Having been without a league title in 19 years, Sporting Lisbon have their sights firmly set on ending their drought in Portugal this season. Some big names have entered and left the Estádio José Alvalade in recent years but failed to pick up the elusive crown in Liga Nos. We speak to England based fan Dan Anjos about an unlikely success story in Europe.
Q: Sporting last won the league in 2001/02, give us the general feeling of being a fan in the last decade or so.
A: It has been tough being a sporting fan over the last decade. We haven’t won the league for 19 years now and the last decade has been filled with a few good memories like all our cup wins and the odd great result in Europe like when we knocked Man City out of the Europa league in 2012. We ended up losing the semi finals to Atleti with Kun Aguero still playing for Atleti at the time. I think the 15/16 season where we almost won the league was the closest we have had in the last decade of a title race. That was a great team with the likes of Rui Patricio, William Carvalho, Adrien, Joao Mario, Slimani and Bryan Ruiz. A lot of the starting 11 were part of Portugal’s success story.
For me one of the toughest things to digest has been the fact we have allowed Benfica and Porto to potentially surpass us when it comes to developing the best talents from the clubs academies. We were undisputedly the best club for youth in Portugal but Benfica and Porto have caught up in the last decade for sure. With Benfica going on to produce the likes of Bernardo Silva, Joao Cancelo, Joao Felix, Ruben Dias, Renato Sanches just to name a few. Porto obviously developing Andre Silva, Fabio Silva and Ruben Neves just to name a few. However, I guess you can still argue that we are yet the only club to produce 2 individual ballon d’or winners in Figo and Ronaldo.
You could even argue that the winning culture has been lost at Sporting, we would quite often bottle results whereas serial winners wouldn’t like Porto and Benfica.
Q: It wasn’t that long ago since the club was in real turmoil following an attacking on the training ground by fans, did you fear that the club would find it hard to fight back from such a difficult moment?
A: I was upset with what happened, and thinking about it today it still deeply upsets me the attitude of the people that carried out the attacks. I always felt like it would take time to be able to challenge for the title again and I was worried about Braga’s emergence and the gap to Porto and Benfica getting even bigger . Ultimately it’s still one of the darkest days of Sporting’s 115 years history
Q: Now sitting 10 points clear with 19 played, how has the club put itself in such a strong position despite losing the likes of Bruno Fernandes?
A: We could almost have an article alone based on this question, multiple factors but our Manager Ruben Amorim is the key. We signed him for 10m euros when he had just a few months of managing at the top level in Portugal. We deploy a 343 formation which has proved to be a formation that teams are struggling to deal with as it’s very unique in Portuguese football. I think the squad assembly was perfect this summer with approximately 30% of the squad very experienced players like Adan and Coates. The majority of the teams are players from 21 to 25 years old who are at their prime/entering their prime of their careers. We focused on signing players that have already played in the Portuguese league so there was no adaptation and also the realisation of how big Sporting is in Portugal.
The final section of the squad is players that have come through our academy. I think it’s helped that all our squad speak Spanish or Portuguese meaning that the changing room is very united. The majority of our squad is Sporting homegrown players and all Portuguese. We have recently bought Braga’s best player in Paulinho that will without a doubt be a great signing for us. In essence, we had a formation structure, we signed players in positions when we already didn’t have a great youngster coming through for example. The majority of our bench is homegrown players or very experienced players that do not expect to start every game. The club, fans, team seems the most united I have ever seen it.
Q: Are there any names that we should be keeping an eye out for who we could see make big money moves in the near future?