This weekend Portuguese football returns from the summer break, which with the hosting of the European Championships in this country seemed to go by almost unnoticed. It is difficult to imagine that the achievements of last season, with Porto winning the Champions League, and the national side making it to the final of Euro 2004, can be surpassed in the coming months. But everything possible has been done by the ‘big three’ to provide more quality action.
National champions Porto have lost their manager and several quality players to Chelsea and Barcelona, and have been busy reorganising. After the brief Del Neri intermezzo, Spaniard Victor Fernandez has taken over the reigns, and 11 new players have been brought in to compensate for the loss of Paulo Ferreira, Ricardo Carvalho, Pedro Mendes, Deco and Alenitchev. Most prominent of these is the 19-year-old Brazilian super-talent Diego, who cost seven million euros and has just won the South American championships with the national side. The defence has been shored up with Greek Euro 2004 star Georgios Seitardis, and Hélder Postiga, Ricardo Quaresma and Hugo Leal have all returned from Tottenham, Barcelona, and Paris to give more attacking options. Porto should once again play a major part in the outcome of the championships, but will find it hard to compete in Europe so soon after their rejuvenation process.
Benfica, too, have lost their coach, Camacho, this time to Real Madrid, and are now in the hands of the vastly experienced former Italian national manager Giovani Trapattoni. Although Tiago was the only major close-season loss, the team has been reinforced in all areas. Portuguese number two in goal, Quim, has been signed from Braga, who will fight for a regular place between the posts with fellow newcomer Yannick. In defence the 19-year-old Brazilian Alcides has returned from a loan-spell with Chelsea, and is joined by the experienced Manuel dos Santos from Marseilles. Another Brazilian, Palulo Almeida replaces Tiago in midfield, where the gifted Everson, signed from Nice, will be a further useful addition. Norway international Azar Karadas from Rosenborg is a powerful presence in attack, alongside Carlitos, who was prised away from newly promoted Estoril. If Porto slip up, Benfica should be the principle beneficiaries.
In comparison, Sporting’s activities on the transfer market have been relatively low-key. José Peseiro, who was assistant to Carlos Queiroz at Real Madrid following four successful years in charge of Nacional da Madeira, has been brought in to revive the flagging fortunes of the Lisbon club. He has signed seven young players with potential – indicating that the trophy cabinet is not likely to fill up immediately. Maurício Pinilla, 20, is considered one of the most promising strikers in Chile and South America. He has served his European apprenticeship with Chievo and Celta de Vigo and is now considered ready. He is joined by 22-year-old Nigerian defender Enakarhire, from Standard Liége, with over a dozen international caps speaking for his quality. Lastly Hugo Viana, signed on loan from Newcastle, looks set to command a regular place in midfield. Sporting are planning long-term and should not trouble the two principals unduly – this season.
And the rest
In the last 70 years these three clubs have dominated the championship on 68 occasions, with only Belenenses and Boavista managing to break their stranglehold.This season Beira-Mar might be worth a sporting outsider’s chance. Founded in 1922, the club, which has one Portuguese Cup victory to show for its efforts, plays at the Mário Duarte stadium in Aveiro.Manager, 53-year-old Barnsley-born Mick Wadsworth, active in the Congo last year, has put together a colourful international ensemble with ambitions to occupy one of the top Superliga places. The Portuguese nucleus consists of 10 players – the remainder would not attract attention at the UN headquarters in Geneva! Eugene Galenkovic is an Australian goalkeeper who has joined from South Melbourne. Eastern Europe is represented by Slovak defender Zeman, midfielder Malá is from Guinea, and striker Kingsley from Nigeria. There is a strong South American influence, with three Brazilians, two Argentinians, a Uruguayan and a Paraguayan in the squad. Latest additions to this exotic mix are Scotland’s Stephen McPhee, who signed from Port Vale, and England’s Paul Murray, lately with Oldham. If the coming season is not enough of a challenge, communication certainly will be!
For the first time in many years the Algarve is doubly represented at the second highest level in Portuguese football, the Liga da Honra. Olhão will start the season in this division on merit, having won the Divisão II B last season. Portimão, on the other hand, are there more by luck than judgement. Relegated, after being touted as one of the promotion favourites last year, the club were invited back up after financial difficulties caused Salgueiros to be demoted by the league disciplinary commission.Even then it was touch and go, as sufficient money had to be found to put together a credible team. Fortunately for the Algarve, the effort has been successful, and the two regional rivals will face each other on the opening day of this season on Sunday August 29.
Olhanense, coached by ex-international Paulo Sergio, should have the upper hand this time – home advantage and a homogenous team playing a major part. Portimonense’s sudden elevation in status results in almost a dozen players arriving ‘last minute’, with little time to integrate. Olhão should be able to consolidate their Liga da Honra presence this term, whereas Portimonense will do well to avoid renewed relegation. Estrela da Amadora, Varzim, Alverca and Paços de Ferreira are most likely to dispute the promotion places.
A last mention must be given to two new phenomena in the region – ‘Algarve United’ and the Stadium of the Algarve, purpose-built for the Euro 2004. Algarve United Football SAD is a new club funded by Portuguese, Italian and British businessmen, with the stated aim of attracting players and support from the whole of the region’s estimated 400,000 multinational population. The Suberliga and European football is the target the club-principals have set for themselves, but for now Algarve United will compete in the third district league, playing home matches in Tavira and Lagos under the guidance of José Miguel, ex-assistant to Miguel Fernandes at Messines. The ultimate aim is to play in front of sell-out crowds in the new Algarve stadium, but that dream lies in the future.
The Euro 2004 venue eventually cost 66.5 million euros to complete, and requires an annual maintenance budget of 2.8 million euros. Yet the only concrete plans in place for its future use are a ground-sharing scheme between third division teams Farense and Louletano, neither of which look likely to break into the big time and which generally attract around 400 spectators for matches. Occasional prestige matches and rock concerts apart, the mega-investment is in danger of becoming a monument to vanity until such a time when the Algarve is once more able to produce a team of national standing.