Rui Patricio might not yet be a household name outside Portugal but Euro 2012 will afford him the opportunity to demonstrate to a wider audience just why those of us who watch him regularly count him among the top keepers on the continent.
The 24 year old enjoyed a fine season for Sporting Clube de Portugal on a personal level, turning in performances of a consistently high standard. However, the campaign was ultimately a disappointing one for the Lisbon club as they finished fourth in the Liga Zon Sagres and lost the cup final to relegation candidates Academica. Were it not for the interventions of Patricio, there could have been even more frustration for Sportinguistas.
Despite a lack of consistency in both personnel and quality in the centre back positions, Sporting’s defensive record in the Liga was second only to that of champions Porto. With Patricio between the sticks os leões conceded just 24 goals in 28 games.
The keeper’s agile shot-stopping, success in one-on-ones and command of his area offer reassurance to his team-mates and a last line of hope for supporters. If there is an aspect of his play that has been criticised, it has been his kicking, but he is still very young for a goalkeeper and has time aplenty to iron out any rough edges in his game.
Portugal have been landed in Euro 2012’s nominated “group of death” along with the much fancied Germans, a Dutch side that is also attracting a lot of praise and Denmark, who finished above Portugal in qualifying. Clearly, it will be no easy task for Portugal to escape from such a group and advance to the latter stages, but it is well within their capabilities. It would be easy to look to the skill and flair of Ronaldo and Nani as crucial to their success – and they will be – but Rui Patricio is likely to be a busy man in the group games and he could be the hero for the selecção.
This tournament will be Patricio’s first as the Portuguese number one, having been an unused squad member at Euro 2008 and left out of the party taken to South Africa two years ago. He eventually debuted for the national team in November 2010 in a win over Spain but had to wait until September the following year for his first competitive start.
In that game Portugal emerged as 4-0 winners in Cyprus and Patricio hasn’t looked back since. He played in the remaining two qualifying games and in both legs of the 6-2 aggregate play-off win over Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Patricio will become Portugal’s youngest-ever tournament goalkeeper on Saturday against Germany and if he performs the way he can then he will only enhance an already growing reputation.
Recent speculation had declared it inevitable that he would be leaving Sporting this summer, but the latest from the Portuguese press is that he is poised to sign a lucrative three- or four-year extension to his contract, currently due to expire in a year’s time.
Assuming that is the case, any club that takes a liking to Patricio over the summer would have to make a very good offer to tempt Sporting to part with their only remaining Portuguese international (having just sold right back Joao Pereira to Valencia). But as we approach the main event of the summer, when the eyes of Europe and the world will be on Poland and Ukraine, nothing should be ruled out.
Given Sporting’s need to cover the loss of revenue due to having missed out on a Champions League spot, a cynical commentator could suggest that a new deal for Patricio might just be an attempt to ensure he doesn’t leave for a cut price.
However, with a long-term contract agreed in principle, Rui Patricio should head to the Euros free of the uncertainty that has dogged his name since the end of the domestic season and fully focused on helping the selecção cause a few surprises in the coming weeks.
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