This season’s UEFA Europa League final in Dublin will see an all Portuguese European final between FC Porto and Sporting Braga. Of course a final where both participants come from the same country will thrust that league into the spotlight for all the right reasons. For years now Portuguese football has been looked on unfortunately as the second rate league that dims it’s light when compared to the glitz and glamour of Spain’s La Liga. But with the Portuguese Liga Sagres pushing itself more and more into the spotlight in recent years can it maintain a steady growth to really challenge the so called big leagues of Europe?
FC Porto have made the biggest impact on Europe in the last ten years while also dominating domestically as well. Seven of the last ten league title’s, including this season’s have found it’s way to the Estadio do Dragao. Who can’t also forget that FC Porto is where the much talked about Jose Mourinho first made his real world conquering strides in management, guiding his Porto side to UEFA Cup and Champions League glory in 02/03 and 03/04 season’s before leaving for Stamford Bridge. At the helm of Porto now is the man very much seen as his successor Andre Villas Boas (you can read about him elsewhere on the site). Mourinho’s Porto team went on to star at the top level of football for a number of years at different clubs. After the Champions League victory, Mourinho himself moved to Chelsea taking Ricardo Carvalho and Paolo Ferreira with him while later taking Deco off of Barcelona’s hands.
Deco was arguably the jewel in Mourinho’s Porto crown, the little Brazilian who went on to represent Portugal starred in both season’s and truly was at the top of his game under Mourinho’s watchful eye. Although they play in different roles, we can draw comparisons between Deco and current Porto hitman Falcao. The Colombian has been nothing short of a revelation since joining Porto and is alerting clubs all over Europe after Porto took the chance on bringing him over from South America. But this isn’t the first time this story has been told, in fact it was Porto who gave Deco the chance to shine in Europe after he failed to crack it at Benfica following a move from Corinthians. Deco was eventually sold for a profit and I can guarantee the same will happen to Falcao, Hulk and Guarin at some point for this Porto team.
Infact just hours before Porto’s second leg semi-final against Villarreal, Porto president Pinto Da Costa admitted that he would listen to offers for Rolando, Falcao and Hulk. Admittedly the president made a point that they would have to be offers around the release clause value, but even making this sort of statement shows the reality that Porto will have to sell these players because they will want to play in Spain, England or Italy.
The importing of South American’s isn’t just present at Porto, their opponents in Dublin, Sporting Braga, started their 2nd leg against Benfica with 6 South American’s in the starting eleven. This formula has served Braga well in the last few years as their climb from non-achievers to European finalists within a couple of years can testify. But I think we can safely assume that the same fate that befell the all conquering Porto team of 2004 will hit the Braga team of 2011.
It’s a real shame that Portuguese football as a rule can’t seem to hold onto it’s top players for more than a few years if they perform at the highest level. We saw it in 2004 and if Porto or any other side from Liga Sagres attracts attention from Europe’s elite with a string of good performances then the inevitable will happen again.
The lure of Serie A, English Premier League and La Liga is too strong and the money involved cannot be matched off the field. Although, there is no reason to doubt that while Porto hold onto the likes of Falcao, Hulk or Benfica have players the calibre of Eduardo Salvio or Oscar Cardozo that a challenge on the field can’t be made.
We’ve seen this challenge in the Europa League, between Sporting Braga, FC Porto and SL Benfica the likes of Sevilla, Villareal, Celtic, CSKA Moscow, Spartak Moscow and Liverpool have met their match and been eliminated by the Portuguese clubs this season. Coming to Portugal is a fantastic prospect for any young player, especially South Americans as the current players matching that description can attest for, but keeping onto these players and away from Europe’s predators is the only way we can see the top teams in Portugal sustain a long challenge at Europe’s top table.
You can follow Craig on Twitter @craigshields9.