Soon after Portugal’s fine showing at last summer’s U-20 World Cup, Nelson Oliveira publically stated that Portuguese clubs need to focus more on youth, rather than on foreign imports. This point is a very important and relevant one in Portugal at the moment. Benfica have been accused of buying their success from Argentina; Braga from Brazil. While at one time or another there are Portuguese is the starting eleven for the top four in Portugal, the majority of the players on the pitch are non-Portuguese. This has been cause for concern, especially since Sporting, Benfica, and Porto have three of the best youth academies in Europe, and even the world. Those talented players, who are mostly Portuguese, are not receiving the playing time once they graduate from the academy. Instead, they look abroad for opportunities, which has ruined many a young player’s career. There are three reasons for the support of these Portuguese players that will be highlighted here.
Sporting Lisbon U19 5-1 Liverpool U19
In the 2011-2012 edition of the Nextgen Series, which essentially a U-19 Champions League, Sporting Lisbon have been destroying all opposition in Group 2. The team was pitted against Liverpool, Molde, and Wolfsburg, and has yet to disappoint. Sporting is now first in the group with 16 points and has scored more than any other team in the competition. Last week, Sporting took on Liverpool in their final match of the group. The Portuguese team proceeded to decimate their English opposition, winning 5-1. Betinho picked up two goals (one of them a spectacular bicycle-kick), while Filipe Chaby, Gael Etock, and Edgar Ie all scored a goal apiece. The performance was that of complete domination by the Lions, which brings up the question of how to harness this talent. These players are of arguably the same caliber as those from the past. For Portuguese clubs to be successful, they need to incorporate these players into the first team. In theory, if these players graduate into the first team, Sporting Lisbon have the capability of being better than Liverpool. This will only happen if clubs in Portugal change their ways. The Sporting Lisbon Academy has been known to produce some of the world’s finest players in Nani, Ronaldo, and Luis Figo, and it appears that that trend will continue. The test will come when they graduate from the academy.
Portugal’s showing at the 2011 U-20 World Cup
Many were blown away when Portugal reached the final of the U-20 World Cup last summer, defeating the likes of France and Argentina in the process. Nelson Oliveira emerged as one of the stars of the tournament. His four goals won him the award for second-best player of the tournament. Mika, Portugal’s goalkeeper, won the best goalkeeper of the tournament also. The Portuguese players put in impressive performance after impressive performance, and won many plaudits accordingly. Of the 21 Portuguese players, 16 of them were plying their trade in Portugal at the start of the tournament. That’s a decent number: a little over three-quarters. Danilo Pereira, Mario Rui, Pele, and Sana, who all starred for the team during the tournament, played overseas. Three of the players (Danilo, Sana, and Mario Rui) were all bought from Benfica following the expiration of their contracts. Many of these players have gone on to enjoy a successful season this term, many of them on loan abroad from a Portuguese team.
For the sake of the Portuguese National Team
Portugal don arguably three of the finest youth academies in the world, so it makes sense that they should be used to their fullest to nurture young Portuguese talents for the future. What would have happened if Quaresma, Figo, or Nani had left the academy to go to, let’s say, Chelsea. Their careers would most likely have been ruined. Let me remind you of a certain player called Fabio Paim. Paim was touted to be the next Ronaldo when he broke on the youth scene at Sporting half a decade ago. When Chelsea came calling with a lucrative offer, Paim pounced. Now, Paim is playing in the Angolan League. The talent that was evident has all but vanished. The only way that the Portuguese National Team will flourish is if the young stars are encouraged to stay in the country. If the coaches give the youngsters a first-team role, they will be encouraged to stay, and thus the profile of soccer in the country will be raised. When looking at the Spanish league, one will notice the large amount of Spanish players in the teams’ starting elevens. This has been a contributing factor to Spain’s rise to European and international domination. The big teams in Spain use, and rely on, Spanish players. In Germany, the story is the same.
The Portuguese National Teams is arguably flourishing more now than in recent history, with the U-20 team reaching the final of the World Cup, and the Senior team romping at every given opportunity. While the team has been successful as of late, the only way that the success can be built upon is if young Portuguese players are given opportunities in the league, instead of abroad. Then, and only then, the Portuguese National team will truly be a world-class team.