​Short of replicating the audacious flick and volley he scored against Derby last season, Ruben Neves has comfortably lived up to his billing as a future superstar in his debut Premier League debut season. 

Following his move to Wolves in the summer of 2017, Neves quickly established himself as one of the Championship's premier performers. In a dominant campaign that saw the Wanderers gain promotion to the Premier League, Neves was the midfield maestro: dictating the tempo of games with a sumptuous range of passes, and scoring a slew of outrageous long range efforts in the process. 

The ridiculous number of 30 yard screamers may have dried up a little this season, but the rest of Neves' game has shown no sign of decay. He has garnered lavish praise from fans and pundits alike, playing a vital role for a Wolves side who have fought their way to seventh in the league and reached an FA Cup semi final.

Despite what has been almost universal acknowledgement of the 22-year-old's majestic performances this season, Neves was omitted from the PFA Team of the Season, as well as failing to be shortlisted for either Player of the Year or Young Player of the Year.

It is impossible to pinpoint the exact reasons for Neves' exclusion from these categories, but in a footballing society where stats seem to be given more credence than ever before, perhaps it is his fairly mediocre return of five goals and four assists that has prevented him from reaching the upper echelons of individual honours. 

In the aftermath of the PFA announcements, disgruntled fans and pundits took to social media in their droves to argue their cases for and against certain players' admissions and omissions. Their weapon of choice: the stat. For every Paul Pogba naysayer, there were a dozen fans arguing his case - citing his undeniably impressive return of 13 goals and nine assists in the Premier League as indisputable evidence.

The controversial Frenchman was not the only source of ire for the stat-obsessed football public. Son Heung-min and Mohamed Salah's superior number of goals and assists were frequently used to undermine Bernardo Silva's inclusion in all three of the previously mentioned categories. Yet cries of dismay over Neves' omission were faint at best. 

So what exactly are the stats not telling us?

In many ways, Neves is a casualty of his position. The deep lying playmaker, the maestro, the conductor, whatever you like to call them, have historically never been big acquirers of the most coveted stats.

The Wanderers' Portuguese prodigy is built in this mould. He draws comparisons with the likes of Xabi Alonso, Paul Scholes, and Andrea Pirlo - the latter of which Neves has confessed to modelling himself after.

Andrea Pirlo

He is first and foremost a passer, and it is his range of passes that makes him such an integral part to Wolves' success this season. Whether it is a 50 yard, expertly judged ball just floating out of reach of a backtracking defender, or an intricate pass guided between three or four bodies to unlock a defence - Neves can play either with nonchalant aplomb.

One might expect such a polished passing exponent to have his numbers bulging out of the assist column, but more often than not Neves finds himself as the less heralded 'pre-assister'.

He is the player who sets the counter attack in motion; the player whose cross field pass allows other players the time and space to put a cross into the box; the player who cuts out the centre half and full back with a delicate through ball, enabling the recipient to lay it on a plate for the striker to claim the simplest of tap ins.

While this passing ability clearly makes Neves an effective attacker, it does not make him a big point scorer in Fantasy Football. 

The Wolves playmaker is not the only current Premier League star whose stats contradict their contribution and importance to their team. Neves' compatriot Andre Gomes has been one of Everton's standout performers this season - showcasing why Barcelona splurged €55m to bring him to Camp Nou in July 2016.

Andre Gomes

However, if one were to look at his paltry return of one goal and two assists in all competitions this season, they would be forgiven for thinking he had been a flop. 

His Everton teammate Dominic Calvert-Lewin has equally uninspiring stats for this season: scoring six and assisting just two as his club's main striker. Yet his hold up play, constant running in behind and energetic pressing have all been vital to his team's performances.

While both he and Gomes have flown somewhat under the radar, this has allowed their flashier teammates - Gylfi Sigurdsson and Richarlison - to cash in on the goals and assists.

So what next for Neves?

Even if the PFA haven't been taking note of Neves' performances this season, a number of Europe's biggest and richest clubs certainly have been. With both Manchester clubs, Liverpool, and Juventus all being linked with the Portuguese international, the decision of where and if he moves could well depend on his agent, Jorge Mendes. 

The super-agent's close working relationship with Fosun International, who own and run Wolves, has been a contentious issue in the past. While it is highly likely this link was a factor in Neves' move to Molineux, it is unlikely to prevent Neves leaving if one of Europe's elite make an offer.


While Neves may never get 20 goals and 25 assists in a season, his contribution on a football field will not go unnoticed forever. He can take solace in the fact that in a season where he only scored two goals and provided just eight assists, Luka Modric won the Ballon d'Or. Stats clearly don't mean everything.