Matheus Nunes' career - Is he the next Phil Foden? Guardiola Seems to Think so

Josip Brajkovic
Josip Brajkovic
Published: 25.5.2024.

Matheus Nunes

Eagerly and dismissingly often criticised for their infinite funds, the fans of Manchester City rarely mention the fact that the Etihad recruitment team rarely had misses. If any. Balancing between a flop and a success is the club's 10th biggest signing ever - Matheus Nunes. More than the price tag, it's the Pep Guardiola's statements that have placed pressure on Matheus Nunes' career. As the current greatest manager called the midfielder the best player in the world... Sort of.

Yet even without this superlative, the 25-year-old has had a career worthy of Hollywood movies. An agent making seemingly peculiar career choices, multiple quick-fire transfers, two countries battling over his loyalty, and a massive potential whose completion is on a countdown.

All the attention multiplied by the statements Pep Guardiola made about Nunes quite some time before he became his manager.

In the 2021/2022 season of the Champions League, Manchester City faced Nunes' Sporting in the first knockout round. Despite winning the 1st leg 5:0, Guardiola was impressed by what he saw from the midfielder.

"I would say that Matheus Nunes is one of the best players in the world today" said Guardiola.

This statement has always held weight, after all, Guardiola is in the running for the greatest manager of all time. But it has only garnered increased attention as one of Guardiola's previous ultimate praises has been fulfilled or at the very least is not looking like lip service anymore.

That would be seeping Phil Foden with the ultimate compliments, calling him the most talented player. While Foden certainly looked like one of the better Premier League wingers, he didn't quite look like a world-class player or a world-beater which Guardiola's statements suggested.

As the Spanish manager called Foden the most talented player he has ever managed. Yep, even though he led Lionel Messi for 219 games, more than any other manager.

Only in the 2023/2024 has Foden showed this potential, being Manchester City's best player in a title-winning (possibly a double) with 27 goals and 11 assists in 52 matches.

Foden was quite young when Pep started praising him with the highest honours, and Matheus Nunes' wasn't a City player at the time of his praises, so the prediction always looked more sincere.

With Foden's recent successes, Nunes’ ceiling seemingly rose.

Of course, Foden can't be directly compared to Nunes as they are not playing in the same position. But central midfielders can be even more important to a Pep side.

But in order to gauge how Nunes could do, as he has a contract until 2028, we must look at what he has achieved.

Matheus Nunes' Career Trajectory

Born in Brazil - hence the tug of war between Portugal and his birth country later on - yet Nunes moved to Europe aged 12 and started playing in the small Ericeirense.

In Leicester's title-winning season, Nunes went on a week-long trial. But perhaps in the pandemonium of a miracle, no one from the King Power stadium got back to Nunes to disclose the outcome of the test run.

Other big European clubs also had him do a runway walk on the training pitch - Braga, Lille, and Benfica. The latter will rue the evaluating team on that day when looking at Nunes' future transfer fees.

Then in the 2018/2019 season, Nunes moved to Estoril and played just six games for them in the second division, jumping between the senior team and the U23s.

His manager at the U23 side moved to Sporting and made the recommendation for the 20-year-old to make a switch as well.

Hence, Nunes is one of the few modern players who has risen quickly to the top level without being prophesized to do so from a young age. At one point prior, even a move to a third-tier Oriental has fallen through.

Matheus Nunes' Career at Sporting

In his first year at Jose Alvalade Stadium, he played 10 games. But come the 2020/2021 season he was already a key player for the green and whites.

His initial transfer to Sporting was only €500,000 - for half of his rights, the other staying with Estoril - but immediately he had a traditional Portuguese high release clause of €45,000,000.

But his sophomore season didn't even properly start before Sporting offered him a new contract. Bringing with it a new release clause - €60,000,000. Now being in Sporting's full ownership.

In that season, Nunes showed his potential already, playing in 39 matches, making six goal involvements (3G/3A) from the central midfield position. Helping Sporting win the league after 18 long years of their bitter rivals Porto and Benfica exchanging the trophy with the Lisbon Lions as mere spectators.

Nunes also celebrated with Sporting in the Allianz Cup (Portuguese League Cup) in the same year. Getting a double after a long hiatus.

Pedro Goncalves received the most attention that year - deservedly with 23 goals and five assists - but Nunes was also a key point in the pillar every title-winning team needs.

In August of 2021, Brazil came knocking for their prodigal son, with the national team manager and legend Tite asking him to return home. Even though Nunes never represented Portugal on a youth level, he didn't budge.

Portugal's manager at the time, Fernando Santos, was awoken by Brazil trying to steal the CM away. Immediately giving him a debut in a friendly in October.

As of now, Matheus has collected 12 caps for Portugal, including a couple of games at the World Cup, and scored twice. But he is still not a key figure for Roberto Martinez's side, ahead of the 2024 Euro in Germany.

Matheus Nunes’ club career doesn’t quite explain that decision of the former Belgium manager.

As in his third season with Sporting, Matheu continued his rise into stardom.

Prior to it starting, in the summer of 2021, strong rumours arose that Everton has secured the signature of the midfielder for a mere €18,000,000. With the personal conditions agreed, yet Sporting realised what they had in the bank and kept the player.

Playing an amazing number of games - 50, winning the Portuese Super Cup and the League Cup again in the 2021/2022 campaign. Recording nine goal involvements that term (4G/5A), playing often in a partnership with Palhinha, who had the more defensive responsibilities. The duo has played in 71 games together.

All of Nunes' 101 games for Sporting came under the guidance of one of Europe's most respected young managers Ruben Amorim.

Matheus Nunes' Career - Wolverhampton Wanderers

Matheus Nunes - Wolverhampton Wanderers

Even though even in 2022 Manchester City came knocking - how could they not after Pep Guardiola's statements about the midfielder, he left for the Portuguese colony in England - Wolves.

With his agent Jorge Mendes a key figure in this transfer, as per usual. The Premier League side paid off €45,000,000 outright with another €5,000,000 subject to bonuses. Beating the competition of West Ham. Although the agent exercised his right to wait a bit as he expected Liverpool's interest, the Reds lost out.

Nunes also wanted to play for a team where he would be in the lineup and to work with a Portuguese manager known for developing players - Bruno Lage.

Matheus played 41 games in the orange shirt of Wolves, recording an assist and a goal, but with his lanky frame and great physical ability adapted to the Premier League quickly.

So much so that Manchester City came knocking quite fast, only after a year at Molineux Stadium. During which he worked with four different managers, but mostly Julen Lopetegui.

Matheus Nunes' Career - Manchester City

Matheus Nunes - Manchester City

Even though he was praised for his attitude from the early days at Sporting, as the one keen to listen, to lead without much noise, and to work hard, he did smudge his reputation with driving the exit for City.

In his first Sporting days, Nunes was even working in a local bakery, waking up at 5 AM to fulfil his duty.

But with the allure of Etihad calling, he jumped the ship towards the uncanny yet common practice of skipping training to force a move. In late August of 2023, he notified Wolves of his wish to join City and his admirer Guardiola, before stopping attending practice sessions.

Wolves initially rejected a €55,000,000 offer but accepted the later €62,000,000 deal with 10% of any future sale profit going to Wolverhampton as well.

In 2023, City was dealing with the departure of uber-important midfielder Ilkay Gundogan. Earlier in the season, the experienced Mateo Kovacic arrived as a seemingly designated replacement. So it was maybe surprising for City to make the push for Nunes as they did. After a season of football, neither Kovacic nor Nunes impressed or fully established themselves. But, due to age, Nunes seems like the long-term option.

Nunes has similar characteristics to Kovacic, as he is known to carry the ball, breaking the lines with ease. His physical ability is described using superlatives and with surprising tones. Adept as a release valve for opponent's pressure, as he has surprising agility and naturalness to his dribbling.

But Pep Guardiola seemingly sees him as one of the most versatile players in the world.

"He can play in holding midfield, attacking midfield, full-back with his physicality. He has to improve the first contact, first touch. I think it's not precise enough. BUt the other quality, to keep the ball, to dribble the ball, to try with the ball like Kevin De Bruyne. His energy. He can even play as a winger. The quality is so difficult to find. He will learn to be more precise in simple things," said Guardiola with assurance that the way City trains will help Nunes develop all these traits.

The comparison with KDB is interesting, as it seems that maybe Guardiola sees Nunes as an eventual replacement for the Belgian.

In his own way, Guardiola stated that Nunes has the X factor.

"He has not the qualities that we can improve, but he has the qualities which the manager can't improve. And he's so important for us," concluded Guardiola

Even though Guardiola retracted on the statement made about Nunes after the 5:0 win over Sporting, he is still quite high on him.

"Maybe I over-exaggerated a little bit.. He’s not... He's a really good player. Maybe I said this after the 1:5 game. But he's an exceptional player. Exceptional player," said Guardiola when reminded of his initial statement.

The first season with City saw him play in 31 games, recording five assists, starting in nine Premier League matches, five in the Champions League, and winning the FIFA Club World Cup and the Premier League. With a chance for an FA Cup victory too.

Matheus Nunes' career can serve as quite the inspiration for all the players who have reached their 20th birthday but haven't made it big. As in a a few seasons, he went from the baking oven to the biggest stage, and the biggest compliments.

As Guardiola had to wait before feeling vindicated about the statements about Foden, he could experience the same with Matheus Nunes. It’s more probable then not that Nunes will find his place amongst the Premier League’s best midfielders, sooner rather than later.


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