A former Sporting and Benfica youth player, Mário Rui is little known in his native Portugal, but has been making a name for himself in Serie A. Linked with a return to his homeland by both the Italian and Portuguese press, we get the details on the diminutive full-back from Gregory Caltabanis of Italian Football Daily.
Mário Rui’s youth career took him to Sporting, Valencia and Benfica, although he didn’t make a senior appearance for either of the Lisbon giants. Following a productive loan spell at Fátima, and a strong showing at the under-20 World Cup in Colombia, he earned a move to Parma in 2011. Unable to make the grade at Parma, he was sold to Empoli two years later, and he has quietly gone about his business ever since, establishing himself as one of the most exciting left backs in Serie A. It was last season under Maurizio Sarri that the 24-year old really came into his own. The Portuguese full-back was a regular for his country at youth level, but has yet to make the step up to the senior team.
Mário Rui’s pace enables him to get forward to support his teammates, and he will often be found overlapping his winger. In this sense, Mário Rui is the prototypical offensive fullback. He attempts to whip in a number of inviting crosses for his strikers to get on the end of, although he only has 2 assists to his name this season.
In many ways, he is similar to his compatriot Raphaël Guerreiro, as they are both forward-thinking full-backs that are comfortable with the ball at their feet, and they are both relatively small in stature. Another player that springs to mind is Roma’s Lucas Digne. Like the Frenchman, Mário Rui is defensively solid, but he still has to improve in certain areas to be considered truly world class. Although he plays on the opposite side of the defence, he has a disciplinary record to rival Maxi Pereira!
Mário Rui’s major strength as a defender is his ability to read the game and break up the opposition's attacks. His speed gives him an advantage over most players, and he is rarely beaten in a footrace. Tackling is another area where he excels; he is a tenacious character, and he likes to go in hard. He is comfortable in possession and good at bringing his teammates into play.
An obvious weakness is his lack of height. As a result of his 5’7” frame, he gets beaten in the air from crosses to the back post, and this can be easily exploited. His delivery in the offensive third must also improve, as most of his crosses aren’t reaching their intended target at the moment. With his aggressive approach, he walks a disciplinary tightrope; he has received 20 yellow cards and 3 reds in his 99 games for Empoli.
Benfica are not the only interested party; according to the Corriere dello Sport, Lazio have recently entered the race to sign him. At the moment, Lazio are in dire need of defensive reinforcements, and are targeting a double-deal for Mário Rui and his teammate Lorenzo Tonelli. As a result of Empoli’s strong relationship with Lazio, the Portuguese youth international may end up staying in Italy. Roberto Mancini’s Inter were also said to have been interested, but it now appears that they have shifted their attentions to Fenerbahçe’s Caner Erkin. The Portuguese press have linked Mário Rui with a return to Sporting or Benfica, in addition to Porto, Fiorentina and Atlético Madrid.
After learning of the interest in their player, Empoli have reportedly slapped a €6 million price tag on his head. He is already playing at a good level, so the potential for a summer bargain is there.
How he would fit in at Benfica
The more that this move has been reported, the more it makes sense. Mário Rui would fit in seamlessly at Benfica, as not only is he Portuguese, but he is a graduate of the club’s youth system. If he signs and Eliseu stays, he would go head-to-head with Eliseu and Álex Grimaldo for the left back role next season.
Likelihood of a move to Lisbon
6/10. At the moment, Lazio are Benfica’s main rivals for the player’s signature. Given that Rui Vitória can offer him Champions League football as well as a move back to his homeland, I would make Benfica slight favourites, although a lot will depend on Eliseu’s contract situation.
Full name: Mário Rui Silva Duarte
DOB: 27th May 1991 (Age 24)
Club: FC Empoli
Position: Left back
Height: 1.70 m
Preferred foot: Left