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Portuguese Column: The gap between big and small continues

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.

Porto Column

The gap between big and small continues

With just a week to go until the most anticipated match of the season so far, everyone was trying to just cruise control this weekend. It ended up being Vitória SC who dropped the points in the Minho derby at Braga, with Porto taking the most advantage of that to grab the second place ahead of their home battle against the champions. Both giants plus Sporting had an uneventful round, with the latter getting past Boavista with minimal fuss ahead of an important midweek clash in London against Chelsea. The fact that the Big Three can so easily wave off opposition with half a mind on the next match is rather telling of the situation in the Portuguese league, unfortunately.

There are very good managers in Portugal. There are very good players in Portugal. And Portuguese players too, albeit not enough – but that would lead us to a whole different argument. But the truth is that perhaps there aren’t enough very good clubs in Portugal. Apart from the usual suspects, there is virtually no other team that can pose a real threat or realistically dream of a title shot. There have been historical exceptions, but Belenenses and Boavista, the only two other clubs to have ever won the national title outside the three bigger ones, are still in the first tier and are usually good teams (both having had their ups and downs, sometimes literally), but are in no way shape or form a current threat to the status quo. There are good clubs who pose a more constant threat in more recent years, such as Braga, Vitória Guimarães or Marítimo, and then a couple of more sporadic cases such as Estoril or Paços de Ferreira, but not one of these is ultimately capable of rattling the cart more than a few good results here and an honorable position there.

Arguably this is the case practically everywhere else in Europe and even the World, but out of the top 10 UEFA leagues, nowhere else have only three teams dominated the entirety of the domestic league’s history the way the Portuguese Big Three have, except in the Ukraine where there’s a similar case with Shakhtar and Dynamo Kiev. This is evidence of a gap that has shown no real signs of tightening over the decades.

There isn’t a sure and safe solution for this, nor are we arguing that we have one, but this is nevertheless preoccupying in a footballing climate that has increasingly poorer attendance rates in stadiums and financial health in clubs. This benefits no one; not the small clubs who can’t seem to find a way to compete with the big boys, nor those big boys who season after season monopolize all the domestic trophies like it’s nothing but then find it hard to attract talent to a league where there’s only really three teams who look like they could go somewhere in international stages.

The newly instated board at the Portuguese League association is reportedly keen on working towards improving the situation, and hopefully they can find a way to come up with a solution that has so far eluded everyone involved with football in this little corner of the old continent.

Loan agreements conundrum again

This weekend brought another controversy in something we’ve discussed in a previous column, concerning agreements regarding players who go from one to another who then play each other. Belenenses didn’t field Deyverson nor Miguel Rosa, both former Benfica players who have moved to the blues from Belém. In this case, the players aren’t even loaned, although the clubs apparently have a buy-back clause in place and so that link was enough to make the Belenenses board prevent the players from appearing in the match.

If the team was already in trouble facing the champions, those troubles were only enlarged with the absence of the pair. It’s a shame that these deals still happen and this only serves as yet another way the gap between big and small clubs discussed in the previous segment is showing no signs of closing.

A very special derby

A gleam of hope in the otherwise dark path towards closing the lacuna in Portuguese football has been the recent year’s growing of the Minho teams. SC Braga and Vitória SC battled it out this weekend, rather effusively at times since the teams ended up with ten and nine men respectively after three sending offs. The sharing of the spoils ended up benefiting no one since Braga would have enjoyed that home win and Vitória fell to third place. But the quality, structure, work and potential is there for both outfits to finally break the Big Three hegemony.

Whether they can ultimately do it or not is hopefully possible, but unfortunately not very likely. Though if Sérgio Conceição and Rui Vitória keep being given the time and resources they need, who knows what surprises the future might bring.

Talent Radar Player of the Week

Carlos Mané is starting to become more prominent in Sporting’s squad. The youngster showed his class again this week in Sporting’s triumph away to Boavista, scoring the goal that effectively killed the home team’s hopes, making it 0-2 in the 56th minute. The winger has been earning a starting shout in the last few matches and keeps improving his game, thus earning this week’s recognition.

Written by Filipe Ribeiro

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