The Journeyman | Saving Sporting: Part 23 – Six In A Row

Sporting Lisbon came into 2024/25 on the back of five successive Primeira Liga titles and looking for an unprecedented sixth.

The 2024/25 campaign began by saying goodbye to a stalwart of the save as Rodrigo Fernandes moved to Valencia for £12.5 million. I could see him declining as a player and his contract was running down so I decided to cash in. That said, I noticed he had a 94% pass completion rate after I’d sold him, so it’ll be interesting to see how that affects us.

We also sold on several academy products that I didn’t think were going to make it and a load of players in the final year of their contracts. Marcio Barreira hadn’t progressed and was really poor when given a chance last season and he joined Juventus for £2.7 million, as did young striker Filipao for an impressive £10 million, given he joined for £2.5 million and played one league game.

We also got £6 million out of Man United for midfielder Carlos Dias, who my coaches rated as having 3-star potential. But, for whatever reason, all of the big clubs love sniffing around my youngsters. One who was sought after for years was Nuno Gomes, who eventually moved to Valladolid for £7.25 million. Then academy product Russell Southwood, who had maximum potential of only 3 stars, went to Juventus for £8 million.

We have a rich pool of goalkeepers in the squad, thanks to two 5-star keepers in the last two youth intakes. So I allowed our number one goalkeeper through this save Luís Maximiano join Real Betis for £10 million and backup Frane Juranovic move to Dinamo Zagreb for the same fee. I think the latter will become world class, but we have at least two other keepers who are home grown and could be better.

But the biggest sale of the summer saw midfielder Christian Bismarck leave for Leverkusen for a huge club record sale of £37 million. The youngster was good but had a paddy about wanting a new contract and demanded £150k a week, so I told him where to go and he got unhappy. In total we sold 18 players for an incoming of £97 million.

Exciting signings

This time I decided to invest some of the money we’d brought in, with most of the outlay going on replacing Bismarck. And I think I’ve done well in that regard by signing Brazilian wonderkid Kalindi Amaral for £17 million from Atletico Mineiro.

Another player I’m really excited about is Argentinian striker Facundo Soto, who arrived from River Plate for an initial £3 million that could rise to £7 million. Looking at his attributes I suspect he’s probably better suited to being an attacking midfielder but his stats of 23 goals in 31 games for River last season cannot be ignored. And, he could have forced us into tactical rethink, see below for more on that…

More exciting younsgsters were incoming, including a couple of Danish 16-year-olds Lasse Tvede and Torben Harboe and American 16-year-old Emanuel Soares for £2 million from Rio Ave. We also snapped up German winger Florian Weingarten after he was released by Eintracht Frankfurt and defender Arnau Juncá, who was released by Barcelona.

We also picked up a Barcelona midfielder Alejandro Sendra and Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka on loan to add a bit of depth to the first-team squad on deadline day.

But before the season, I just want to take a moment to reflect on how good Daniel Braganca has become. He’s now not only considered world class but an ‘elite midfielder,’ and his attributes pretty much back that assertion up. We’ve also just handed him a new £225k-a-week contract having rejected bids from Liverpool, Real Madrid and Barcelona leading up to transfer deadline day.

Tactical rethink

As mentioned, I’m thinking of changing up our tactic as a result of the signing of Soto. I think he could be deadly when paired with Philip Cohen, so I’m ditching the defensive midfielder in favour of a more attack-minded 4-2-4 formation. Here’s how it lines up, just ignore all the players away on Olympic duty… at which Soto won both the top scorer and best player awars.

However, given the players missing above, we did not trial the new formation in the Supertaca against Porto. We drew 0-0 then nicked it 2-1 in extra time thanks to a Tammy Abraham own goal and Karel Knakel’s 110th minute winner.

We also didn’t start with it in the league opener at Belenenses but, struggling to create anything in the second half, we switched to it and it had immediate results. Philip Cohen stepped up to bag 2 goals in 8 minutes to secure a 2-0 win.

But the new formation was in operation as Boavista came to town and we put five past them thanks to a hat-trick from Braganca, a first goal for the club for young Brazilian Ronald and an injury-time goal from last season’s top scorer Joelson Fernandes.

Two more simple wins followed, including Soto getting his first goals with both in a 2-0 win at Portimonense. But Braganca and Cohen were at it again, with the former with two wonderful assists as the latter bagged a hat-trick at Vitoria de Setubal.

Facing the old rivals

The strong form continued until two big games up against our old rivals. We first got thumped 4-0 at Porto then welcomed Benfica and this time lost 2-0, which saw Benfica jump ahead of us in the league after 10 games.

However, we then went on a hot streak of form that saw us only lose one more league match all season. This included a run of 24 matches unbeaten between the end of October and the middle of March.

The end result was walking to a sixth successive league success at a canter, as Benfica and Porto saw their form dip – to the extent that Porto dropped down to 5th below Famalicao and Marítimo.

Key players

Daniel Braganca was once again the star man this season, setting another Primeira Liga average rating record of 7.86 from 30 matches. He scored 13 goals and got 16 assists in all competitions.

Our top scorer was striker Philip Cohen, who scored 24 goals in 51 matches. That was followed J Fernandes with 18 and Braganca’s 13, then Amaral on 9 and Goncalo Meneses with 8.

Braganca unsurprisingly topped the assists charts, but left-back Nuno Mendes followed him with an impressive 10. Meneses was next with 8 then Cohen on 6.

Braganca was also by far our top performer with an average rating of 7.67 from 47 matches.

And Braganca also claimed the fans’ player of the season with a huge 78% of the vote.

Next steps…

However, I think this 6th successive title in Portugal brings my time with Sporting to an end. I’ve really enjoyed the journey but the success clearly shows we’ve already saved Sporting!

I’ll be having a think about what we do next. One idea I have is to resign as Sporting manager then go on the lookout for a new job and turn this save into a Journeyman. Another is to start a new save with an idea I’ve been mulling over for the last few days. But I’m yet to decide what the next step is.

But, for now, you can continue to follow our progress in the fictional country of Aswijan.

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