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?
A: I think in the immediate future, Palhinha will be the first to go. Very much suited to the Premier league with his physicality and ball winning skills. I could see him at Leicester if Ndidi was to leave in the summer. Pedro Goncalves and his 14 goals have opened up an appetite for him, he is a great footballer and has been linked with some Premier Legue top 6 teams. I personally think he needs another year with the added sense of responsibility before making a move.
In 5 years time, I would expect you to be seeing Nuno Mendes, our biggest prospect at 18 years old playing for a top European club. He is everything you want in a left wing back. Matheus Nunes was recently linked to Newcastle and his box to box style will undoubtedly suit the Premier League at a club below the top 6. Tiago Tomas at 18 is an exciting striker with lots of intensity and an eye for goal, he still needs to be polished but this season has proved his willingness to work for the team, his speed and his determination as key assets. I could easily see him in the Premier League in a couple of years, Arsenal have recently been linked with him.
Daniel Braganca, was voted the best player in Portugal's second division last year for a good reason. At 21 he is a great footballer, he still needs to work on his off the ball and a move to maybe the Spanish league would suit him better than England one day but you will struggle to find a better passer/technical player than him in Portugal.
Ultimately, I see Goncalo Inacio at 19 as a centre back for the future of Portugal alongside Ruben Dias. Comfortable on the ball, great at reading the game and anticipation. He has been very impressive and without a doubt one day you'll watch him in the Premier League maybe even next to Ruben Dias at Man City. I think it's hard to predict whether teams will purchase some of our players due to them playing in a 343 system, which is very rarely replicated across Europe so some teams will be skeptical to spend large amounts of money. On the flipside of this is that with Bruno's impact in the Premier League and Sporting's current form it will bring attention. I still think some teams will wait to see what sort of season Sporting have in Europe next year before spending large especially during the pandemic
Q: If you had to be bold, will you win the league this season?
A: I love our manager's answers when he gets this question every week, our ambition is to win the next game and we consider ourselves candidates to win the next game if we stick to our core principles. That's the mentality all of us as fans have, we are delighted with the team considering we do not have the biggest budget in the league and are doing it in large with a core of homegrown talent. 10 points sounds a lot on paper but we still need to play Braga, Benfica and Porto away, that's 9 points all that could easily be lost. We have Porto in 2 weeks which will be a key game in the title race. But as mentioned I think our aim is to win every game as it comes and I don't think there's much more ambition than that.
Want to give your thoughts more directly rather than avoiding the question like the one above? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!