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Joao Moutinho: The most underrated player in the Premier League?

Joao Moutinho: The most underrated player in the Premier League?

Moutinho would walk into most top six sides and yet Wolves have extended his deal problem-free.

AS he prepares to make his 50th Premier League appearance when Wolves host Sheffield United on Sunday, it’s a wonder Joao Moutinho didn’t arrive in English football sooner.

The 121-cap Portuguese international was one of the most talked-about young playmakers in Europe when he broke through as a teenager with Sporting CP, and he was key to three league titles and a Europa League triumph with Porto before his move to Monaco in 2013, where he was again central in a championship-winning side.

And throughout his career, rumours of big-money Premier League moves have swirled, on an almost twice-yearly basis. Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea have all been touted as suitors for Moutinho over the last decade or more. Yet, just weeks before his 32nd birthday, it was newly promoted Wolves who eventually brought Moutinho to England’s top flight, and for just £5m.

Whatever misgivings returned on the biggest clubs’ scouting reports that prevented them from pulling the trigger for a Moutinho move in the past have been proven unfounded in the veteran midfielder’s first season and a half in the Premier League. The 33-year-old has been consistently outstanding for Wolves, helping the ambitious Black Country side punch above their weight to achieve a seventh-place finish last term and make an impressive start to their Europa League bid this campaign.

Moutinho, ordinarily partnered by compatriot Ruben Neves at the heart of Wolves' midfield, returned eight Premier League assists last season, a figure only Bournemouth duo Ryan Fraser (14) and Callum Wilson (nine) could better from outside the top six. The only goal of his maiden campaign exemplified his majestic technique, too, bending into the top corner from 20 yards against Manchester United at Old Trafford.

And this season has seen Moutinho pick right up where he left off. A free-kick against Bournemouth last weekend brought his first goal of 2019/20, adding to the seven assists he has already racked up in all competitions. With two key passes per 90 minutes, he is Wolves most prolific chance creator, and that average rises to 3.4 per 90 in the Europa League.

Wolves fans voted Moutinho their Player of the Year last season, so beguiled have the club’s faithful been by the diminutive playmaker’s precision, invention and ability to quicken the pace of his team’s play as they counter in trademark style. From the statement his signing made to his performances on the pitch, Moutinho is key to the Wolves project.

Chinese investment group Fosun bought the club in 2016 and have since ploughed £240m into constructing a squad capable of eventually disrupting the established top six of the Premier League. The fee forked out for Moutinho is barely a drop in the ocean of the Midland’s club’s recent spending, but his pedigree – having won titles in two countries and a European Championship on the international stage – signified their seriousness in attracting the highest calibre of talent.

And, on the pitch, Moutinho’s presence ensures Nuno Espirito Santo’s men, ordinarily sent out to absorb and counter-strike against the biggest teams, are able to compete on a technical level. The Portuguese can dictate tempo and shred defences asunder in a single pass as well as any of the midfielders lining up for the established powers of the Premier League.

“Joao is an important player because he has the experience to know at each moment what the game requires,” manager Nuno said recently, pointing to the value of the in-game know-how Moutinho has accumulated in his 15-year top-flight career.

Wolves faith in Moutinho’s ability to spearhead their further rise is evidenced by their desperation, despite his advanced years, to tie the midfielder down to a new contract, with his deal having been set to expire at the end of the current season before, last week, an extension until 2022 was inked.

And not a moment too soon. It is not inconceivable that, given his displays over the last 15 months, one of the super-clubs linked with a move for Moutinho all those years ago might finally have been convinced to snap him up on a short-term deal, making up for overlooking him previously now that he’s demonstrated his Premier League credentials beyond any doubt.

"It was a very easy decision because I feel very good here," Moutinho said after committing his future to Molineux. "It's a big club that wants to do something good and I want to do my best to help. We did a great job last season and this season we'll try to do better. That's what we're going to do and I'm going to try 100 per cent to help the club to improve.”

Better late than never, Moutinho’s belated Premier League arrival has not disappointed. As long as he’s pulling the strings in the centre of the pitch, Wolves’ lofty ambitions remain in reach.





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Ryan Baldi
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