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Wolves' Pedro Neto back in Braga and ready to fulfil his potential
Pedro Neto has shown glimpses of his talent at Wolves but they know all about him in Braga. Ahead of their Europa League clash, Adam Bate speaks to the teenager's old coach to find out more...
Last Updated: 28/11/19 5:11pm
What a season Wolves are having. They go into their game against Braga sitting pretty in fifth place in the Premier League and knowing that one point in Portugal will be enough to secure qualification for the knockout stages of the Europa League with a game to spare.
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After an awkward start that saw Nuno Espirito Santo's side fail to win any of their first six Premier League games, it has been an impressive turnaround. Particularly given that it has been achieved despite the club's summer signings only being peripheral figures thus far.
Patrick Cutrone, a £16m acquisition from AC Milan, has scored a couple of goals in losing efforts. Jesus Vallejo, a loan signing from Real Madrid, has struggled so badly that he has found himself out of the squad in recent weeks even after injury to Willy Boly.
Perhaps the pick of the new arrivals has been Portuguese teenager Pedro Neto who joined from Lazio just before the transfer window closed. Since scoring on his debut in August, he has shown glimpses of his speed and skill in a series of lively substitute appearances.
With the fixture list becoming increasingly congested, Nuno will need him in the coming weeks and the trip to Braga is a big one for Neto personally. It takes the 19-year-old winger back to the club where it all began. A club that is already well aware of his vast potential.
Braga U23 coach Jose Carvalho Araujo remembers well the first time that he clapped eyes on the player who would go on to become one of the academy's most valuable assets.
"Pedro is an interesting case," Araujo tells Sky Sports.
"At the time, I was coaching the younger age groups and we also did the scouting work for Braga. Every coach had to watch games. I was watching a game in Viana do Castelo, a nearby town to Braga, and he was captaining an U15 team but he was only 13.
"He was remarkable even at that time. He had these amazing skills and this amazing physically capacity when he was attacking. He wasn't so good defensively but he was two years younger than everyone else and he was clearly the star of the team."
What stood out most for Araujo was not his skill but his mentality.
"The speed with and without the ball is an amazing thing he had and still has, of course. Technically he is very good. But the thing that really makes Pedro for us is the mental part. He was a small kid with amazing ability but also this amazing will to succeed.
"He was younger than the others but it was no problem for him. He could always play against any team. He played like he was playing in the backyard of his house. That was unusual. He had this enormous passion for the game. He just wants to play.
"When I was U19 coach, we invited him to leave the U17 side and come and play for us. Then the B team picked him and before the end of the season he was in the first team."
Neto was not just in the first team, he was scoring for them - netting on his league debut for Braga in a 4-0 win over Nacional just two months after his 17th birthday. "It was as if he was playing with his own age group," marvels Araujo. "It was amazing. Nothing fazed him.
"Of course, you have to have the ability, the intensity, the speed, the decision-making, but there are other kids in our academy who have those things. Maybe they lack that mentality. Pedro has shown that at every moment. That makes him different. He is very confident."
Neto has needed that mentality. Rather than hone his skills in Portugal, he was sold to Lazio in the summer of 2017 and tasked with making an impact in Serie A. It was a tough test and opportunities were limited. The hope is that the experience did not dent his confidence.
"A player must believe in themselves otherwise one bad game can knock them off the right path," says Araujo. "That feeling that he can have success at a higher level is very important. If you don't believe in yourself then you won't make the sacrifices needed. He believes."
There is a sense too that his current club represents a better fit. The Wolves squad is packed with Portuguese, from the experience of Rui Patricio and Joao Moutinho to breakthrough stars such as Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota as well as talented youngster Ruben Vinagre.
Most importantly of all, there is Nuno. The pair did clash briefly after Neto was substituted in a Carabao Cup game against Aston Villa but even then the explanation for their heated argument, caught on the television cameras, was an interesting one.
Neto had received a nudge at the end of a surging run into the Villa penalty box and when substituted soon after, Nuno revealed that the youngster had suggested he should have dived. The manager reminded him in no uncertain terms that this was not the way.
English football will toughen Neto up. But he has the right manager.
"I think Wolves are a very good Premier League club for him," adds Araujo. "The style of play will help him and I think he has all the quality needed to have success there."
There will be opportunities too, particularly following the switch back to a 3-4-3 system. Neto is capable of deputising for either Jota or Adama Traore in the wide forward roles and he will be hoping that his next chance comes on Thursday evening in Braga.
What's certain is that he can be sure of seeing a friendly face or two.
"Nobody will forget that he scored that goal on his debut," says Araujo. "We see him as a Braga boy and feel we helped him get where he is now. We also got a lot of money for him, he is one of our biggest deals, so he didn't leave in a bad way. It was good for everyone.
"I think he will have a good reception."
The good news for Wolves is that Pedro Neto's best is yet to come.