option for the position of midfielder. Other than that, he had also a good vision and reading of the game which enabled him to take the leadership of his team as it was really so: The passed Portuguese midfielder captained Benfica for seven years between 1963 and 1970 and in 328 matches. He also captained the Portuguese national team in all except for one of the matches in 1966 World Cup where Portugal managed to finish as third in the competition. All in all, he scored a total of 8 goals in his 57 appearances for the Portuguese national team during his international career which lasted from 1955 to 1968. Coluna died in February 2014 at the age of 78 due to a pulmonary infection.
The best of the best among the best Portuguese midfielders of all time: Luis Figo! He may not be among Portuguese football player legends but he’s for sure one of the
best Portuguese players of all time
. He’s the only winner of Ballon d’Or trophy - 2000 edition - on the list of best Portuguese midfielders of all time and one of the only two footballers on the list alongside Rui Costa to have been named on Pele’s FIFA 100 list. He’s also the winner of Golden Foot award in 2011, and was named Portuguese Footballer of the Year in six consecutive years from 1995 to 2000 and La Liga Foreign Player of the Year in 3 consecutive years from 1999 to 2001 in two of which he played for Barcelona and one for Real Madrid.
Figo’s career years are actually almost evenly distributed among four clubs: Sporting CP, Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Inter Milan whom he served, in the order mentioned above, from 1989 to 1995 (6 years), from 1995 to 2000 (5 years), from 2000 to 2005 (5 years), and from 2005 to 2009 (4 years). As you see, that’s almost even, though the appearances he made for the La Liga clubs were around 1.5 times higher than the ones he made for Sporting CP and Inter Milan. It might be interesting for you to know that Figo is one of the few players in the history of football to have played for both rival clubs, Barcelona and Real Madrid. Also, his transfer fee from the former to the latter in 2000 - €62 million - was a world record at its own time.
Figo won at least one club trophy with each club he served during his career, however, the total number is 22 and the average 5. He actually won 21 club trophies with Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Inter Milan - each 7; he’s also even in this case! - including four consecutive Serie A titles and four La Liga titles and one with Sporting CP. At international level, Figo made a total of 127 appearances and scored 32 goals which actually makes him Portugal’s 3rd most capped and 4th top scorer of all time. He was actually a member of, or as they say, the leader of Portugal’s golden generation in early 2000s and took part in 3 editions of UEFA Euro, namely the 1996, 2000, and 2004 editions, and two editions of World Cup, actually the 2002 and 2004 editions, where in the 2004 editions of both above-mentioned competitions he captained the Portuguese national team in almost all their games. Unfortunately, Portugal never won a trophy while still they had Figo. Their best shot at this during Figo’s service to them was a third place in 2006 World Cup and finishing as runner-up in Euro 2004.
And finally if you would like to know about Figo’s playstyle, we should say that Figo’s career should be divided to two concerning his playstyle. In the first period, especially when he served the La Liga clubs, Barcelona and Real Madrid, he was a pacey player with top dribbling abilities who often beat his opponents in one-on-one situations using several techniques such as feints. Then, he was deployed more as a winger to create goalscoring chances for his teammates. Here it might be interesting for you to know that with 150 assists provided within La Liga, Figo is actually the second footballer behind Lionel Messi to have provided the most number of assists in the top-tier Spanish league’s history. In the second period, when Figo was aged and lost some of his pace, he was more deployed as a playmaking midfielder who could orchestrate his team’s offensive moves due to his leadership qualities. He was also an accurate free-kick and penalty taker and could send powerful shots from distance.
DISCLAIMER! Sportmob does not claim ownership of any of the pictures posted on this website. Again, we do not host pictures or videos ourselves. Our authors merely link to the rightful owner. Lastly, Sportmob have carefully considered and reviewed all of its content. Despite that, it is possible that some information might be out-dated or incomplete.