This is taken from the GFFN 100, our leading 150-page FREE publication ranking the best 100 players in France, see the full list and read every profile right here.
Paris Saint-Germain have, in recent years, very much gone down the Galactico route in terms of their transfer policy, focussing on stellar names with little attention paid to age, attitude, fitness or squad balance. This has been good enough for continued domestic success but has contributed to their falling short in the quest for the main prize – the Champions League. The summer of 2022 saw the beginnings of a change in policy, with less heralded stars coming in for relatively small sums. There have already been indications in the first half of the 2022/23 campaign that the team has a little more balance and, if PSG go on to have a successful season, the key may turn out to be summer signing Vitinha.
Vitor Machado Ferreira was spotted at a very young age and was already with a Benfica feeder club aged eight, before being released because of his lack of size. Benfica’s early loss would be rival Porto’s gain. He joined the Dragões aged 11 and gradually made his way through the club’s and Portugal’s youth systems. In 2018/19 he made a series of substitute appearances throughout Porto’s run to UEFA Youth League triumph, including in their 3-1 final victory over Chelsea. Meanwhile, he captained Portugal’s under 16s, was named player of the tournament at the Toulon tournament, scored twice on the way to captaining the under 19s to the final of the 2019 European Championship and then, in 2021, was named in the team of the tournament after helping Portugal to another final, this time the European under 21 Championship.
In the meantime, Vitinha had broken his way into Porto’s first team squad, making his debut in January 2020, two weeks short of his twentieth birthday, and earning a league and cup double after making eight Primeira Liga appearances in the second half of the season and playing all 180 minutes of the club’s semi-final win on their way to the Taça de Portugal. Being Portuguese and part of super agent Jorge Mendes’ stable, Vitinha inevitably had to go through the rite of passage of a loan spell at Wolverhampton Wanderers, but the 2020/21 season spent in the black country was not a great success, as he made only five Premier League starts. Unsurprisingly, Wolves declined to take up their €20m purchase option and Vitinha returned to Porto for the 2021/22 season.
It was this season that proved the break-out campaign for the diminutive midfielder, as he graduated from bench-warmer to starter to first team fixture, eventually making 47 appearances across all competitions as he contributed far more fully this time to another domestic double. Personal recognition came too, as he won three Player of the Month awards, was named Young Player of the Year as well winning a place in the Primeira Liga Team of the Season. He also made his senior international debut in March, in the play-off match against North Macedonia which qualified the nation for the World Cup.
As Porto’s talented young team were sold off around Europe in the summer of 2022, it was not a surprise to see Vitinha in demand. Despite further links with the Premier League, PSG won the race, securing a €41.5m transfer which, although less glamorous than the club’s recent purchases, perhaps made sense in the context of their less ‘bling-bling’ policy, particularly since it was led by Portuguese talent-spotter Luis Campos.
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Vitinha was in the starting line-up for PSG’s curtain-raiser, a 4-0 win over Nantes in the Trophée des Champions, and has been a first team regular ever since, starting 10 of PSG’s 15 league matches, appearing in three others and starting all of the team’s Champions League group stage matches. On joining the French champions, Vitinha said that “I want to continue to improve and I want to do that here, continuing to win titles. I am a technical player, I like the beautiful game and I play especially for my team-mates. I always want to give the best of myself in order to help the team. I am a forward-looking player, I like to create and to make the connection between the different lines in the team”.
So far, Vitinha has proven true to his word. Whereas, in the past, one of PSG’s recurrent problems has been that the team has often been split in two, with Marco Verratti (when not injured and/or suspended) fighting a losing one-man battle to be the transition from defence to midfield alongside PSG’s cast of limited workhorses, PSG now have someone who is more than capable not only of providing support for Verratti but also to the team’s attack. Vitinha can win the ball back and take it forward himself with excellent dribbling ability. While not a regular scorer or even assister, he is more likely to make the penultimate pass, while also running from deep and ending up as the most forward-placed player, taking defenders with him and creating space as the likes of Neymar and Lionel Messi drop deep for the ball.
His relationship with Verratti has been particularly impressive as they seem to instinctively hunt in pairs. When one wins the ball back, it is uncanny how often the other is close at hand to take it on and to push forward. It looked like Vitinha would be emulating Verratti in another way as bookings in each of his first three PSG appearances earned him a one-match ban. However, he has not been booked since, highlighting that a combative, box-to-box role does not necessarily mean the need to fly into tackles or talk your way into the book on a regular basis. His performances this season earned him a place in Portugal’s World Cup squad and he made one start and two substitute appearances as the team went out at the quarter-final stage.
While team-mates have grabbed far more headlines in Qatar and are likely to continue to do so in Paris, it is Vitinha’s form which may ultimately dictate just how successful PSG’s season becomes.
Jeremy Smith | GFFN