Pablo Aimar, Nolito, Falcao, Hulk, James Rodriguez, Peter Schmeichel, Di Maria, Otamendi, Rojo, Diego Costa – what do all of this players have in common? They all played, with various degrees of success, in the Portuguese league, now known as Liga Nos. And, to join those big names you have all, the Portuguese talent that started developing in their home country, especially in the 3 Os Grandes (The big 3) SL Benfica, FC Porto and Sporting CP. If there’s a quality player in Portugal, he will eventually be poached by one of these clubs and have the conditions necessary to be a top player in world football, and their scouting network in South America is able to identify the best targets that can help them try and be a force in Europe. That intent normally slams into a lack of revenue like it happens in the big leagues, especially with the TV revenue, that is decentralized and creates a big gap between these teams and the rest, although teams like Sp.Braga (2011 Europa League finalist) and VSC (commonly known as Vit.Guimaraes) are usually problematic and can create a good atmosphere behind them that gets them some cup glory.
Benfica has been dominating in the last years, after a period where Porto were kings, with the big highlights being 3 European competitions (UCL – 2004; Europa League – 2003, 2011) led by managers like Mourinho and Villas-Boas, but a series of bad investments and a resurgence of their Lisbon rivals, once one of the biggest teams in Europe, has resulted in 3 years without a title.
Benfica took advantage and creating a solid backroom has inserted again in title contention, first with Jorge Jesus and now with Rui Vitoria. Benfica was also very close to achieve European glory, but they lost 2 Europa League finals in a row (Chelsea, Sevilla) somewhat confirming the “curse” of Béla Guttmann (After winning his 2nd European Cup in a row and leaving after demanding a pay rise, it is said the mythical Hungarian coach stated they would never win anything in Europe without him). He didn’t say anything about the Portuguese title, though, and Benfica has already 3 in a row, and seems set to get an historic fourth.
Sporting CP is the place where Figo, Futre, Quaresma, William Carvalho, Rui Patricio and, of course, Cristiano Ronaldo, started their careers, but titles have been scarce, with a lot of Board issues that even threatened the club’s existence. They were reinvigorated by their new president, even ‘stealing’ Jorge Jesus from their city rivals to guide them like he had with Benfica but he came short by one point last season. This year they look out of contention and it looks like they might have to sell one of their promising stars as W.Carvalho or Gelson Martins.
That’s what happens in Portugal, if a team can’t guarantee the money from the Champions League they need to sell at least one of their stars and the process of recruiting another diamond in the rough starts again. And this is only applied to the big teams, the others are left to fight for the rejects but as Portugal creates a lot of quality players, it’s a league that can always have excitement, and the title fight is almost always fairly close. This year it will be Benfica and Porto, and it’s likely that we’ll see their best players spread around the biggest leagues next season, finding former partners around Europe.