João Virgínia wants to make the most of the opportunity Photo: EVERTON FOOTBALL CLUB

Algarve goalkeeper João Virgínia makes Premier League debut

João Virgínia, a 21-year-old goalkeeper born in the Algarve, made his Premier League debut for Everton on Saturday when he was brought on to replace England’s no.1 goalkeeper Jordan Pickford due to injury.

His side was already down 2-1 to Burnley when he was brought on at the 37th minute of the first half. The score remained unchanged until the end.

Speaking to the Resident this week, Virgínia said he was thrilled about his debut but “gutted” that his team lost.

“It was a great feeling. (The match) went well for me. The only downside was the final score. But I felt great, and I didn’t concede goals,” Virgínia told us.

Indeed, his performance has garnered praise from Everton supporters who have taken to social media to commend the young keeper.

“Only positive is that João Virgínia looks really good. If you watch the 23’s you’ll know this already,” wrote one fan on Twitter.

Virgínia, however, was not surprised by the support he has been receiving.

“Everton’s fans have always supported me. Even when I was with the under-23 squad, they were always following what I was doing. It’s great to know they think I had a good performance,” he told us.

While he and his teammates would love to have the fans in the stands supporting the team, Virgínia is aware that this is unlikely to change until next season.

“Playing without fans is easier in some ways because it is easier to communicate with your teammates. On the other hand, it’s not as exciting playing without them. We know that they want to return, but it is impossible due to the current situation. We’re hoping this will change next season,” the Faro-born footballer said.

With his teammate Pickford due to miss some time due to injury, Virgínia is hoping to make the most of the opportunity.

“My goal is to play. I’ve been training well, and I feel great,” he said.

Virgínia’s debut performance last weekend was only his second official match for Everton. In September, he was a starter in Everton’s League Cup victory (3-0) against Salford City.

However, he is no stranger to English football. João Virgínia started his career in the youth teams of Albufeira-based club Ferreiras, eventually making his way to Lisbon giants SL Benfica. In 2015, he made the move to the UK and joined Arsenal FC’s academy, where he remained for two seasons – winning the U23 Premier League in 2017/2018. He signed with Everton the following season, winning his second U23 Premier League and establishing himself as one of the most exciting goalkeepers in English youth football.

Following a short loan spell at Reading FC in 2019/20, Virgínia returned to Everton’s U23 squad and is now vying to secure his spot among the ‘big boys’.

With so much going on in his career, does he ever have time to enjoy a break back home?

“It’s been a while since I’ve been to the Algarve,” he told us. “When I travel to Portugal, I usually do so to play for the youth national teams. Even during my latest holidays, the club advised me against travelling to Portugal due to the pandemic. But that’s part of the career of a footballer.”

Meanwhile, Everton’s former goalkeeping coach Hugo Oliveira has predicted a very bright future for João Virgínia, telling Liverpool Echo this week that the goalkeeper has the “passion and potential to be one of the best of his generation”.

However, he believes Virgínia should seal a loan move next season to gain more playing time due to the stiff competition he faces from Jordan Pickford and Robin Olsen at Everton.

“He needs to develop. He has gone up a level, for sure, but, because he is hungry. He has the capacity for hard work and he is ambitious – very ambitious. And so it is important in the next year he plays games professionally,” said Oliveira.

Updated on Wednesday, March 17.

By MICHAEL BRUXO
michael.bruxo@algarveresident.com