Last time out I was fuming with the Sporting Lisbon President’s decision to sign two players behind my back for huge money on huge wages. I was keen to put it behind me and move on, and would deal with it when the two signings arrived in January.
We had a really strange spell of matches between that fiasco and the beginning of the Qatar World Cup in December. We dropped out first points of the season with a 0-0 draw at Desportivo des Aves then didn’t play a league match for a month due to a series of Taca de Portugal, League Cup and Champions League matches.
In fact, we only played 2 league matches in 4 months between 10 September and league duty resuming on 11 January. The other game was at local rivals Benfica and we started well through Philip Cohen, then they turned things around with a Tiago Dantas brace. But we got back into it through a Daniel Braganca penalty and held on for a decent 2-2 draw.
Interesting Champions League group
The Champions League dealt us a tough hand, up against Barcelona, Bayer Leverkusen and Ajax – despite being in the first seed pot – so qualification looked like a tough ask. And it wasn’t looking good when we lost 4-2 at home to Barca, with Sadio Mane scoring twice, then 2-1 at Leverkusen – with Havertz scoring a 94th minute winner after we’d equalised in the 92nd minute.
We bounced back by edging a 1-0 win at Ajax despite having only 2 shots to their 9, with Braganca scoring in the 80th minute. But an even greater smash and grab achievement followed as we went to the Nou Camp on the defensive. We managed to contain the barrage of Lionel Messi, Leroy Sané, Luis Suarez, Antoine Griezmann, Mane and co, while Ronan Darcy scored our only shot to claim a famous 1-0 victory. This may be the greatest FM’ing I’ve ever dished out.
That put qualification into our hands as we entertained Leverkusen in the final game and a solid 1-0 win with Cohen scoring the only goal. That actually saw us win the group with a goal difference of 1!
Positive youth signs
Our first insight into the latest youth intake came through in December and looks pretty positive, with several players that my youth staff believe could be fine prospects.
Dubious January deals
The shady deals for the two crap players the President decided to sign went through once the January transfer window began. I immediately offered them both to clubs and received a flurry of bids from China. And, amazingly, we managed to make a profit on both within a week. I was delighted! Good riddance to bad rubbish.
Joining them in leaving the club was Idrissa Doumbia. The holding midfielder was nearing the end of his contract and hadn’t been overly effective this season so he moved on to Barcelona for £21.5 million. Fellow midfielder Ronan Darcy who, despite his winner at Barca hadn’t played well this season, was also on the move to Leicester City for a good return of £8.5 million having signed on a free.
Then, on deadline day, midfielder Roberto Vlademir signed for PSG for £7.5 million, having never played for a game for us since signing two years ago for £2 million. He had 4-star potential but was already 20, so probably wouldn’t make it with us.
Players that I signed and we did want to keep were substantially younger than the ones my idiotic President had bizarrely signed. And a few of them look like really exciting prospects. The pick of them is probably 16-year-old Czech striker Karel Knakal, along with German midfielder Christian Bismarck, Belgian left-back Gabor Kiss and Brazilian defender Felipao, who cost just £14.75k.
With Doumbia’s departure, I decided to try and mix up our tactics a little by switching from a 4-1-2-2-1 to a 4-2-3-1 with improving youngster Daniel Demaj playing in the number 10 position. But it didn’t exactly start brilliantly.
The first trial of it was a drab 0-0 League Cup draw at Desportivo des Aves, followed by a 1-0 win over Liga II side Academico de Viseu. Then our first league trial of it at home to Estoril Praia began well with Braganca scored a penalty after 12 minutes, only for Demaj to get a straight red card – our first in about two years – 7 minutes later. But we held on to win 1-0.
I also promoted young Brazilian midfielder Carlos into the first-team to fill this hole and he made his debut away to Academic Coimbra. They took the lead with their first shot but Cohen got us level 5 minutes before half-time then Joelson Fernandes put us in front 20 seconds after the break. And from there we took control with a Braganca 30-yard free-kick, a Goncalo Meneses goal setup by substitute Dino Valek and academy product right-back wrapping up a 5-1 win with his first goal for the club.
The new formation was beginning to look really good as we thumped Benfica – who were struggling in 9th in the league – 4-0 in the Taca de Portugal. And then went to Penafiel and won 3-0 with Braganca playing a 9.0 despite missing an early penalty and Rodrigo Fernandes assisting two goals. Cohen scored braces in both of these matches to take him to 13 goals in 24 matches in all competitions.
We slipped to a 1-1 draw at home to Belenenses and just edged a 1-0 win at Chaves thanks to a Braganca penalty. But were back to our best with a 4-0 win at home to Marítimo thanks to a Joelson Fernandes brace, Braganca again and centre-back Dario Jansen’s first senior goal.
On the same day, Porto – who had won their first 10 matches – suffered a second loss in two weeks. That meant they were 6 points behind us with two games in hand, while we were 4 clear of Pacos de Ferreira who had played five matches more than us!
A 0-0 draw at Rio Ave was followed by a 2-0 win at home to then 3rd placed FC Famalicao, with Cohen scoring both, an on the same day Porto lost at home to Marítimo – which meant, despite having loads of games in hand, Porto were in 5th and 6th in the league! And at the half-way point in our season we were unbeaten and had only conceded 5 goals.
We then dominated Desportivo des Aves but only won 2-0 despite having 36 shots to their. Braganca put in a customary brilliant performance, pulling the strings with an astounding 11 key passes, 6 chances created and 2 assists. Then a narrow 1-0 win at Famalicao saw yet another clean sheet send us go 23 games unbeaten heading into March 2023.
Having narrowly progressed through the group stage of the Taca de Liga we defeated Belenenses SAD 4-2 in the semi-finals thanks to a Bruno Tavares double. The Final always takes place the following weekend and we were up against Porto.
However, we had an Under 23s game the same day so loads of our youngsters were ineligible and we only had four subs available. Porto started well as Kik Pierie scored a header from a free-kick on 14 minutes. We were dominating the game but just couldn’t score until, having made several changes and tweaks, substitute Rodrigo Rey grabbed an 85th minute equaliser.
A 1-1 draw sent us straight into a penalty shootout. We were up first and Braganca scored, Alex Telles and Demaj followed suit, then Odsonne Edouard missed for Porto. And the penalties continued to be converted until Rodrigo Fernandes stepped up with a chance to win it. And the young midfielder kept his cool to smash the ball into the corner and win my first Cup tournament.
We also booked our place into the end of season Taca de Portugal final by defeating Academica Coimbra 6-1 on aggregate. We’ll be taking on Porto in that final as well.
The League Cup success ensured I entered the Portugal Hall of Fame for the first time, albeit some way behind 1960s manager Otto Gloria.
The first round of the Champions League gave us another tough draw, as should be expected really, a we went up against Borussia Dortmund. But we defied all expectations by going to Germany and winning 3-1. Rodrigo Fernandes, who’s finally showing the form that his quality suggests he should be showin, got us going, and J Fernandes got a second to put us 2-0 up at the break. Julian Brandt got a goal back but then Cohen scored with a powerful strike to finish the game off.
We secured qualification to the next round with a 0-0 draw at home in the second leg. And the £8 million earned for that took our bank balance over the £300 million mark for the first time.
Join us next time as we look to continue our unbeaten Primeira Liga form, discover our Champions League fate and look ahead to a Taca de Portugal final.