Why Sporting Clube Are This Years Dark Horses
As a new season dawns in Portugal, the annual curtain raiser took place between Benfica and Sporting Clube. Or Sporting Lisbon as they have been wrongly labelled for so long. Whilst the Portuguese league has been a two horse race for the past decade, the Leões are ready to pounce on the big two once again. After many years of ill-fortune caused by monetary problems, Sporting have seen a resurgence over the past two years. This summers activity both on and off the pitch provide reason to believe that success will be forthcoming for one of the most historic clubs in Europe.
Their biggest triumph has been off the pitch, as Jorge Jesus takes the helm after six years at arch-rivals Benfica. Jesus is a tremendously passionate manager, known for his incredible man management skills. But most importantly he is a winner, the most successful coach in the Portuguese league, winning 12 honours along the way. What’s more impressive is Jesus’ knack of playing attractive football that offers solidity across the pitch. During his time at Benfica, Jesus put together undefeated streaks of 16 and 27 matches. Jorge Jesus will be remembered by most fans as the manager who took Benfica to the 2014 Europa League final, beating Juventus in the semi-final, but unable to break the curse of Bella Guttmann.
His tenure at Sporting has started in impressive fashion, at least in the transfer market. The Lisbon club have managed to attract some big names over the course of the summer, all of which have added something unique to the team. Teo Gutierrez arrives from River Plate after an impressive Copa America with Colombia, Alberto Aquilani arrives in what can only be described as the ‘most hipster transfer of 2015’. Defensively, Michaël Ciani arrives from Lazio and Portugal international João Pereira ends his exile and rejoins after three years away with Valencia and Hannover96. Whilst FC Porto continue to feast of the sale of Jackson Martinez bringing in Iker Casillas and a host of other Spaniards, Sporting have achieved a balance.
Their squad that pushed Benfica all the way to the title two years ago saw a slight drop in form last year. Sporting have pulled out all the stops to add experience to a squad that hosts some of the brightest talent in Portugal. The Portugal side that lost the under-21 European Championship against Sweden this summer boasts more than 10 Sporting academy graduates and first teamers such as William Carvalho. Carvalho has earned massive plaudits since he burst onto the scene two years ago. A bruising holding midfielder who is as capable of destroying opposition attacks as he is as starting them for his own side. His strength, positioning and power set him apart, whilst his passing is pin-point. The adding of quality players this season will only add to the development that these younger players have. Especially when those older players come in the shape of Costa Rica captain Bryan Ruiz, who joins from Fulham. Add Islam Slimani and Freddy Montero, who scored a combined total of 32 goals last year, to the mix and the Sporting Clube squad is certainly impressive.
Despite the season only being one game old, Sporting Clube have two particularly important games in the immediate future. The club face CSKA Moscow in a replay of the 2005 UEFA Cup final for a place in the Champions League proper. But after comfortably beating city rivals Benfica in the Portuguese Super Taca, the Leões will be approaching the tie with confidence at a definite high.
Sporting Clube have worked tremendously in an effort to bring success back to the green and white side of the city, whilst their famed academy continues to churn out players who supplement their first team. This summer signifies their intent to win, adding established quality to their squad. But most importantly adding Jorge Jesus, an esteemed coach who knows how to facilitate victory. Can he turn these perennial losers into winners? We will find out in May, but the future is brighter than ever for Spoting Clube de Portugal.