The Premier League may be going through all manner of problems with its ‘Project Restart’ plan but we here at Sporting Lisbon are having a lovely old time with our ‘Project Rebuild.’
My ultimate aim of this ‘Saving’ project is to establish Sporting Lisbon as the single best youth production line in the world. Our youth recruitment and youth coaching are Exceptional and youth facilities are considered state-of-the-art, which gives us all the tools and resources we need to deliver that.
The next step is to steadily churn out great new young players and add to that by buying talent from elsewhere in Portugal and around the world. We also need to allow some of the young players we produce to move on elsewhere and, ideally, sell some of them for big money.
We’re already seeing positive signs towards this aim with the likes of Daniel Braganca, Jovane Cabral, Joelson and Rodrigo Fernandes, Luís Maximiano, Eduardo Quaresma and Pedro Mendes now established as key players in the first team. However, this summer we also began to spend money on bringing in new players to support this production line.
The previous two seasons combined we’d spent a total of £5.2 million. This summer, we spent £4.7 million that could rise to £11.75 million depending on appearances and there’s plenty more to come with deals agreed for players to arrive within the next couple of years from South America.
These young recruits include exciting 16-year-old Austrian centre-back Patrick Reikersdorfer, 17-year-old Croatian midfielder Dino Valek, 19-year-old Dutch centre-back Dario Jansen, and a bit of a personal indulgence as a Bolton Wanderers fan with 20-year-old Ronan Darcy coming in on a free transfer.
Darcy and Jansen step straight into the first-team squad, where he’s joined by several exciting young players stepping up from our Under-23s. These include our first academy product regen to step up to the first-team in 18-year-old winger Goncalo Meneses, as well as right-back Daniel Fernandes, 18-year-old striker Manuel Oliveira, two 19-year-olds in midfielder Goncalo Batalha and winger Bruno Tavares. This all means the squad now has three players called Fernandes, two Mendes and two Oliveira and, more importantly, 16 Portuguese in the 24-man first-team.
Major Summer sales
This huge increase in youngsters stepping up has been fuelled by selling on senior players and those that weren’t up to the job or didn’t fit in with what I wanted. And even more have gone through the exit door in our third summer at the club.
Last year’s top scorer Andraz Sporar had struggled in the second half of the campaign, scoring just 4 after November. He was moved on to Celtic for £10 million. Following him out of the door was injury-plagued winger Marcos Acuna to Basel for £5 million and aging Luis Neto to Alaves for £1.3 million.
And more big money sales followed as winger Rafael Camacho, whose progression had stalled in the previous campaign, joined Olympiakos for £10 million. Joining him in leaving was midfielder Wendel, who popped up with the occasional screamer but had been surpassed by R Fernandes so we looked to cash in. He joined AZ for a decent £15 million.
We brought in a total of £41.5 million, bringing our total player sales after two years to £137.5 million. Our finances are looking pretty rosy as a result and the club even managed to pay off one of its many debts during the summer – although a total of £129 million still remains.
Our third season in Sporting began with the Supertaca against old foes SL Benfica. They’ve had another interesting summer, with holding midfielder Gabriel joining Manchester United for £33.5 million and the league’s player of the season Julian Weigl joining FC Bayern for £45 million and leading assist-maker Rafa going to Juventus for £53 million. After bringing in £141 million, they spent £40 million on Marco Asensio from Real Madrid but don’t worry – they still have Adel Taarabt.
Selection-wise, our right-hand side was ravaged by J Fernandes and J Oliveira both picking up knocks on the eve of the game so we made the bold move of handing debuts to D Fernandes and Meneses. But one of them made an instant impact, as Meneses scored with his first touch for Sporting to convert from a low Cristian Borja cross.
Benfica soon took control of the game, raining 10 shots on our goal in the first-half but we held firm to lead 1-0 at the break. That didn’t last long as Asensio got his debut goal then Jota scored from close range. Some of our players, including D Fernandes and Braganca, were absolutely knackered, so we handed debuts to Darcy and M Oliveira but couldn’t get going in the second half and Benfica claimed a third successive win over us.
Primeira Liga kicks off
We began our league defence away from home again – and bizarrely will also finish it away from home, which I don’t really understand. Annoyingly, R Fernandes this time picked up an injury a couple of days before the game, which meant a very early full debut for Darcy and made me realise how light we were on players to play alongside Braganca.
The league’s Friday night curtain raiser saw us travel to Belenenses SAD who, somewhat bizarrely, were now managed by former Everton, Watford, Hull and, of course, Sporting manager Marco Silva.
It’s safe to say we started the season appallingly, conceding from an indirect free-kick and failing to mark Angel Torres at the back post. I demanded more and we got back into it with an absolute screamer on his debut from Ronan Darcy – love him already! We absolutely bombarded the Belenenses goal with shots and by half-time we’d have 17 to their mere 2 – so of course it was 1-1.
The same pattern continued in the second half but we were so wasteful it was ridiculous. However, we did eventually find our way into the lead but only from the penalty spot as Braganca stepped up to coolly secure three points. Braganca and Darcy were superb, the former getting a goal, assist and 5 key passes and the latter a goal and 3 key passes. The striker and wingers, on the other hand, were shocking. But still, three points to get the season started.
Our first home game of the season saw Vitoria de Setubal come to town and things were a bit more emphatic. We took a while to get going and went in at half-time still tied at 0-0. But P Mendes got onto the end of a Borja cross to open the scoring three minutes after half-time then that man Darcy again scored a long-range screamer to double the lead.
I made a few changes to freshen things up, which saw Meneses come on to devastating effect. He first teed up Gonzalo Plata, who’s returned to the club from another loan spell last season, for his first goal for the club then put in a wonderful run down the right wing and superbly pulled the ball back to Mendes for his second goal.
A solid 4-0 win got the season going and it was great to see Mendes get among the goals as I’m slightly concerned about our goalscoring ability this season. But the big plus of these opening two games has to be our very own Mr. Darcy, with young Ronan bagging screamers in his first two league games for the club.
Join us next time as we push into our third season as Sporting manager and look to defend our title for the second time.