After two years and two league title successes in Portugal, Robinho Lazaró was really enjoying his time with Sporting CP. But, at the ripe old age of 71, he also knew that he’d be foolish not to keep an eye out for new opportunities – especially if that meant a move to the big six European leagues he’d yet to manage in – Italy, France or Holland.
His immediate future was more or less decided for him, as there was no major manager movement during the summer of 2055. Largely because PSG’s board were seemingly happy with 11th place in Ligue 1! But Lazaró was more than happy to keep working with this young Sporting squad.
The summer of 2055 saw the oldest player at the club depart as 26-year-old Patrick Fortes moved to Zenit for £12.75 million. And he was far from alone in being wanted, which led to several key players wanting out. As a result, midfielder Gerard Comamala moved to Man UFC for £90 million, having joined for £11.5 million two years ago, and striker Dias went to Arsenal for £80 million, having been signed by the President for £12.5 million 18 months ago.
That gave Lazaró a £190 million transfer kitty to work with, but he didn’t feel that much need to strengthen his squad. For example, he already had Anders Lassen and Wilson Salazar ready to step up to replace Dias.
The first move of the summer was for another exciting Danish forward Christian Madsen, who joined for £2.5 million from AaB and Lazaró planned to retrain as a midfielder. A defensive recruit arrived in Antonio, who cost £950,000 from Malaga and was earmarked as an excellent ball-winner for the middle of the Sporting midfield trio. He struggled to find a starting midfielder to replace Comamala but eventually did a loan deal for Man City’s Turkish starlet Birol Tas. And the transfer business was wrapped up with an odd reunion as left-back Gonzalo Acevedo, who Lazaró signed for Flamengo in 2041 then moved to Barcelona but was sold to PSG a few days before Lazaró moved to Camp Nou, arrived for £7.5 million from PSG.
Second title defence begins
Sporting’s second title defence began well with a 3-0 win at Alverca led by newly-dubbed wonderkid midfielder Jan Mares and goals from Goncalo Mesquita and attacking midfielder Ronaldo Villarreal. Mares then bagged a hat-trick in a 5-0 thrashing of Belenenses in the first home game of the season and scored again in a 4-2 win at Gondomar, in which Tas scored his first goal for the club and striker Srdan Grbic scored his first since a long injury layoff.
The exceptional Villarreal ran that game with all three assists then two more player of the match performances in 3-0 and 2-0 wins over Braga and Boavista – which alerted the PSG, Bayern, Milan, Roma, Inter and Juventus ahead of deadline day! But they managed to keep hold of the best player at the club.
That proved crucial as he again excelled away to Benfica, scoring the opener before Mares created goals for Srbic and Mesquita. A superb start continued to nine straight wins, which saw Sporting set a new league record 14 consecutive wins going back to last season.
They remained unbeaten through to a big clash with Porto and continued it with a dominant performance. That man Villarreal opened the scoring before Madsen came off the bench to bag his first Sporting goal late on, with Sporting racking up 24 shots to five with 14 on target to one. And that shows you just how dominant Lazaró has made this side in two years!
They eventually dropped points with draws at Vitória and Feirense. But the unbeaten run was unrelenting, the improving Salazar scoring in consecutive 4-0 home wins over Tondela and Nacional. And they remained undefeated heading into 2056, enjoying a six-point lead over Braga and 10-point lead over Porto after 18 games.
Sporting dominated the top average ratings with all of the top seven in the league, led by Villarreal’s 7.76. Mesquita was second-top scorer with 12 in 15 but Mares led the league assists with nine and Jonathan Caballero had 14 clean sheets, conceding just five times!
Champions League group
Lazaró had a reunion with former club Liverpool in Europe, in a tough group alongside Hertha Berlin and Galatasaray. They began at home to Liverpool and got a flyer as Villarreal scored a brilliant 25-yarder after five minutes then his beautiful pass sent Mesquita through to double the lead. But Caballero had a meltdown after the break, gifting Juarez a goal then letting in a weak shot. So Lazaró made the bold move to take him off as part of a triple sub that also included Lassen coming on – and he scored immediately only for Franco Ramírez to nick an equaliser. What a match!
A Mares double led them to a 4-1 win at Galatasaray before a Mesquita hat-trick led a 4-1 home win over Hertha, who got revenge with a 1-0 win in Germany. But a 4-2 win at home to Galatasaray saw them qualify and took them top of the group heading into the final game. And that was lucky as they finished with a trip to Anfield, where they again impressed to gain a 2-2 draw – having led 2-0 inside 33 minutes!
2055 concluded with the exciting Mares winning the FIFA Best U21 Men’s Player and European Golden Boy awards, with 15 goals and 13 assists and an average rating of 7.51 from 37 appearances through the calendar year. He is a special talent!
The European performances and the Liverpool efforts, in particular, made Lazaró realise that this Sporting team could compete with the very best. However, his performance saw three of the biggest teams in Europe pay attention. Both Man UFC and Man City sacked their managers in November 2055 and both offered the Colombian interviews. He had zero interest in joining City, but UFC came forward with a job offer that would put Lazaró on £115,000-per-week, but only offered him an £18 million transfer kitty with a £4.1 million wage budget – compared to the £162 million transfer budget and £1.3 million wage budget he had at Sporting. City hired the Rennes manager Manuel Locatelli, and the French side then offered an interview
So would he stay or would he go? It was certainly a massive decision, as UFC’s 17 years without winning the Premier League was exactly the kind of challenge Lazaró was keen on and Rennes offered an exciting challenge in a new country. But he was also really happy to stay with Sporting and see how they could perform in Europe.
Join us next time to see if Lazaró moves back to England or stays in Portugal…