As far as football seasons go, Joao Mario’s was pretty special.
Not so long ago, 2014 to be exact, the 23-year-old was sent to Vitoria Setubal on loan, unable to break into the Sporting Lisbon first team.
However, he enjoyed his finest club campaign to date under Jorge Jesus last time around, earning links to Europe’s top clubs prior to Euro 2016, which have since intensified following Portugal’s continental conquest in France.
Chelsea are the latest club to have been credited with an interest as they look to build a team capable of challenging for the Premier League title, a division they’re priced at 6/1 to win.
The Blues will have to pay as much as £34m to prise the playmaker away from the Estadio Jose Alvalade, according to reports, a figure that may strike as a little high for a player who didn’t score and only provided one assist at the Euros.
While he’d have certainly hoped to record better numbers, the fact that Mario, an attack-minded midfielder, flourished in a team whose primary game-plan centred around pragmatic principles is a solid indicator of his talents.
No Portugal peer could match his 91 completed passes in the final third, while it was only Ricardo Quaresma who made more successful crosses than his six.
With 11 chances created, he proved to be the champions’ most prolific conjurer too, despite being forced to do the bulk of his work on the flanks as opposed to the central berth in which he was brilliant for Sporting.
He scored seven and assisted 12 more at club level last term, helping his team run Benfica desperately close in the Primeira Liga title race.
The Lions finished two points behind their city rivals and some 13 clear of Porto.
Another positive for Chelsea is that Mario has benefitted from a solid stint under the tutelage of Jesus.
The unheralded Portuguese coach taught Nemanja Matic everything he knows about holding a midfield at Benfica, skills the Blues depended on in their title-winning 2014/15 season.
Adding Mario to the mix would enormously enhance their chances of reclaiming the crown they lost last year.