THERE IS a new suburb bubbling to the surface in Sheffield and it’s called Little Portugal
Sheffield Wednesday midfield enforcer Jose Semedo has flown the flag for his homeland since arriving in his adopted city in 2011.
But since Thai businessman Dejphon Chansiri bought the Owls earlier this year, the club has seen an influx of continental flair.
A foreign legion of Spaniard Alex Lopez, Frenchman Vincent Sasso, Czech Republic defender Daniel Pudil, Dutchman Darryl Lachman, Senegal’s Modou Sougou and Italian Fernando Forestieri have arrived.
But the main import to S6 has been a distinct Portuguese flavour, originating with the appointment of head coach Carlos Carvalhal, and his backroom team of countrymen Joao Mario, Joao Cunha and Bruno Lage.
He was swiftly followed by winger Marco Matias and striker Lucas Joao – joining midfielder Filipe Melo who arrived earlier this year – to create a true Portuguese outpost in the Steel City.
It’s more a case of Parson Cross than Porto, more Loxley than Lisbon, while walking down the busy Middlewood Road – filled with estate agents and hair salons – is hardly like Albuferia old town, a favourite destination for English holidaymakers in the Algarve.
But it’s quickly become home to the new arrivals, and The Yorkshire Post caught up with Joao this week to talk about his time in S6. Using team-mate Semedo as
his interpreter, the forward revealed he hopes his time at Wednesday can deliver both Premier League football as well as helping him clinch a spot in the Portugal squad for next summer’s Euro 2016 tournament.
Wednesday splashed out £2m on the 22-year-old from Nacional in July, and he was initially tagged as ‘one for the future’.
But he has grabbed his chance, netting twice already, including a dramatic late winner at Brentford last month.
“I am enjoying a lot playing for this club.,” said Joao. “I like the city. The very important thing for this club is they have massive supporters, the fans are tremendous.
“It’s a lot easier to adapt. In particular the coaching staff is Portuguese which helps me to understand the football better. If I don’t understand something they can explain it to me.
“The best individual moment was that winning goal against Brentford with the last kick to get the three points away from home. It was a difficult place to go.”
Since making his debut off the bench in the opening day win over Bristol City, Joao showed in a brief cameo his obvious talent with a tricky run down the right flank.
The Angola-born forward has the physique and pace to worry defenders, although Semedo revealed his team-mate has endured a culture shock in the physical side of the English game.
“The difference about the Portuguese league is that here it is a lot more competitive with more intensity in the game,” said Semedo, 30, one of Wednesday’s best free signings, having survived several managerial changes to make over 100 appearances for the Owls.
“The individual marker is so, so difficult for him as a striker. There are less fouls here than in Portugal and there is more contact. In Portugal it looks like you are not allowed to touch. Here, you touch and there is no foul. You have to be really, really strong.”
His debut against Bristol City was a real eye-opener for Joao to the true size and potential of Wednesday.
He came out to train on the pitch, with a sprinkling of fans inside Hillsborough, but as kick-off approached Semedo recalls his countryman’s reaction at a 20,000-plus crowd.
“On the first home game, we were on the bench together,” said Semedo. “I remember his reaction when the song, the Hi Ho Sheffield Wednesday song started.
“We came out for the warm-up and the stadium was not packed. When we went inside and came back, his reaction was like ‘oh my god, this is incredible.’”
Having played for Portugal’s Under-21s, Joao’s form at Wednesday has already seen him named in a provisional squad for the full national team.
Like most international footballers, he has one eye on being involved in next summer’s European Championships in France.
And rubbing shoulders with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo – one of Semedo’s best friends after the two players came through the ranks together in Portugal – has whetted Joao’s appetite for more.
The striker knows success at Hillsborough, and the pursuit of Premier League football, can go hand-in-hand with his international ambitions.
“I feel the passion and I have seen the passion,” said Joao. “This is a massive club and the ambition is always to do our best and go to the Premier League.
“We work on a daily basis, day by day and there is a big possibility of going to the Premier League.
“My dream was always to come to England to the Premier League. It did not happen and I came to Sheffield Wednesday, which is a massive club and I am enjoying being here very much.
“It is a big possibility for us to go to the Premier League.”
And on his chances of going to France next summer?
“It is a possibility for me and I just have to do my job here which is score goals and help the team get the objectives of reaching the Premier League,” he said.
“If this happens, I will be there. It was an unbelievable experience (his inclusion in Portugal’s provisional squad) because I was sitting with players I watched on TV like Ronaldo, Nani, Quaresma. To reach the first team was a dream, as it is for any footballer.”
While bruising centre-halves have been one major change for Joao in England, he has also found himself centre of attention off the pitch too.
“It’s been an unbelievable experience because people come up to me in the street asking for a picture or an autograph,” he smiled.
“In Portugal this only happens if you play for Sporting, Benfica or Porto. This is incredible.
“I feel the excitement of playing for the club and I just want to play. I want to get on the pitch, score goals and make people happy.”