Due to a mini injury crisis in the Sporting Lisbon defense, Domingos Pacienca handed a start to 18 year-old center-back Tiago Ilori against Leiria yesterday. The youngster was given a squad number at the beginning of the season, and though he has primarily been with the youth team this season, he has made the bench for one of the team’s Europa League matches. Tiago Ilori performed admirably enough during the match against Leiria, as Sporting ran out not-so-easy winners. The only glaring mistake on his performance came when he failed to judge a lofted ball over his defense; a mistake that led to Leiria’s only goal. The game ended 3-1 in Sporting’s favor, with Tiago Ilori establishing himself as a player for the future.
Following Portugal’s stellar performance at the recent U-20 World Cup, many wondered whether the crop of players who went so far in the tournament would continue their form for their club teams. Let’s take a look at how the 2011-2012 season is going for each of those young, talented players.
Mika – The best goalkeeper of the tournament was swiftly snapped up by league giants Benfica, but has since found playing time non-existent. While he has appeared a couple of times for the Portugal U-21 team, he has not been as lucky at Benfica. He is currently third in the pecking order, behind Artur Moraes and Eduardo, first and second respectively.
Tiago Maia – Maia is in a similar predicament as Mika, only instead of moving to a big club in the summer, he dropped down a division to promotion-hopefuls Santa Clara. The playing time hasn’t come as easily as he must have expected, however. He is third in the goalkeeping order, behind Stefanovic and Brice. Maia has only appeared on the bench twice, and is yet to make his official debut.
Luis Ribeiro – Last but not least on the list of goalkeepers is Luis Ribeiro, currently on loan at Sertanense from Sporting. Sertanense is currently competing in the third division in Portugal, but nevertheless, Ribeiro has yet to make an appearance for the club.
Tiago Ferreira – The David Luiz lookalike has not featured for Porto’s first team, which comes as no surprise as he is still 18 years old. He has been a regular for the team’s youth setup, and continues to be a player to watch for the future.
Nuno Reis – The U-20 captain has built off what was a successful first season in Belgium last term. The defender has made five appearances so far this season, helping Cercle Brugge, where he is on loan from Sporting Lisbon, to second in the Belgian league.
Roderick – Clearly the second choice for the U-20 team’s center defense, his pairing with Nuno Reis was one to remember. Currently on loan from Benfica to Swiss side Servette, Roderick has excelled. The defender has played in six of Servette’s matches this season, and looks to have a successful season.
Cedric Soares – The right back/right midfielder/everything else has joined Academica on loan from Sporting Lisbon for the entire season. At Academica, he has established himself as their first-choice right-back. In doing this, he has also put in a case for a starting spot in the Portugal U-21 team.
Luis Martins – Benfica coach Jorge Jesus surprised everyone when he named Martins over Joan Capdevila in the team’s Champions League squad. By doing that, he was hinting that Martins could become Benfica’s second choice left-back. He has since appeared on the bench three times, further confirming the theory that he is their second-choice left back at age 19.
Mario Rui – The left-back has joined Serie B side Gubbio on loan from Parma. Rui was snapped up by Parma in the off-season, but was immediately loaned out to Gubbio to gain experience. The defender has since made six appearances, mainly from the substitute’s bench, all the while staking a claim for a starting spot in the Portugal U-21 team.
Sporting Lisbon to Zaragoza
Sporting striker Helder Postiga will no longer be playing in Portugal after the Lisbon-based club agreed terms with Real Zaragoza, of the Spanish League. The Spanish team had to pay Sporting 1 million euros for his services, and the striker will meet up with fellow countrymen Ruben Micael and Fernando Meira. Postiga has been in sporadic form since arriving at Sporting from Porto in 2008, but has played well enough to merit a spot in the starting lineup for the club and also for the Portuguese National Team.
Dinamo Zagreb central defender, Tonel, recently spoke to Maisfutebol, saying that he does not see himself returning to the Portuguese National Team anytime soon. Tonel currently plays for Dinamo Zagreb, in Croatia, and thinks that Bruno Alves, Pepe, and Ricardo Carvalho are doing a great job. “I think it will be difficult to be called back because Portugal is well served by central (defenders). Ricardo Carvalho, Pepe and Bruno Alves have done their job well. If called upon I will be satisfied. If not, I’ll wring out,” he explained. Tonel also believes that the team will make it to Euro 2012. Tonel moved from Sporting Lisbon to Dinamo last August, and has since enjoyed his spell in Croatia, winning last season’s Croatian League.
Genoa are the most recent club to be following Sporting’s center-back, Nuno Andre Coelho, according to reports coming out of Portugal. Clubs such as Napoli, West Brom, and Palermo are all said to be interested, but Genoa has now declared interest. Coelho started the season well, constantly in the starting lineup. His performances were impressive enough to catch the eye of the Portuguese National Team coach, who proceeded to call him up. Nuno then fell slightly out of favor at Sporting Lisbon, and has since seen a greatly reduced amount of playing time. Now, foreign clubs have become to interested in hiring him. If his situation does not improve at Sporting, we may very well see him at another club in the near future.
Bruno Gama is one of the players on Sporting Lisbon’s wish-list this winter, according to reports coming out of Portugal. Sporting are in need of some wingers, with Izmailov, Vukcevic, Salomao, Valdes, and Yannick the players able to play on the wing. Izmailov is currently injured, Valdes is more of a creative central midfielder, and Yannick is more a striker. That leaves Vukcevic and Salomao, the latter of which has been in good form as of late. Gama was unaware of the interest, learning it from the newspapers. “I understand the interest from the newspapers, but it’s always good to see my name associated with big clubs,” the winger said.
Despite it being quite far away from any transfer window, the rumors are still heating up. So, here are the major stories:
1. Ruben Pinto Tracked by Arsenal
The Portuguese Under-19 captain is currently being tracked by Premier League giants Arsenal. Pinto, who models his style of play after Rui Costa, has recently turned down other offers to the Premier League. He has, however, a contract tying him down to Benfica until 2012, so a move probably won’t be likely. Ruben has fancied a move to the Premier League for some time now, and with his heroics against Spain in this last Euro U-19 tournament, maybe that move can finally happen.
2. Milan Keeping Tabs on Coentrao and Periera
Italian giants A.C. Milan are allegedly watching Portuguese National Team fullbacks Joao Pereira and Fabio Coentrao. Coentrao was a bright spot in Portugal’s muddy World Cup campaign, and has since become a vital player for Benfica. He currently is tied to Benfica with a release clause of 30 million pounds. Joao Pereira moved from Braga to Sporting Lisbon earlier this year, and has since impressed enough to earn a call-up to the National Team.
3. Juventus in Miguel Veloso Swap Deal
Juventus are supposedly making a deal with Genoa for the trade of Sissoko and Miguel Veloso. The deal would see Miguel Veloso leave Genoa, who he joined in the summer, and meet up with Juventus, who was tracking him earlier this year. I do not foresee this move happening.
4. Pedro Marques to Make Portugal Switch
Real Madrid C midfielder Pedro Marques is reportedly being watched by Olhanense. Olhanense are currently third in the Liga Zon Sagres, having enjoyed an impressive start to their second consecutive season in the Portuguese top-flight. Marques has been playing in Spain for some time now, but it has been speculated that Olhanense want his services.
5. Chelsea Want Pepe in 2012
Following Pepe’s statement that he plans to leave Real Madrid in 2012 whan his contract is up, Chelsea have come out and said that they want him for free in 2012. Pepe has been rock-solid in his partnership with Ricardo Carvalho not only at Real Madrid, but also for the Seleccao.
Italian big-spenders Genoa are reportedly tabling a bid for Sporting Lisbon winger Yannick Djalo. Genoa were supposedly preparing a bid for him during the summer transfer window, but the move never materialized. Now, Genoa officials have flown to Portugal with the hope of finalizing a deal to bring him to Italy. Promising Belenenses midfielder, Pele, who is about to turn 19 this upcoming week, is also being courted by the Italian club. Genoa reportedly failed to pay for Kevin-Prince Boateng after his 5 million pound move from Portsmouth, so I find it hard to believe that they can afford Yannick and Pele.
Ze Castro, who has seen limited playing time and happiness, has decided to leave Deportivo La Coruna. Ze Castro had a season to forget last season, seeing extremely limited playing time. The worst part was that in June 2009, before the start of his nightmare-ish season, he had made his debut for the Portuguese Senior National Team. He started the season strong, but it all went downhill from there. In the January transfer window, he was linked with a host of clubs, including Sporting Lisbon (who he was very close to signing for). But in the end, he stayed at the Spanish outfit. Now, with Ze Castro’s options looking even more grim, he has decided to rescind his contract on Monday. He does mention talks with other clubs, so we will most likely see him in a different jersey by the end of the transfer window. Here’s what he said: “I talked with the coach and we agreed that it would not logically play tomorrow [today] and eventually quit Monday [tomorrow], because there are talks with some clubs”