The Liga Zon Sagres high-ups announced that, starting next season, Benfica, Porto, Sporting, Braga, Maritimo, and Vitoria Guimaraes will all have the ability to add their B teams into the Liga Orangina, which is the Portuguese second-tier. Existing teams in the Liga Orangina won’t be booted out, but the league will grow by six teams. This bit of news comes as a surprise at this time, as B teams have not been fully utilized in recent years in Portugal. Now, however, the six largest teams in Portugal (at least by the federation’s standards) will have the option of sending their players down a division, instead of sending them out on loan. This is an obvious advantage, but there are some less obvious disadvantages.
During the past few years, the smaller clubs playing in the Liga Zon Sagres have benefited from taking players from the big three on loan. One of the more recent and relevant examples is Adrien Silva. The midfielder didn’t quite have what it took at Sporting Lisbon, so he was loaned out to Academica for this entire season. He has since flourished at the mid-table club. Next season, he will almost certainly be a part of the first team at Sporting, courtesy of his fine performances and overall development while at Academica. Without these players, the “smaller” clubs in the league would suffer. With the inclusion of the B teams in the Liga Orangina, the top clubs won’t necessarily be looking for Liga Zon Sagres clubs interested in loaning a player not developed enough for first-team action. They can simply keep him in the squad, and let him develop at the B team, without the hassle of loaning him to another Liga Zon Sagres club. Also, with the big clubs not having to babysit the fringe players by looking for loan moves for them, the big clubs can grow in size. These clubs now won’t have to be concerned with the size of their team, as they can send these players down to the B team to gain experience and ready them for first team action. This may cause a total split between these six clubs and the remaining clubs in Portugal. Many would argue that there is already a split, and if the B teams were to be added to the Liga Orangina, the big clubs would get bigger, and the small clubs would get smaller.
Its not all bad, however. In terms of nurturing Portuguese talent, the inclusions of the B teams will be beneficial. Instead of sending a player out on loan, the club can now send the player down a division and have him play for the B team. The player can still train with the first team, which may prove to be quite valuable to his development, while still getting in minutes with the B team. In other words, youngsters coming out of the youth academies now have a viable option for playing time. Instead of looking abroad for opportunities, the youngsters can continue to develop at the B team. Also, who’s to say that the smaller Liga Zon Sagres clubs won’t still get players on loan from the big clubs? If a player is developed enough for the first team at, let’s say, SL Benfica, but he doesn’t quite fit in to the formation, or doesn’t yet gel with his teammates, Benfica will search for a Liga Zon Sagres club to loan him to. Some players are simply too skilled and experienced for the Liga Orangina. Because of this, loans will still be made to clubs like Academica and Olhanense, and football in Portugal, at least in this sense, won’t be affected for the worse.
The inclusion of B teams into the Liga Orangina for Benfica, Porto, Sporting, Maritimo, Braga, and Vitoria Guimaraes may turn into a great move. It also may not. There is no way of knowing how this decision will affect football in Portugal next season, but one thing is for certain: it will make it more interesting.