Sporting Lisbon are finally set to turn their productive youth system into trophies as a youthful squad await a game after ending the club’s 19-year wait for a league title.
The club have developed Luis Figo and, more recently, nearly half of the Euro 2016 winning squad including Cristiano Ronaldo, Joao Moutinho, Nani and Ricardo Quaresma, but they did not win a Portuguese league title. since the 2001-2002 season.
Since then, Sporting’s rivals in Lisbon, Benfica and Porto, have shared the title.
That drought could end on Monday if second-placed Porto fail to win at home against Farense, or on Tuesday if Sporting win at home against struggling Boavista.
With three games to go, Sporting lead by eight points and are unbeaten in the league this season. They win with the children.
Barely three years ago, Sporting went through the worst crisis in its century-old history. In May 2018, after the club finished third in the Portuguese league, supporters invaded and ransacked its training center and assaulted players and staff.
The incident led to the departure of coach Jorge Jesus, several senior team leaders and club president Bruno de Carvalho, whose confrontational relationship with the players led to accusations he had ignited the angry fans.
Last year, Frederico Varandas, who replaced de Carvalho as president, decided to “change the paradigm” and put youth at the heart of the club’s strategy.
– Experience to blend in with young people –
Although the club still have a core of seasoned veterans, this season has seen the rise of young local players under the guidance of coach Ruben Amorim, himself just 36 years old.
In defense, Nuno Mendes, 18, courted by Manchester City and Juventus, and Goncalo Inacio, 19, won.
In the midfield, Daniel Braganca (21) and Matheus Nunes (22) were regulars. In attack, Jovane Cabral (22) and Tiago Tomas (18) scored important goals.
Youth “is our bet,” said Amorim at the end of March, after the debut of midfielder Dario Essugo, who at 16 years and six days old became the youngest player to appear in the Portuguese top flight.
“Dario has a lot of talent, he is part of our project, whatever the age, it is a message to all the kids undecided between several clubs, let them know that here the door is open”, underlined the coach.
In addition to the players of their “academy”, Sporting has acquired youth in the transfer market.
Their most successful bets were on 21-year-old Spanish defender Pedro Porro, on loan from Manchester City, and 22-year-old Portuguese attacking midfielder Pedro ‘Pote’ Goncalves.
Pote, who has spent time at Wolves and Valencia, arrived from Famalicao last summer and is co-top scorer in the Portuguese league with Benfica’s Swiss international Haris Seferovic with 18 goals.
To support the youngsters, Sporting called on experienced players last summer, including 28-year-old Portuguese international Joao Mario, who started his career at the club, the 33-year-old former Real Madrid goalkeeper Antonio Adan and traveled extensively for 32 years. former Moroccan international Zouhair Feddal.
In winter, former Portugal international Joao Pereira, 37, returned to Sporting.
“The mix of academy players and more experienced players is important in the success of teams,” Amorim said after the club made sure he would finish in the top two and advance to the Champions League in the final. next season.
“We are going to suffer, but we cannot change our idea of betting on training and player development,” he said.
© 2021 AFP