In the excitement of the new season, supporters are often guilty of creating over-the-top expectations and landing up disappointed when the clubs fail to meet those objectives. Often all we need is a bit of perspective from experts to maintain rational thought; our Q&A mini-series going into the 2014/15 season serves this purpose.
As a manager, Julen Lopetegui doesn’t have the most impressive CV, coaching mostly youth teams. What happens if this risk doesn’t pay off?
There can be no doubting it’s a huge gamble taken by FC Porto president Pinto da Costa. Benfica have been threatening to end Porto’s hegemony of Portuguese football in recent years, and should Porto fail to win the championship it will be the first time since the turn of the century that the Dragons have gone two seasons without lifting the title.
The president has given the new coach licence to build his own squad and spent big in the process. But it is Lopetegui’s first job at a big club and outside of his home country, and it remains to be seen whether he can mould an impressive-looking group of players into a cohesive team. Failure could feasibly bring the curtain down on Pinto da Costa’s historical presidency.
How crucial were the departures of players like James and Moutinho in weakening the Porto midfield last season? And what sort of measures do you think the new manager will take to re-strengthen it?
Absolutely crucial. Moutinho especially was the heartbeat of the team, while James provided the creative spark that was badly missed in last season’s disastrous campaign. A string of exciting options from midfield onwards (Jackson, Quaresma and Quintero, and new signings Tello, Óliver, Adrián López and Brahimi) should help Lopetegui make Porto more of a threat going forward, but with the sale of Moutinho, Lucho González and Fernando in the last year, the Spanish coach has to find a true leader on the pitch.
Porto have a very interesting attacking line-up, with players like Jackson, Quaresma, Quintero, Tello, and Adrián all capable of slotting in seamlessly. How do these players need to be incorporated?
Very good question. Add the players I listed in my answer to the previous question, not forgetting the talented Evandro, Kelvin and Sami, and one can see Porto are loaded with attacking options. It will be fascinating to see how/if Lopetegui manages to get the most out of such an array of offensive talent and whether he can keep all the players happy when inevitably several will have limited chances.
We track the progress and performances of youngsters with our Talent Radar feature. Óliver Torres, who is on loan from Atletico, has shown a lot of promise in the few appearances he made for his parent club. Can he become a fixture in this team?
I don’t know the player well enough to answer the question. All I can say is that he has looked bright in pre-season, and given that the coach made him one of his first signings you would have to say he has a good chance of establishing himself in the team.
Although Portuguese sides have done well in Europe’s “second competition”, they look far from achieving success that Porto did exactly 10 years back. While teams that do achieve it always look towards talent from the Portuguese league. What could be the reason then that the clubs lag behind?
Money. Simple as that. Portuguese clubs’ lack of financial clout means the likes of Porto and Benfica are forced to sell their best players to direct rivals year after year. It is unrealistic to expect them to then go and beat them with a set of younger, more inexperienced replacements.
Essentially, this could be seen as a season of transition, with a new manager coming in. But is that understanding going to dampen the expectations that Porto fans have? Surely supporters can’t handle another Portuguese clean sweep by Benfica?
Despite last season’s clean sweep by their biggest rivals, Porto’s big investments in the close season and the way Benfica’s team has been ripped apart in the summer transfer market have combined to raise expectations among Porto fans. They will be satisfied with nothing less than a championship win.
Casemiro didn’t get too many opportunities to impress at Real Madrid. What role do you see him having in the side?
Another good question. Porto seem to lack a No.6 in the wake of Fernando’s sale to Manchester City and Casemiro is probably earmarked for this role. He will however have to re-educate himself as to what is required in that position as he is naturally a more attacking player. If he does so, a starting berth is there for the taking.
Leocisio Sami is a player that very little is known of outside the Portuguese league, but supporters are excited. What is your opinion on him?
He’s done well at Marítimo, and has looked lively in several pre-season games. He is usually a handful for defenders and has an eye for goal but I’m not sure he’s Porto standard to be blunt, and given the fierce competition for places among the attacking players I do not expect him to feature much, if at all, for Porto in 2014/15.
Benfica have now taken on the role of the big boys, dominating Porto across competitions last season. What are your thoughts on their chances this season given the confidence of the side and experience of the manager?
It’s back to the drawing board for Jorge Jesus after seeing his team decimated in the summer transfer market. He needs to build a new side. Having said that, I believe that for all his eccentricities and arrogance, Jesus is an outstanding coach, certainly the best in Portugal at the moment, so I wouldn’t rule them out of the title. It will be crucial for Benfica that they don’t drop too many points in the early months of the season as the team is being reconstructed.
Much could rest on how quickly Lopetegui gets Porto firing on all cylinders. If the Spaniard struggles to begin with I think we could be in for another terrific championship race in Portugal, and I wouldn’t rule out Sporting being involved.
Questions answered by Tom Kundert. Follow him on Twitter @Portu_Goal