Goalkeeper Matt Jones, formerly of West Bromwich Albion, may be unheard of in England, but not in Portugal where he is adapting to life in the Primeira Liga with Belenenses.
Last season Clube de Futebol Os Belenenses secured a return to the top flight in Portgual when they won the second division by an incredible 23 points from second place.
The man keeping goal for them that season was an Englishman born in Stoke-On-Trent. The same goalkeeper is now impressing in the Primeira Liga after signing a new 3-year-contract with the club.
27-year-old Matt Jones never really got a chance to breakthrough in English Football, but since taking up an opportunity with Clube Desportivo Santa Clara in Portugal a few years ago he hasn’t looked back. Now he is playing against players such as Oscar Cardozo, Luisao, and Jackson Martinez. Whilst there has been much criticism over Joe Hart recently and there being little competition for his England spot, Jones has been playing unnoticed to many.
A few chances were offered at non-league level but nothing concrete. Instead Jones went to America to study alongside playing Football. Here he managed to progress both academically and in Football terms. His contacts in America gave him an opportunity with CD. Santa Clara in the Portuguese Segunda Liga. After spending two years there, Jones had opportunities to return to Britain.
A trial at Aberdeen followed, and after spending a few weeks in pre-season with them, Jones was disappointed to be told by Craig Brown that although they were impressed with him, they were looking for more experience. However he already had a reputation in Portugal and was able to secure another contract with a Segunda Liga club; Unaio da Madeira.
The Stoke-On-Trent born ‘keeper impressed at Madeira and earned another move to a club in the same league, this time Belenenses, a club who had spent the majority of their history in the top tier of Portuguese Football. Former Belenenses players include Jose Mourinho and Freddy Adu. They took the Segunda Liga by storm last year, flying away with the title and giving Jones his first shot at the Primeira Liga.
Jones is now a key member of the Belenenses side, and helped his team to a 1-1 draw with Benfica at Estádio da Luz the other week. If he can continue to impress, and his side stay in the top flight then England scouts must be keen to check him out.
Given the fact that there aren’t many English goalkeepers playing in the top flight anywhere in the world, Jones stands out amongst others. Furthermore there are only few English players playing outside of Britain at all. Unnoticed so far, he is becoming a name in Portugal in a league that is full of star players and big teams. Currently on a three-year-deal he could be tempted to return to England if that deal expires.
He has taken an unorthodox route, to get to the upper echelons of the game, but credit has to be given to someone who’s career may never have got off the ground but for a contact in Portugal.