Swansea’s new boy Nelson Oliveira speaks to Jack Magazine about watching the Swans win the League Cup, playing with Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo, and why he’s already feeling at home in South Wales.
As Ashley Williams and Garry Monk lifted aloft the Capital One Cup in 2013 after the Swans dismantled Bradford City 5-0 at Wembley, the eyes of the football world were firmly focused on Swansea City.
Among those keen observers was Nelson Oliveira – the Portuguese international plying his trade on loan at Spanish outfit Deportivo La Coruna – who was taking an avid interest in Swansea’s moment in the spotlight.
“I love the way Swansea play; they caught my eye before I came here,” reveals Oliveira as he sits down for an exclusive interview with Jack Magazine.
“Not only the way they have played this season, but I remember watching Swansea win the League Cup two seasons ago.
“The rise of the club has been incredible, which made their success even more interesting and made me curious.
“The style of football is different to a lot of other clubs in the Premier League, so I started to follow them.”
Like Swansea’s meteoric rise from the doldrums of the Football League’s basement division to the top flight of English football, Oliveira has enjoyed rapid success of his own.
After helping Portugal reach the final of the 2011 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Colombia, where he was awarded the Silver Ball for proving himself as the tournament’s second best player, Oliveira lined up alongside the likes of Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo to help the senior national side reach the semi-finals of the 2012 UEFA European Championships in Poland and Ukraine.
His first senior goal for his country swiftly followed the Euros when he scored in Portugal’s 2-0 friendly victory over Panama, before Oliveira was rewarded for his on-field success when he received the Best Newcomer accolade at Portugal’s annual Golden Globes ceremony in 2012.
“It was a very happy period of my career so far,” says Oliveira, who has gained 14 senior caps for Portugal to date.
“It was great to be thought of as one of the best players at the Under-20 World Cup, which, as a consequence, helped me play for the national team at the European Championships in 2012.
“They were happy years, and it was fantastic to receive that award for best newcomer.
“It’s good because I have learnt a lot from these experiences, and I’ve played with some great players already in my career.
“It’s very important because playing with top class players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Pablo Aimar, Joao Moutinho – big players – helps you improve.
“I’ve learned a lot from playing and training with these players every day, from the way they move on the pitch to their touch and the pace they play at. I’m lucky to have had these experiences.”
Born in Barcelos – a city and municipality in the Braga district of northern Portugal – Oliveira was always destined for the top.
From a young age, the now 23-year-old has been regarded as one of Portugal’s finest prospects since his early teens.
At the age of eight, his grandfather and father took him to play for Santa Maria, a small club in the city of Barcelos, where his exceptional ability was spotted by Portuguese big-hitters Braga when he was 12.
Within just a few years, word of Oliveira’s potential had spread, with top clubs in Portugal and Europe jockeying for his signature. He opted for Benfica, where his progress continued at youth level, as well as with Portugal’s youth sides, where he has played at every level from Under-16s onwards.
Loan spells with Portuguese sides Rio Ave and Pacos Ferreira followed, before Oliveira enjoyed temporary stints in Spain with Deportivo La Coruna and France with Rennes.
And after sealing a move to South Wales earlier this month, Oliveira has now featured in the Barclays Premier League, to go along with his experiences in La Liga, Ligue 1 and Liga Portuguesa.
“The Premier League is the league I watched the most back home,” insists Oliveira. “I used to love watching Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp play when they were at Arsenal. I used to watch every game they played in.
“They were both world class players. Their movement and intelligence on the ball was amazing.
“I feel ready for the Premier League. Swansea is the right club for me and the style of play suits me.
“I can promise the supporters that I will work really hard to help my team-mates and the club during my time here.”
And it might be the wettest city in Britain – a far cry from the warmth of his home city – but Oliveira is already feeling at home in Swansea, having made his debut in the 1-1 draw at home to West Ham last weekend.
“The city is very nice. It is not very big but, like the club, it’s like a big family, where people are happy to come and talk to you.
“Barcelos, where I grew up, is also a small city. It’s not by the sea and it’s colder here, but it reminds me of Swansea because it is small but very family orientated.
“I am settling in very well. I’ve spoken with a few of my team-mates from Benfica who wanted to congratulate me on my debut last weekend. I told them that I am loving it here and that I’ve been made to feel very welcome.
“I’m looking forward to helping the club in the coming months.”
No doubt Oliveira will be hoping he can lend a helping hand from the off, starting with this afternoon’s clash with league leaders Chelsea, where he could face some familiar faces in SA1.
“I am looking forward to playing against Chelsea,” he adds. “They are a really good team, and they have players there that I know from Benfica in Ramires and Nemanja Matic.
“I also played with Oscar at the U20 World Cup. I won’t speak to them before the game, but maybe after. I’m just concentrating on Swansea.”