Tottenham: Gedson Fernandes a panic buy or young talent?

Tottenham Hotspur, Gedson Fernandes (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Tottenham Hotspur, Gedson Fernandes (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images) /

About one third of the way through an 18-month loan from Benfica, little is known about Tottenham Hotspur’s Gedson Fernandes, so who is he and what can he bring to Spurs?

Gedson Fernandes came to Tottenham Hotspur on a loan in January 2019 from Benfica and little was known about the Portuguese youth player.

In the eight months with Spurs, not a lot more has been figured out as playing time has been sparse.

So, who is Gedson Fernandes, why did Tottenham sign him, and what might he bring to Tottenham in the 2020-21 season to prove they should permanently buy the midfielder next summer?

Gedson Fernandes: Early Development

On July 1, 2012, then 13-year-old Gedson Fernandes signed on to the Benfica youth team for the 2012-13 season. A few years later in 2016-17, Fernandes was leading the Benfica Youth team to the UEFA Youth League final playing every minute of eight of the nine matches in the competition and adding two assists.

That effort paid off as in the summer of 2017 after those youth performances, then 18-year-old Gedson signed his first professional contract with Benfica and was assigned to the B team.

That season (2017-18) on the Benfica B squad was critical in Gedson’s development. Fernandes continued with the youth team through the group stages of the UEFA Youth League, playing all but 10 minutes of those six matches.

More important than those Youth League games were the 31 matches – all starts – with the B Squad in Liga Pro, the second division of Portuguese football. Playing all but 25 minutes in those 31 matches, accumulating nearly 2,800 minutes along with five goals, six assists, and nine yellow cards got the attention of the first team and coach Rui Vitoria.

In July 2018, just one year after his first professional contract, Benfica was re-signing Gedson Fernandes to the first team at nearly $1 million dollars. The signing was just the start of what turned out to be an incredible developmental opportunity for Fernandes, until it was not anymore.

Breaking through at Benfica

It was in the 2018-19 season that Gedson broke out for Benfica’s first team, featuring 46 times across six different competitions, logging some 2,757 minutes. While his return was not huge at three goals, six assists, and six yellow cards, his talent was undeniable and he was even called up to the Portugal Senior Men’s National Team as a late substitute in a 1-1 draw versus Croatia.

Essentially, Vitoria had seen something in Gedson from the season before and decided to develop it for the squad. Vitoria and Benfica gave Fernandes what any young budding player wants, games.

Taking an approach Jose Mourinho should pay attention too, Gedson’s season started with UEFA Champions League qualifying matches, where Gedson racked up one goal and one assist across two two-legged affairs. Those 360 minutes in August 2018 against Fenerbahce and PAOK Salonika really got his senior career started.

Fernandes’ performances in the qualifying earned him real minutes in the group stage where Gedson again scored one goal and assisted another playing in all six matches. Those 465 minutes – there were 540 possible – again AEK Athens, Bayern Munich, and 2019 semi-finalist Ajax, were real meaningful minutes against the highest level of competition possible.

These first-team opportunities continued throughout the rest of 2018 as Gedson played nearly 300 minutes across four games in the Allianz Cup, and another 180 minutes and four more appearances in the Taca de Portugal Placard. While he only had one goal across these nearly 500 minutes, they were again 500 minutes in the senior side against senior competition.

As Bayern and Ajax advanced in the UCL, Benfica dropped into the Europa League and Gedson played a further six matches, contributing an assist in matches against Dinamo Zagreb, Eintracht Frankfurt, and Galatasaray.

It was not just in these other competitions where Fernandes was playing, he was also playing meaningful minutes in Liga Nos – in a season where Benfica won the league. Gedson played 24 matches on the season, accumulating some 1700+ minutes contributing three goals and three assists in the campaign.

In total, Gedson Fernandes made 46 senior team appearances – a year after making 37 youth and B team appearances – playing nearly 2,800 minutes with four goals and six assists.

Fernandes fall-out at Benfica

Things seemed to be on the upswing for Fernandes, for the third straight year he was signed to a new contract and this one reportedly had a ridiculous 130 million euro buy-out clause. However, beneath the surface of the numbers, appearances, and joining the Senior National team things were changing inside the club and not for the better for Fernandes.

It was 2015, when Gedson was breaking through the youth team that Rui Vitoria came into the club. Vitoria grew in the club with Fernandes and understood what talent he had and how to deploy him in the center of the pitch. Unfortunately for Fernandes, in January 2019 – just days before Gedson turned 19 years old – the only professional coach he knew was gone from the club and in came Bruno Lage.

From one perspective, Bruno Lage’s hiring was a success. Benfica only lost one league match the rest of the season and won the Liga Nos. But at the same time, less than 18 months later both Lage and Fernandes were no longer at the club and a 130 million euro buy-out was reduced to a £43 million option to buy for a different club on a long-term loan.

Benfica had played 15 league matches at the time of the coaching change and Gedson had started 12 of them and played the full 90 in eight. In the last 20 league matches of the season, Gedson had exactly zero starts and his longest appearance was for a total of 19 minutes against Porto. Suddenly Fernandes went from playing consistent minutes, consistently for two years, to being on the fringes of the squad.

Things did not get any better as the 2018-19 season turned to 2019-20, as Gedson started the season injured with a fractured metatarsal and unavailable for the first two months of the season. Once healthy, even with multiple competitions, Lage only afforded Gedson 14 appearances, with five full 90 minutes appearances, but six matches with less than 30 minutes. All told, Gedson Fernandes had played a total of 630 minutes by the time he was loaned to Spurs in January 2020.

Gedson did not get a whole lot more time with Tottenham, making only 12 appearances, with only two starts, and not once playing 90 minutes, in a season of change at Tottenham. His 293 minutes with Spurs, meant that a season after playing nearly 2,800 senior team minutes, and making his national team debut, Fernandes played less than 1,000 total minutes across two squads and seven possible competitions.

So, what comes next?

The future for Fernandes and Tottenham

Gedson Fernandes had a rough start at Tottenham in that he was labeled a panic buy and the wrong Fernandes. After nearly a year of being teased in the media of signing Bruno Fernandes, that Portuguese Fernandes went to Manchester United, and a player unknown to most Spurs fans, Gedson Fernandes was brought it.

At the time, with Christian Eriksen being sold, Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Tanguy Ndombele, and Moussa Sissoko all injured, the team needed numbers. Given the way things turned out, it is debatable how much Spurs really needed Fernandes in the end, but he is here and luckily for Spurs, they have another season of his services before the option to buy kicks in.

As a Portuguese player playing under a Portuguese coach in Jose Mourinho, some of the difficulties in transitioning to the Premier League can be overcome more quickly. Add in the extra time from the midseason COVID-19 break, and Gedson has been exposed to a lot more of Jose than anyone would have expected by this point.

Additionally, this season Tottenham has – depending on your perspective – the benefit, opportunity, or drudgery of UEFA Europa League qualifying in the coming months. Then hopefully a Europa League campaign, as well as the League Cup and of course the Premier League. In other words, Spurs are going to have a lot of games in the coming months, providing a nice opportunity to break Fernandes into the squad, just like Vitoria did two seasons ago to much success.

As a relentless, box-to-box midfielder – who has been compared to Paul Pogba and Yaya Toure – Gedson’s eye for the forward pass, ability to attack a player with speed on the dribble, and willingness to stick his foot in and make a tackle, are all perfect for a Jose Mourinho coached team.

If Mourinho can leverage the matches and competitions for the benefit of players like Ryan Sessegnon, Steven Bergwijn, Japhet Tanganga, and of course Gedson Fernandes, the more it is a benefit to Tottenham in the long run. Gedson Fernandes, like the others just mentioned, is part of the future of the club who will hopefully provide the depth and support needed for current team success. I guess that means I think Fernandes, like the others mentioned, will all come good under Jose Mourinho.

What do you think, can Gedson provide some meaningful minutes and contributions with four fronts for Spurs on the year? Or was this just a panic buy, that does not turn out?