After wrapping up a fourth consecutive Primeira Liga with Sporting Lisbon a massive summer of change was coming, including selling our oldest player for the third transfer window in a row.
The upheaval began with my assistant manager Vincent Kompany and Under 23s Manager Pal Dardai getting nabbed by Eibar and, dubiously, Benfica B respectively. I promoted former Real madrid player Guti from Under 23s Assistant to become my Assistant Manager. Then, a whole host of players have left the club.
The outgoings were mainly players that had 12 months remaining on their contracts and I didn’t think would get into our team. Some of which went for surprising amounts.
Firstly, backup defender Filipe Ferreira – who I thought was OK, nothing great – was signed by Manchester City for a potential £10.5 million. Then winger Bruno Tavares, who was some way behind our best wingers, joined Real Sociedad for the same price. But the big sale was Jovane Cabral, who’d just had an average season, joining Valencia for £30 million.
Karamoko Dembele came back from a loan spell and didn’t look up to it but Chelsea for some reason came in and paid £3.5 million. We also sold on a few more players for minimal fees to take our incoming to £54 million.
In their place, we’ve signed three exciting youngsters. Brazilian striker Ronald came in for a potential £9 million and looks like a great prospect, Andres Contreras offers a good backup defensive option and winger Joao Roberto is one of a batch of Brazilians I’d pre-signed a couple of years ago.
We had plenty more bids for players including Real Madrid going in for Daniel Braganca and Goncalo Meneses, City and Tottenham offering around £6 million for Austin Mngemeni – who I think has the potential to be very good – and Chelsea chasing one of our three exciting goalkeepers Frane Juranovic. But I scared them off with ambitious asking prices.
Interestingly, Idrissa Doumbia was flogged to Bologna after only playing 4 games for Barcelona with an average rating of 6.77. I think our decision to sell him last season was justified! And we earned £500k from the sale.
Elsewhere in Portugal, Benfica have gone a bit mental and signed Matthijs de Ligt for £32 million on £200k a week. He’s been really poor for Juventus, so let’s hope that continues. They’ve also signed Kurt Zouma and Christian Pulisic from Chelsea for a combined £70 million.
Pre-season friendlies, with Guti in charge, went pretty well, including a 5-1 win at AFC Bournemouth in which 18-year-old English striker Philip Cohen bagged all five.
The season began well with another trophy to add to the cabinet as we beat FC Porto 1-0 in the Supertaca. There wasn’t much super about it other than the name as a relatively drab game was decided by a Philip Cohen goal from a Meneses cross. But midfielder Christian Bismarck got player of the match for a 7.7 performance with 5 key passes.
And that success lifted me into the top 10 of the English managers’ Hall of Fame for the first time. I’m now up to third in the Portuguese nation records too.
Title defence 3 begins
Our latest title defence began in perfect fashion with a 5-0 thrashing of Belenenses. They’d loaned our backup goalkeeper Milton, who played and had conceded three by half-time, which was a little suspicious. Joelson Fernandes scored twice with Meneses, Cohen and Nuno Mendes all getting in on the act.
And that strong start set us up for a superb run of early form, winning our first 7 matches with only one goal conceded. This included both defenders bagging braces from indirect free-kicks, with Eduardo Quaresma scoring both in a 2-1 win over Rio Ave and Daniel Jansen repeating the feat in a 4-0 win at nine-man Pacos de Ferreira.
The most important of those successes though was a 2-0 win at home to FC Porto with goals from Quaresma and Cohen. And this hot streak of form at the start of the season was part of a club record streak of 12 consecutive wins in all competitions.
More strange scheduling then saw us play five league games between early October and the end of December, amid a mass of various cup matches. However, we won all five to set a new Primeira Liga record of 16 consecutive wins.
Despite that, SL Benfica were also in ridiculous form, winning 12 of their 13 matches and sitting 5 points behind us with a game in hand. J Fernandes and Cohen were the top two scorers in the league with 9 and 8 goals, while Braganca was in ridiculous form with an average of 8.01 and had the joint-most assists alongside Meneses.
Meneses wondergoal in Champions League
Our Champions League group saw us alongside Basel, Inter Milan and Galatasaray, which could have been worse. We opened up with two easy wins over Basel and Galatasaray, which teed up two clashes with Inter.
We then managed to beat Inter 3-2 away in a ding-dong battle but, that pales into insignificance compared to what Goncalo Meneses did to win the group for us in the return game. Just look at this overhead kick! It was an unbelievable goal – probably the best I’ve ever seen on Football Manager – to seal a 1-0 win. And I spent about the next 10 minutes just rewatching it (and working out how to record my screen to post it on Twitter).
All of this meant that we went the entire first half of the season unbeaten in all competitions, including making it into the 6th round of Taca de Portugal and the semi-finals of Taca de Liga.
The year ended on a real high as English striker Philip Cohen was named European Golden Boy. The forward finished top scorer in Primeira Liga the previous season and has 10 goals in 20 games in all competitions this season. He’s become well and truly world class in the last 18 months or so.
Even more excitingly, the future of Sporting was looking very good as our first insight into the latest youth intake suggested we had a “golden generation” on our hands this season.
Join us next time as we continue Sporting Lisbon’s quest for a fifth successive Primeira Liga title. A feat that, incidentally, has never been achieved by any manager in the league’s history.