I’ve built some exciting young teams during my time playing Football Manager but this new-look Sporting Lisbon side has to be one of the most inexperienced but exciting. However, all of my good work could come to a dramatic ending after a ridiculous move by the club’s incumbent President.
Summer transfer dealings
Our second defence of the Primeira Liga began with plenty of clubs around Europe showing interest in our young starlets. But the big sale was an old-timer. Sebastian Coates was entering the last year of his contract and swiftly declining in ability, but a whole host of clubs started coming in for him – including in China. We eventually negotiated his price up to £20 million to Guangzhou.
Striker Pedro Mendes had suffered in the second half of the previous season and we managed to get £9.75 million for him from LA Galaxy. Although around £4 million of it went to Moreirenses because of a ridiculous 40% sell-on clause. We also sold Billy Gilmour to Celtic and young midfielder Theo to Real Zaragoza for around £1 million each.
We had plenty of bids come in for other players, including Atletico Madrid offering £35 million for Daniel Braganca, then Bayern were willing to pay £60 million but I rejected their advances. Chelsea made a derisory bid for young defender Nuno Gomes and Manchester City were sniffing around Jovane Cabral before PSG offered a minuscule £20 million. Then, Real Madrid came in with a £16 million bid for Goncalo Meneses, I demanded £80 million, they pulled out and he demanded a new contract, which I duly offered. So, for now, it looks we’re holding onto our better players.
We had a raft of exciting new youngsters arrive at the club, including several of the Brazilian players we’d pre-signed ages ago. These included goalkeeper Milton arriving for just £13.25k, exciting Serbian midfielder Daniel Demaj for £2 million from Red Star and Celtic winger Karamoko Dembele signing on a free and going out on loan to Sassuolo. The rest are set to arrive in January.
A couple of loanees arrived in Juventus striker Rodrigo Rey and Manchester City right-back Yan Couto. We also promoted the likes of Dino Valek, Austin Mngomeni, David Silva, Patrick Reikersdorfer and Nuno Gomes – who broke his foot in training after our second league game – into the first team.
And that meant 11 of our first team players were teenagers – 3 of which were regular starters – and only 4 were over the age of 21. This could be a massive gamble but at the same time it’s really exciting! I also made 23-year-old Daniel Braganca – who won his first cap for Portugal over the summer – the new club captain.
From a non-playing perspective, I allowed my assistant manager Dennis Bergkamp to leave at the end of his contract and replaced him with Vincent Kompany. We also got given a B club, which isn’t listed in any leagues so seems like a bit of a pointless exercise…
It’s also election season in Lisbon and one of the candidates for the new presidency sounds like he has some very exciting changes to bring to the club.
Elsewhere in Portugal, Benfica had another summer of bizarre transfer activity. They brought in £245million, including centre-back Ruben Dias moving to Real Madrid for £53 million and striker Carlos Vinicius joining Red Bull Salzburg. They then signed Ross Barkley for around £30 million and striker Donyell Malen for £43.5 million.
Starting with silverware
But the youngsters started the season well as we defeated FC Porto to lift the Supertaca for the first time since 2016. We got a great start as Joelson Fernandes intercepted Porto trying to play the ball out from a back and smashed home from close range. Eduardo Quaresma, the new vice-captain, scored with a header from a free-kick floated in by his new centre-back partner Dario Jansen.
Title defence gets under way
Our title defence began at home to Boavista and, with Rodrigo Fernandes and Goncalo Meneses returning from injuries, we lined up like this.
And the boys began well by thrashing Boavista 4-0, with two of our exciting wingers leading the way. Jovane Cabral – who took more than 30 games to score his first goal last season – got things going in the 7th minute then scored a trademark superb solo strike on the half hour. Joelson Fernandes also had a fine game, scoring just after half-time then new boy Rodrigo Rey came on as a sub and grabbed his first Sporting goal late on.
We then went to Belenenses and it was J Fernandes’ turn to be the main man, scoring twice in the first 16 minutes. 17-year-old first-choice striker Philip Cohen added a third with a fine header from right-back Daniel Fernandes’ cross before Cabral picked up an injury – which luckily was just a pulled calf – just before half-time. And we eased to a 3-0 win.
And the good form contineued to SC Braga with another winger picking up the mantle. Meneses was back fit again and put a goal on a plate for Cohen then scored from a tight angle on the verge of half-time. He then won a penalty in the second half, which captain Braganca converted. Three games played, three wins, 10 goals and three clean sheets.
Two more stopouts followed as Cohen bagged a brace to see off newly promoted GD Chaves 2-0 then a Braganca penalty saw us ease to a 1-0 win at Marítimo. That took us to 10 consecutive clean sheets in all competitions – earning me the Park The Tank badge on Steam – and set a new club and Primeira Liga record of 9 games without conceding.
Next was 3rd-place Rio Ave at home and, despite dominating, we struggled a little in front of goal. But Cabral put us ahead just before half-time then curled a lovely free-kick into the top corner. But Rio Ave immediately went down the other end to score the first goal we’d conceded this season. That took Cabral to 4 goals in 4 games this season, having scored 6 in 44 the previous season.
As a result of our good form, N Mendes, Cabral and Luís Maximiano got their first call-ups for Portugal, alongside Braganca and Quaresma who’d already made their debuts. While our loanee striker Rey, who was support to Cohen, scored on his debut for Argentina.
Presidential election sparks fury
Unfortunately, the current President won the election and, bizarrely, he had promised to buy some crap midfielder Diadie Sammesekou and Nico Elvedi, and immediately put in huge bids that I wasn’t able to withdraw. I was fuming! Neither will get into our team and both are far too old to play for me.
Sammesekou signed for a ridiculous £26.5 million on £125k a week and Elvedi for £24 million on £82k a week – which went totally against my ethos as Sporting manager, and blew away the careful wage budget I’d built. For reference, Braganca is our top earner on £60k a week.
I’m very close to quitting on principle and putting buy-out clauses on players I’ve brought to the club to make it great again. Fuming! And I need a while to assess the situation.