Apart from nine games on loan at Nottingham Forest last season, Pelé (full name Judilson Mamadu Tuncará Gomes) was virtually unknown in English football when he signed for Reading last week.
So to get a bit more in the know, we asked Alex Goncalves for the full low-down on the 27-year-old. Alex founded TugaScout, the English-language website that covers all things Portuguese football. It’s well worth checking out.
How would you sum up his career so far?
It’s been a little up and down for Pelé, he’s had good spells and poor spells, but perhaps doesn’t have quite as much senior game time under his belt as you would expect for a player closing in on 28 years of age.
Certainly he’s never made it at any of the big clubs he’s represented – AC Milan, Benfica, Monaco – but mid-table of the Portuguese top flight has been where he’s impressed the most. He was very good at Belenenses when on loan from Milan, but for me undoubtedly his best campaign came in the 2017-18 season with Rio Ave, playing in a three in midfield and really thriving in that defensive midfield role.
That was one of the greatest seasons in Rio Ave’s history and he played a big role in that. After that season, some of the top clubs in Portugal were interested, and he ultimately made a big-money move to Monaco, where he has so far failed to impress. This opportunity at Reading could really be a make-or-break moment for him in terms of what happens next in his career.
What style of player is he?
He’s a strong central midfielder, able to break up opposition attacks while also play some very good passes, both long-range and short-range. He can certainly pick out his man from his deep starting position, while his defensive intuition is good. It does make him a very solid defensive midfielder when on the top of the game, offering the ideal traits for a player sitting in midfield, able to watch over everything happening in front of him and win the ball back to turn defensive plays into attacks.
What are his main strengths?
He offers both physicality and technical ability, meaning that when he’s on top form and playing with confidence, he really is a very good, well-rounded player, able to act as both the tackler and natural defensive midfielder, but also something of a deep-lying playmaker. He showed it at Rio Ave and Belenenses, and now he is tasked with showing it in the Championship, something he failed to do at Nottingham Forest. That will be a concern for Reading fans, though he had little time to make an impression at Forest. If given time to adapt and afforded a good run in the team, things could be very different this time around and he could go on to show the sort of form that he displayed at Rio Ave.
And his weaknesses?
Consistency, perhaps. While he has had some excellent seasons, he’s followed that up with disappointing ones, and therefore showing his capabilities in the Championship on a regular basis is what he needs to do now.
He hasn’t been able to perform when out of his comfort zone, not showing his quality at Milan, Benfica, Monaco or Nottingham Forest, so hasn’t really been able to step up outside of Portugal. And that is the major concern here. No doubt he’s already proven he’s a very good player, but can he do it outside of Portugal? Only time will tell.
He’ll need to be given time and patience to hit the top of his game though; he hasn’t really been afforded much opportunity to adapt to his new surroundings outside of Portugal whenever he has left the country, so that hasn’t helped. He’s also struggled with injuries in the past, which has held his career back a little.
What’s his character like, and how do Reading get the best out of him?
He’s a good professional, he seems down to earth and wants to be successful. To get the best out of him, he needs to be given time to get to his best level and he needs to feel welcome. He showed some of his best stuff at Belenenses, and that’s because the fans appreciated him and wanted him there, which he in turn appreciated and it really brought the best out of him.
If he fails to perform for the first few matches, which is to be expected considering his lack of game time over the summer and his introduction to a new team, fans should show patience. It could easily get frustrating if he doesn’t hit the ground running, particularly if results are poor as well, but like with most players coming into new surroundings, he’ll need time.
On the whole, is he a good signing for Reading?
I was a big fan of his at Rio Ave, so on that basis, you would certainly say yes, he could be a very good signing indeed. Ultimately though, you have to look at his time at both Monaco and Nottingham Forest and see that he hasn’t been able to match that level of performance since. So I think cautious optimism is advised.
If he does manage to get back to his best, undoubtedly this will be an excellent signing. If he doesn’t and he performs as he did at Forest, he would have to be classed as an unsuccessful addition and a signing that didn’t come off. Either way though, he is definitely a player that was worth bringing in; if it works and he performs to the level we know he can do, excellent, if he doesn’t, it was worth the gamble. But I’m optimistic; unlike at Forest he is expected to have a full season at Reading, which will help considerably, giving him more time to improve and impress. With that in mind, and with some Championship experience already in his portfolio, this spell has the ingredients to be much more impressive.