At first, Goncalo Guedes refused. Bruno Lage, his coach at the Benfica academy, had offered him a bet during a visit to Madrid for a tournament. He would get a haircut like Cristiano Ronaldo, but only if the young winger had a Mohawk like Mario Balotelli.
Eventually, and much to the amusement of his teammates, Guedes came back with a counter-proposal. He would get the Mohawk, but it would be reversed; shaved down the middle, but with enough on the sides, he hoped, to conceal the damage.
Lage happily agreed and, needless to say, it was Guedes who fared worse, his reverse Mohawk so ridiculous he had no choice but to shave his sides as well.
“I was 14 or 15 but had been brought forward a year, so I was the youngest in the group,” Guedes said. sky sports with a small laugh while remembering the episode. “I was a bit young and crazy. I joked a lot with the manager. After that, we always had a good relationship.”
Guedes then broke into the Benfica first team, then moved to Paris Saint-Germain and then Valencia. But he always kept tabs on Lage’s career. A decade later they are reunited, with Guedes joining Wolves from Valencia for £27.5million in August.
His pre-existing relationship with the manager helped.
“When I was young, the Sir had already won many championships at youth level with Benfica,” says Guedes.
“He also coached my brother, who was a goalkeeper, two years older than me. So I knew him from then on.
“I think the career he’s had shows his level,” he added. “He obviously did very well and reached the Premier League.
“I’m very happy to be here and hope to learn a lot from him.”
Guedes, who scored 11 goals in 36 games for Valencia last season, spoke to Lage at length before making the move. He also chose the brains of the club’s various Portuguese speakers, many of whom he knows well from the country’s national team.
“They told me the Premier League was a completely different league to the others,” he said. “I think anyone who understands and watches football can see that it’s the strongest league in the world.
“That was the main motivation, playing in the Premier League, being in big stadiums where the stands are always full, home and away. It’s just a completely different atmosphere.
“People are…” Guedes pauses as he searches for the right words. “Well, in Spain and Portugal they all talk about ‘football, football, football’ and don’t respect the players so much.
“Here, however, we can walk the streets and, of course, people know who we are. But if we are with friends or family, they respect that. They continue to support us too, even when we lose. .
“Being here, playing in the Premier League, is something I’ve always wanted and enjoy a lot.” Even the weather? “I just put on a jacket,” he said, smiling. “I’m happy with my decision.”
Guedes speaks at the Wolves training ground ahead of Saturday’s trip to West Ham and is already feeling comfortable in his new surroundings. “That side was very easy,” he says. “Of course it helps that there are so many Portuguese players.”
On the ground, however, the process of adaptation has not been straightforward.
The 25-year-old has shown only a glimpse of his considerable talent so far and results have been lackluster, with a win in seven games leaving Wolves 17th in the Premier League table, two points above the relegation zone with only three goals scored.
“I think the team deserves much more than what they have,” Guedes said. “We played very well in some games and had a lot of chances; we just didn’t take them. That comes with hard work, with education, with the belief that the Sir tells us to do.
“I’m sure things will improve and wins will come. Then when things get better collectively, individuals can also show their best, and that’s what we want.”
For Guedes, the difficult start to the season meant he was left out of Portugal’s final squad to face the Czech Republic and Spain in the Nations League. But, having missed pre-season with Wolves, his disappointment at not receiving a call-up was tempered by the opportunity to spend the international break getting up to speed.
“The last two weeks have been really good for my adaptation. I needed this time to train with the team and better understand our way of playing. I feel better now. I know very well what I have to TO DO.
“I’ve improved a lot and got used to the way we train, the intensity and all those things.
“Of course, going with the national team is a huge source of pride.” Guedes has scored seven goals in 32 appearances for Portugal since making his debut as an 18-year-old in 2015. “But I also understand that there are a lot of players to choose from.
“I have to accept the coach’s decision and work hard to win back my place for the World Cup.”
The hard work is already underway.
Guedes’ attacking qualities – his speed, one-on-one ability and penchant for scoring spectacular goals – are beyond doubt. But it is accepted that his work off the ball needs to improve considerably in the frantic back-and-forth in the Premier League.
“The Sir wants me to be able to contribute as much as possible offensively, to have the ball, to get us playing, to receive it inside, to receive it outside, all those things,” he said.
“But above all, and something that I need to improve a lot, is that when I lose the ball, I get it back quickly. I try to change a few things to be able to attack and defend with the same intensity.
“The change in intensity is very important in the Premier League. In Spain you can lose the ball and not be punished because usually the opposition don’t move forward very quickly.
“But here in the Premier League, when you lose him, all the teams want to bring him forward as quickly as possible in order to exploit the available spaces and have a better chance of scoring.
“It means what you do when you lose the ball is much more important.”
Guedes made 178 appearances in his five seasons at Valencia – “I felt at home there,” he says – and his last was his best yet, largely due to a change in position which saw him move from the flanks to the centre, forming part of a front two with Uruguay international Maxi Gomez.
“Of course, I felt very comfortable in that position,” he says. “But I was not only between. The director, Jose Bordalas, gave me the freedom to move in all directions. It went very well.”
Does he expect the same freedom of positioning at Wolves? They, after all, struggle to score goals.
“Here the system is a little different,” he says. “Of course the Sir has his own idea of how he wants to play, but you have to be prepared to do whatever is asked of you.
“I think he sees me more as a winger, playing on the right or left flank, than a striker, but that’s the position I’ve played for most of my career except for last season, so I’m happy to play there.”
Besides, Guedes is more than capable of providing threat from those areas, cutting inside and heading into the opposition box, and he now has a new target to aim for in Diego Costa, the former Chelsea striker. and Atletico Madrid arriving on a free transfer. earlier this month.
“Diego is a very good person, very cheerful, very funny and very good for a dressing room. He arrived with a good mentality. He wants to work, and with his experience in the big clubs and the quality he has, he can helps us a lot.
“He’s progressing well and that’s good news for us because he’s a player who we know can do a lot of damage if he gets back to his normal form. We have to help him so he can give us his best level and help us as much as possible on the pitch.
“We have a very good team in general,” he added. “We had a few injuries which hurt us, but things will improve when more players are at 100%. I’m sure we’ll start to climb up the rankings.”
Older and wiser than he was at Benfica, Guedes is also sure he won’t be accepting any more bets from Lage any time soon. “My aim is to get as many goals and assists as possible,” he said with a smile. “But above all I want to help the team. That’s the most important thing.”
Watch West Ham vs Wolves live on Sky Sports Premier League from 4.30pm on Saturday; kick off 5:30 p.m.