It seems a long time ago since Porto swept all before them year after year in Portugal and a deep run in European competition was the norm for the Blue and Whites.
As well as the likelihood that Porto will soon be experiencing a fourth straight season without silverware of any sort, the club’s financial malaise has only added to the downbeat mood at the Estádio do Dragão.
But are Porto really in such an irrecuperable position? Jack Flanagan, a keen follower of Portuguese football and a Porto fan, argues all is not lost and that there is a way back for the Dragons, even it if means taking a leaf out of the enemy’s book…
Life is tough as a Portista right now. Porto are unbeaten in five matches, yes, but they have won only one of those five games, at home to Belenenses. The three-point gap to Benfica with just four games to go is recoverable, of course. If football wasn’t a sport where anything could happen, it wouldn’t be a sport millions follow so attentively.
Although the Estádio da Luz is very much a fortress in modern times, Benfica still have to play Vitória Guimarães at home, who will give them a tough game. Boavista at the Bessa will also make things hard for the reigning champions. On the other hand, even if Benfica drop points in the next few games, Porto really need to win their final four matches to maximise their chances of winning the league. Given that a tricky trip to Madeira to face Marítimo is still to come, along with Porto’s recent competitive record, you can forgive my pessimism, as a Porto fan, I hope.
Most of my pessimism regarding Porto is centred on their financial situation, which makes for ghastly viewing. Back in October 2016 it was reported that the club made a loss of approximately €58m in the past financial year. This has led to a prediction by the club that they will have to generate €116m in revenue from player sales at the end of this season to make up the financial imbalance.
With the recent confirmed signing of Óliver Torres for €20m, a whole range of player departures in the summer look likely. Put this into the context that Porto might have to endure yet another trophyless season in the meantime, and it is very easy to grow disheartened with the club’s recent mismanagement.
That said, I am ready to inject some hope into Porto’s future exploits, and to rationalise the doom-and-gloom surrounding the Dragões at present. Thomas More, the famed philosopher and author of “Utopia” once wrote that “the change of the word does not alter the matter”. Porto’s financial situation is ugly, no matter how you dress it, especially on first glance. €116m! How on earth?! The figure is so gross that it appears the only way Porto could wipe off the colossal debt in player sales is through the departure of a string of big names – players like André Silva, Danilo Pereira and Ruben Neves, for example, who have considerable ability and high potential.
Is this necessary, though? Are the Dragons really on the verge of losing all their star players? I’m not convinced. Porto have a host of players on the books who are out on loan that they could sell for considerable upside. Ricardo Pereira could well be sold for a fair sum after a superb couple of years on loan at Nice in France. Vincent Aboubakar has a €10m option-to-buy clause installed in his loan contract at Besiktas. This is just touching the surface.
Juan Fernando Quintero, Adrián López, Alberto Bueno, Suk, Diego Reyes… remember them, not to mention Moussa Marega. These are all players that have never made much of an impression in a Porto shirt but who have found first-team football outside the ‘Invicta’. They would almost certainly attract suitors.
Even if this amalgamation of individuals doesn’t make up the difference for Porto, there are without question fringe players that the club could sell for considerable fees without implicating the quality of the squad too much – Hector Herrera, Laurent Depoitre and Miguel Layún are three pretty good examples. Remember it was only just over a year ago that Giannelli Imbula left for Stoke City for a fee upwards of €20m. The club has flexibility with regards to player sales, for sure.
Let’s say for argument’s sake, however, that Porto end up losing several squad players, such as Herrera and Layún, and also have to sell one or two key players, such as Brahimi and Neves. Will these sales definitively impact the club’s competitive success?
Beating them at their own game…
Perhaps the best way of answering that question is to peer our heads down south, across the River Douro and down the A1 motorway to the capital, Lisbon.
Porto could well do with taking a leaf out of Benfica’s book this summer, and their masterful approach to continued player departures in recent times. In the past two seasons, Benfica have lost Renato Sanches to Bayern, Nicolás Gaitán to Atlético, Gonçalo Guedes to PSG, João Cancelo, André Gomes and Rodrigo to Valencia. Even stalwart right-back Maxi Pereira left the club to join Porto.
That’s not all. I’m just listing the big names. The extensive list of player departures in the past two seasons totals a staggering 24 individuals who have left the Eagles. Yet Benfica are sitting pretty at the top of the league, in the final of the Portuguese Cup, and have made a decent fist of their Champions League campaigns in the last two seasons. Benfica have managed to lose key players without sacrificing competitive success.
When you bear in mind the amount of revenue Porto could accumulate from selling fringe players and those currently out on loan, it is highly unlikely Porto will have the same degree of key player turnover Benfica have experienced in the last 24 months. Even if it comes to the point where Porto must sell a couple of key players, who’s to say that will mean Porto are sacrificing competitive success?
A problem… or an opportunity
The overriding point here is that Porto still have the potential to win trophies in the near future despite their perilous finances. If anything, the club’s financial situation invites them to get rid of deadwood that is currently holding the team back.
Smarter player investments than those made in recent years are needed for Porto to have success on the pitch, for sure, but the club has made great use of the transfer market in the not-so-distant past.
It wasn’t long ago that everyone was looking to Porto for advice on how to recruit. Recapturing this spirit, and with an eye to one or two emerging talents in their academy, notably Rui Pedro, the future could well be rosy. The club’s coffers are a concern, of course, but it can be managed, and there’s no saying Porto cannot emerge even stronger next season, especially when we look at how Benfica have rode out player losses in recent times.
By Jack Flanagan
Related: Porto pave way for fire sale