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Controversy over Portugal’s new footballing sensation Renato Sanches

As Portugal approaches its Euro 2016 semi-final match against Wales, controversy has broken out over the team’s new “hero”, dreadlocked wild-child Renato Sanches.

According to official birth records, Sanches is 18, and as such “the youngest ever scorer in the knockout stages of the European Championships”.

Before him, this ‘unofficial title’ was held by Sanches’ captain and Portugal’s No. 1 footballing icon, Cristiano Ronaldo.

But, says AFP, “questions are now being asked” as to whether cheeky-faced Sanches “is really just 18”.

It is “a controversy that refuses to go away”, says the news service.

Sanches’ official date-of-birth has been recorded as August 18, 1997 – but it was only registered by his father in 2002. Thus the doubts.

TV commentator Carlos Severino started the ball rolling last November when he remarked that Sanches’ muscular physique was “very physically developed for his age” and suggested “he must have taken a lot of vitamins”.

“That description earned Severino an immediate claim for defamation,” says AFP.

Then, in March this year, Sporting president Bruno de Carvalho is reported to have called on the Amadora hospital where Sanches was born to “clarify once and for all the midfielder’s true age”.

This resulted in Sanches allegedly threating to sue de Carvalho.

Since then Jornal de Notícias has conducted an investigation that determined that the 1997 birthdate was indeed correct, says AFP – explaining the registration of birth was delayed due to marital ups and downs.

Growing up playing football in the streets of a densely-populated Lisbon suburb, Sanches was recruited by Benfica when he was just nine years old. At the time, he was playing football for the Águias da Musgeira. And here lies another controversy. The youth club has accused Benfica of failing to pay a promised bonus despite selling Sanches’ to Bayern Munich last month for €35 million.

According to Águias de Musgeira, Benfica promised the club 25 balls and a bonus should Sanches ever turn pro.

Said current club president António da Silva Quadros: “We still don’t have the balls or the money.”

Meantime, Sanches is headed for the Bundesliga, says AFP, and recently tweeted: “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”

Portuguese fans will be hanging onto those words as the national team faces its next big match on Wednesday.

Dubbed the ugly duckling of the teams left due to players’ failure to score during any of the 90-minute matches, coach Fernando Santos has been sanguine: “It doesn’t bother me or the players at all”, he told journalists over the weekend.

“Would I like us to be pretty? Yes, but in between being pretty and being at home, or being ugly and being here, I prefer to be ugly.”

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com