It was an interesting year in Portuguese football, as always. For the Portuguese National Team, 2014 saw hope slashed by a disappointing World Cup run, which was followed by a fresh renewal following the appointment of Fernando Santos. Domestically, 2014 saw Benfica lift an historic treble, while a resurgent Sporting side edged out a lethargic Porto side in the league. Teams such as Estoril and Nacional also enjoyed successful seasons. The beginning of the 2014-2015 season saw the expansion of the Primeira Liga from 16 teams to 18 teams, with Boavista rejoining the top flight after a seven season absence. Outside of Portugal, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid won the Champions League, while Tiago’s resurgent form helped Atletico Madrid to their first La Liga title in almost two decades. With 2014 behind us, it’s time to look forward to 2015; a year that will be sure to excite.
With new boss Fernando Santos in charge for Portugal, the future looks bright. The team will continue to push on in their quest for qualification for Euro 2016, and their next match will be on March 29th against Serbia. Following that, here’s the remainder of the team’s schedule this year:
June 13: Armenia vs Portugal
September 4: Portugal vs France (friendly)
September 7: Albania vs Portugal
October 8: Portugal vs Denmark
October 11: Serbia vs Portugal
The Selecao face an up-hill battle for qualification, but with the 2016 tournament expanded to 24 teams, the chance of qualification is higher than ever. The top two teams from Portugal’s group will progress to the tournament, and with the likes of Nemanja Matic’s Serbia, Chrisitan Eriksen’s Denmark, and surprise package Albania all capable of causing trouble, Portugal will have to be at their best.
Despite a short time in charge of Portugal, Fernando Santos has already shown a willingness to give chances to young players who were excluded under Paulo Bento. Players such as Raphael Guerreiro, Cedric, Andre Gomes, and Joao Mario have all been handed debuts under Santos, with all three finding success to varying degrees. We can expect further opportunities to be given to young players, especially as previous starters like Bruno Alves and Raul Meireles phase out. Marcos Lopes, Ruben Vezo, Anthony Lopes, Carlos Mane, Bernardo Silva, Paulo Oliveira, Bruno Fernandes, and Bruma can all conceivably expect to feature in the Senior Team setup within this year if they continue their current form.
For another relevant read, here’s The Futebol Factory’s 5 Young Players That Could Help Portugal Qualify for Euro 2016.
It is no secret that Portugal may be on the cusp of another “Golden Generation.” With both the U-21 and U-19 teams almost unbeatable in recent years, and many of those players showing considerable promise, Portugal’s youth setups look very promising. As a result of this success, the Portuguese will feature in both the U-20 World Cup and the U-21 European Championship this summer. There is also a possibility that the Portuguese could also feature in the summer’s U-19 Euro and the U-17 Euro, but qualification for those tournaments is not yet completed. If the U-19s and the U-17s qualify, Portugal could appear at an unprecedented four youth tournaments this summer.
The U-20 World Cup is a tournament that Portugal has found success in recent years. The team finished as runners-up in 2011 before reaching the second round in 2013. More importantly, this marks the third consecutive appearance in the tournament, which is a testament to the strength of Portugal’s youth in recent years. The squad this year will most likely consist of largely the same team that finished as runners up at last summers U-19 Euro. Tomas Podstawski, Gelson Martins, Andre Moreira, Andre Silva, Ivo Rodrigues, Rafa, and others will likely be the heart of the team. And if they can recreate the performances that saw them reach the final of the U-19 Euro last summer, expect them to go far. The team has the one thing the Portuguese Senior team has been lacking in recent years: a proven and capable goalscorer. With Andre Silva, the U-20 team can go far.
Later in the summer, the U-21 team will compete in the U-21 European Championship. The team has been placed in a difficult Group B alongside Italy, England, and Sweden, but with the U-21 team, one expects them to advance in the tournament. Players such as Sergio Oliveira, William Carvalho, and Luis Martins, who had all aged out of qualification matches, will be available for the tournament, due to looser age restrictions. Other players such as Bernardo Silva, Marcos Lopes, Bruno Fernandes, Raphael Guerreiro, Andre Gomes, Joao Mario, Paulo Oliveira, and Ruben Vezo will all feature. With talent such as that, many fans of the Portuguese game have high hopes that the team will be able to progress out of the group. But even if they don’t, the very fact that the team qualified for the tournament, the first of which the team has qualified for since 2007, is encouraging.
Disappearance of TPO
It was announced recently, via a FIFA statement, that Third Party Ownership will be made illegal, effective May 1, 2015. Previously existing third-party ownership deals will be allowed to continue, but will not be allowed to be renewed. After the third-party contract expires, no further agreement can be made. To see the full document, click here.
You may be asking: what does this mean? It’s difficult to say what effect this will have on Portuguese football. Fans of the Portuguese game will be familiar with the fact that clubs in Portugal (namely Benfica and Porto) are some of the primary users of TPO in the world. Benfica’s Benfica Stars Fund enabled the club to sell economic rights to the Fund, giving the club extra economic resources. The Fund is currently defunct, as well as the even older First Portuguese Football Players Fund. These funds, and other third parties, allowed the larger clubs much greater maneuverability in the transfer market. Players that could previously not have been afforded became affordable. This also gave the clubs the ability to inject cash back into the club whenever it was needed.
In short, this enabled the bigger clubs to become bigger in Portugal. It ensured that Benfica and Porto consistently signed world class players-to-be such as David Luiz, Hulk, Ramires, Axel Witsel and others. The consequences of this have begun to be felt in the Portuguese National Team. Benfica and Porto, as a result of third party ownership (and other things), have gained a reputation as being a viable “stepping stone” to bigger clubs. In Benfica’s case, players like Lazar Markovic, Axel Witsel, and Nemanja Matic all arrived as huge, but unproven prospects, but departed quckly to Liverpool, Zenit, and Chelsea, respectively. Young, promising players from abroad recognize that moving to Benfica and Porto can pay dividends just a few seasons down the road. This is not to say that Sporting is excluded from this list, but I do feel it necessary to place the Lisbon-based club in a different category for one reason: Opportunities given to home-grown, Portuguese players.
Benfica and Porto, despite having a copious amount of precocious Portuguese talent in their youth academies, have given many of the opportunities to South American prospects such as James Rodriguez, David Luiz, Falcao, and others. While this has proven to be a viable business model, there is a lot of homegrown talent that is being overlooked. This has been highlighted recently with Bernardo Silva, who left Benfica on loan to Monaco (with an option to buy), despite being considered as one of the club’s finest prospects. And at Monaco, though having never played in a top division, Silva has impressed, recently scoring the winning goal against title-contenders Marseille.
So what can this mean? There’s a chance that not much could change, that Benfica and Porto could continue their business model of buying cheap, young, talented South Americans only to sell them for monumental profits just a few years later. There’s no reason they can’t and won’t, but there are signs that say otherwise. In Benfica’s case, club president Luis Filipe Vieira has stated that the banning of TPOs means that the club will focus on homegrown talent as their business model going forward. It all still remains unclear, but there’s every reason that this change could benefit Portugal’s youth, and that 2015 will be a year where talented Portuguese are given a chance in the first team of some of the country’s largest and most successful clubs.
2015 is poised to be just as interesting, if not more interesting, than 2014 was. With a renewed national team and a stellar youth national teams setup, the future looks promising, and with the disappearing of third party ownership, Portuguese clubs can finally exist to produce Portuguese talent. Only time will tell whether this will be the outcome, but at least now, 2015 looks to be a year of renewal and success for the Portuguese National Team.
Did we forget anything? Something you are looking forward to in 2015? If so, please leave a comment below. Let’s continue this discussion.