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Portuguese Column: Questions raised over the loan system while Fernando Santos innovates

A brand new feature on this website is the introduction of weekly & fortnightly columns focusing on various leagues, countries and regions across the World. Filipe Ribeiro here documents the talking points in Portuguese football.

Portugal Toze

Tozé or the loan dilemma

When Tozé stepped up at the 81-minute mark and placed the ball on the penalty spot, thousands of simultaneous conversations were started. As the Porto-loaned Estoril man prepared to take the kick, you could almost hear fans across the country debating whether he was going to miss it on purpose, score and (at the time) win the match against the club who owns his rights and pays most of his wages or even if he should be the one taking the kick or not. Estoril fans just prayed for the penalty to be converted, Porto fans hoped that somehow the love for his boyhood club would see him just pass the ball to Fabiano and rival supporters, particularly from the likes of Benfica and Sporting, were probably sure he would sky it and wave at the camera singing Porto’s anthem.

With his hands raised in an apologetic sign after scoring the penalty and putting Estoril in front, Tozé seemed to be saying “I’m sorry” to the Porto supporters in the stands, but also to all of those thousands at home watching, as if his professionalism had somehow robbed the whole country out of an entire week of avid discussion and heated debate.

So what if? Let’s imagine the 21 year-old, perfectly aware of the weight of the home supporters’ expectations on his shoulders, along with the knowledge that he would be scoring a potential winning goal against the club who loaned him and all that it could mean, missed his shot. What in other circumstances would be a perfectly normal outcome for a penalty kick would turn out to be the hot topic of the coming days or weeks. Questions would be raised, as they have been in the past, about the transparency of loan deals from the Big Three to other clubs in the league. People would accuse both club and the youngster of corruption, and extrapolate that into the whole state of Portuguese football.

Should a player on loan be able to play against the club who loaned them? Absolutely, if you consider the professionalism of most (let’s say all) players. Surely playing well and even scoring against the club who loaned them is actually a motivation for the player who was told he wasn’t good enough for the team just yet. The club who loaned him will certainly want the player to play as much as possible and against tough opposition (and that includes the club itself, seeing as it’s rare a player leaves on loan to a better club), it gives them a better chance to see the player prove his worth. And to top it off the club who actually has him for the season will definitely need him in that tough game most of all.

Unfortunately we do not live in a world, or a footballing world, that assumes transparency and accepts that the players’ professionalism is above clubs’ rivalries and ambitions. So perhaps there should be a public clause in every player’s loan contract preventing him of playing against his parent club, thus removing even the possibility of a controversy.

But wouldn’t that be counter-productive to the whole idea of the loan? A prospect like Tozé wouldn’t play for two matches a season (or more, in the eventuality of Cup ties). Estoril wouldn’t be able to field one of their best assets in those very difficult matches, which would actually also spark the anger of Porto’s rivals because the northerners would be playing against a weakened side; even Porto, not considering the short term outcome, would certainly concede that they want to see their loaned youngsters play as many matches as possible.

So in the end, we don’t need to change the rules; what we need to change is the backwards mentality that affects this and most other areas of Portuguese football, areas that have nothing to do with what’s going on inside the minds of the twenty-two men running up and down the field. “I know that if Tozé missed it would raise a number of suspicions”, said Estoril manager José Couceiro after the match, “But we already know this is the way we live.”

 Surprise packages continue to mount pressure on the big boys

Another great result for Paços de Ferreira, this time at Alvalade where they managed to get a point even after Sérgio Oliveira’s sending off. Along with Vitória SC’s form (they won again and were even in first place for a day) and Belenenses overachieving season, this has so far been an exciting league. Last year’s surprises Rio Ave and Estoril are perhaps not coping all that well with their European status and mid-week games, but the aforementioned three all find themselves meddling between the big boys in the top spots of the table.

Unfortunately for them, the scoring only really counts in May, and by then it’s very probable that the historically bigger clubs will have the upper hand with the experience and quality within the squads. But if even one of these early season disrupters can keep it up and finish in that coveted third place that grants access to the Champions League playoff, whoever gets left out has got a lot of soul searching to do.

Benfica so far seem un-phased and remain top, but if by chance the champions fall out of the top three, it could mean the end of the Jorge Jesus era. It’s unlikely that any of his counterparts at Sporting or Porto will have that fate if they finish below third, both being in their first years at their clubs, but the absence of Champions League will harm them anyway, forcing them to sell and inhibiting them to invest heavily on new faces. Something to think about during the international break.

Santos keeps innovating

Speaking of international break, Fernando Santos surprised once again with the recalling of Hélder Postiga & José Bosingwa along with the inclusion of Raphael Guerreiro & Tiago Gomes in his most recent call-up. While the debuts of the two left-backs is easily explained by the absence of Fabio Coentrão due to injury and his two regular deputies Eliseu and Vitorino Antunes, the returns of Postiga and Bosingwa mean a couple of different things.

Firstly, calling Bosingwa was another move in the detachment from the previous manager, because it was due to a row between Paulo Bento and the right-back that saw the Trabzonspor man being left out from the Seleção in recent years; but on the other hand, bringing Postiga back means that the detachment wasn’t just for detachment sake but rather as an attempt of really finding the best available, seeing as the Deportivo striker could be counted as one of Paulo Bento’s favourites.

Of course, if Portugal had other credible options upfront, maybe Postiga wouldn’t have been called up. Even with the return of Danny under Santos, the National Team’s main concern continues to be the lack of a real marksman, if you discount the current Ballon d’Or winner, who hopefully will be there to save the day again on Friday against Armenia.

Talent Radar Player of the Week

With justice, Tozé takes the cake this week. After already scoring the goal that would win the match for Estoril last week, this time the 21 year-old was on the spotlight again. After a very good performance on Thursday in Moscow, there came the performance against Porto and the goal that, if not for a very late equalizer, would have seen him win the match against his childhood club.

He is proving to be the prospect everyone expects him to be, but often that is the case with players who then aren’t really able to take that last step and make it in the big stage. His pace and skill are typical for his age, but his intelligence and awareness (both in evidence as he won the penalty in Sunday’s match), as well as the composure shown to put the ball in the net with that amount of pressure, are all good signs that Tozé is coming of age at Estoril.

Written by Filipe Ribeiro

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