FEATURE | Vitinha – PSG’s player of the season and the missing link in Portugal’s midfield?

Last month, Vitinha was named in the Ligue 1 Team of the Year. It was worthy recognition for a player that arguably became Paris Saint-Germain’s most consistent and important player last season. It has been a remarkable season for the native of Santo Tirso (a town in the north of Portugal near Porto). Not only has he improved, but he has also become a key piece in the smooth running of the Parisian team. The question remains: how did he turn the situation around after a difficult debut campaign?

The season prior,  under Christophe Galtier, Vitinha’s primary role was to compensate for the defensive lapses of his teammates in the forward line – a thankless task.

Vitinha struggles to mix in PSG dressing room

It has been reported that the player was hardly respected by ‘leaders’ in the dressing room, such as Lionel Messi and Neymar, who threatened him multiple times.  At the beginning of April 2024, L’Équipe revealed that the Brazilian’s behaviour towards the Portuguese was appalling. A source within the club said that Neymar “bullied Vitinha, who denied it because he is a nice guy and didn’t want any problems, but he was insulted on several occasions.”

Therefore, you can understand that performing in those conditions is not optimal, and something needed to change. The departure of the two South American superstars helped the club move forward and Vitinha progress. 

During the pre-season summer tour, videos posted by PSG on social media showed Vitinha spending a lot of time training for long-range shots. While not all his strikes were perfect, it was clear that he was determined to have a more important role this season.

During the friendly games in their summer tour in Japan, he illustrated himself with two goals in two different games, one after a brilliant run into the opponent’s box and the other from a 25-yard long shot. It was, without a doubt, the first sign of the impressive season he was about to produce.

In an interview for Téléfoot in September 2023, Vitinha said in perfect French: “Shooting and scoring are the parts of my game that I want to improve the most.” With nine goals this season (seven in Ligue 1 and two in UCL), it is the Portuguese midfield’s most prolific season. Since the departure of Matuidi and Adrien Rabiot, PSG has needed more midfielders who can provide goals regularly. 

An impressive Champions League display

PSG have been suffering from an overly-predictable attacking style, with goal contributions mostly coming from their forwards (Kylian Mbappé, Neymar Jr, Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria) throughout the years. The expansion of Vitinha’s range to include frequent goals already makes him an essential player in a team that has been very Mbappé-dependent until now.

The Champions League quarter-final against Barcelona showcased his progress as a player. Throughout both legs, he scored crucial goals and demonstrated his ability to dictate the tempo in the midfield. He frequently found passing angles that only he could envision. These qualities had been unseen since his arrival at PSG. This resurgence appears to be due to Luis Enrique’s ability to unlock his potential, making him an essential player for the team.

After the Coupe de France final, which PSG won 2-1 against Olympique Lyonnais, Luis Enrique even said: “Vitinha was undoubtedly the player of the season; he is exceptional.”

His decisiveness in the final third and technical precision have made it easier for Les Parisiens to relieve pressure. The Spanish coach has long debated whether to play him as a deep-lying playmaker or further up the pitch as a central midfielder. In addition to possessing technique reminiscent of former Parisien Marco Verratti, Vitinha can make a significant impact in the opposition half.

Vitinha – the missing piece in Portugal’s midfield?

After a compelling second season with the French team, he is preparing to make his mark with Portugal. Until now, he has not been a regular in the Seleção. However, his elevated stature at the club level will be significant when Roberto Martinez selects his starting eleven. The competition will be fierce, as Joao Palhinha (Fulham), Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United), Otavio (Al Nassr), Ruben Neves (Al Hilal), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Joao Neves (Benfica), and Vitinha will fight for three positions. 

During the Euro qualification games, Martinez did not use Vitinha much, preferring Fernandes, Otávio, and Palhinha. However, in the three preparation games leading to the Euros, Vitinha started in two of them, showcasing his skills with an assist. Beyond his goal contribution, like with PSG, he once again played a crucial role in the effective functioning of Martinez’s team. The Spanish coach has been struggling to find the final missing midfielder to accompany Fernandes and Palhinha, experimenting with several players including Otávio, Neves, and Neves. Could it be that Vitinha’s recent emergence has finally settled the debate? Vitinha has already won the admiration of a Spanish coach this season, so perhaps this summer will be his time to win the admiration of another.

GFFN | Jerry Takou

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