Pedro Goncalves has waited longer than he might have hoped to face English opposition again.
The star of Sporting’s title win in Portugal last season takes the field against Manchester City in the Champions League on Tuesday evening in Lisbon hoping that his team can take a result back to the Etihad Stadium next month.
His previous three starts in club football in England came on rather less grand stages back in 2018. There were 874 souls at Glanford Park to see him play against Scunthorpe. At Field Mill, 1112 saw him against Mansfield, while 2723 made it to Lincoln’s Sincil Bank.
Back then, Goncalves – known as Pote – was playing for Wolverhampton Wanderers’ development team in what was then known as the Checkatrade Trophy. The coach of that team is the now Forest Green Rovers manager Rob Edwards.
“I think he is an absolute diamond,” Edwards tells Sky Sports. “He is a brilliant young man. And, wow, he is doing great. I am so proud of him and so pleased for him.”
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His old boss still likes to send a congratulatory text after a particularly eye-catching performance or notable achievement. “So I send him texts quite often,” laughs Edwards.
Upon leaving Wolves in search of first-team football in the summer of 2019, Pote had such an impact in Portugal at newly-promoted Famalicao – they were top in late October – that he earned himself a move to Sporting.
It was there that his 23 goals from midfield inspired the club to their first league title in 19 years. Pote was rewarded with a place in Portugal’s Euro 2020 squad.
It was a freak goal return – more than predecessor Bruno Fernandes ever managed for Sporting – and came from an expected-goals figure of half that.
“His success does not surprise me at all,” says Edwards. “What has surprised me is the amount of goals that he has scored because he did score goals for us, he was a threat, but he was never prolific.”
And yet, the goals keep coming even as the level rises. Twice he has scored two goals in a Champions League game, helping his team to beat Besiktas and Borussia Dortmund in November.
The key has been the accuracy of his finishing from 15 to 20 yards, measuring the ball into the net, calm even under pressure.
If there was a clue during his time at Wolves it came at Mansfield. Ultimately, Edwards’ young side were beaten 2-1 by League Two opposition but the goal of the game was scored by Pote – an expertly directed free-kick into the top left corner of the net.
“That was a hell of a goal by the way, that free-kick. He was capable of it and he did score some great goals for us. But what he has gone on to do since, all credit to him. He has worked really hard for it and he deserves everything that he gets.”
Image: Pedro Goncalves in action against England for Portugal at the U21 European Championship
For Wolves, it is easy to wonder whether this was the one who got away.
The decision-makers at Molineux prefer to point to the profit as well as the decision to include a sell-on fee. Technical director Scott Sellars has said that this money helped persuade chairman Jeff Shi to fund new artificial pitches at the club’s training base.
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But with interest in Ruben Neves and the contract of Joao Moutinho expiring in the summer, Pote would be welcome back now. There is little prospect of that with Premier League giants interested and the price having rocketed beyond Wolves’ reach.
Although there has been talk of home sickness, Edwards sees the player’s decision to leave after making only one substitute appearance for the senior side as a testament to his ambition. He backed himself to go elsewhere and succeed.
Rather than merely waiting for a pathway to develop for him, he went out and created his own path.
Image: Pedro Goncalves celebrate Carabao Cup victory in his only senior appearance for Wolves
“What he has done is gone out and made it happen for himself because Wolves did not really want him to go but he felt he was not going to get an opportunity to play under Nuno. That is no criticism of Nuno at all because he did pretty well.
“Pedro just felt that with Joao Moutinho, Ruben Neves and Leander Dendoncker there he was not going to be able to get past them, but he also felt that he was capable of doing so.
“So he made it happen, got himself away and did amazingly at Famalicao. He went to Sporting, valued at around £12m, I think, and has continued on this upward trajectory.”
That self-belief is as evident on the pitch as it is in his career decisions at such a young age. Pote describes himself as a player “with good acceleration, who likes to have the ball and win it back” while being able to adapt to any style of play.
For Edwards, what stood out was his willingness to fail.
He always wanted the ball.
“He has the right attitude. He is brave.”
He adds: “Someone like Pedro who is technically brilliant, really gifted, a mistake will not faze him. He will be like, ‘OK, give it me again.’ The biggest thing when you are working with top talents is that you never need to motivate them. They do it every day.”
Doing it against Manchester City will be his biggest test yet. “I am looking forward to seeing how well he does.” But whatever happens on Tuesday in Lisbon, Pote’s long-term future is not in doubt.
“He will have a phenomenal career.”
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