FC Porto’s 2018/19 team is being completely dismembered, leaving the board and coach Sérgio Conceição eager to replenish the squad. So far, the departures are official of Felipe, to Atletico Madrid, and Militão, who was confirmed in April to be joining Real Madrid in the summer.
Goalkeeper Iker Casillas is to retire, while right-back Alex Telles, midfielder Héctor Herrera, winger Yacine Brahimi and forward Moussa Marega are also all expected to leave the Dragão, necessitating numerous incursions into the transfer market.
Both Brazilian centre-backs sold were starters in the Invicta’s team defence throughout the season and thus it is necessary to find someone to fill their boots. Right now, there are not many options in the team to replace them. Chancel Mbemba might be one of them. He did not have many opportunities last year and experienced injury problems, but showed quality when called to play. Plus, he might be motivated if his spell in the AFCON with DR Congo goes well.
Another chance might be given to the youngsters from the under 19 team, that won the UEFA Youth League and have played regularly in the B team, especially the Diogos – Leite and Queiros – who the fans have been calling to be given time in the first team.
Nevertheless, after the injury that Pepe suffered in the UEFA Nations League game against Switzerland, that will leave him out of action for a while, Porto certainly needs to reinforce that sector. Eliaquim Mangala seemed to be keen to return to the Dragão, but allegedly he failed the medical tests – not surprising, after being on the sidelines at Manchester City for so long.
The ful-lback position also needs attention, especially if Alex Telles leaves, which is likely to happen. Right-back seems to be sorted: the club has already announced the signing of Renzo Saravia from Racing Avellaneda, an Argentinian international who will present competition for winter signing Manafá.
Possible replacements for captain Herrera
In the midfield, it is likely that captain Héctor Herrera will leave, since he has apparently an agreement with Atletico Madrid too. Porto is eyeing two players to fill his position: Lea Siliki, from Stade Rennais, and Victor Guzman, another Mexican, playing in Pachuca.
The first one is a 22-year-old French footballer of Cameroonian descendance, and Porto has offered €6 million for him. In purely statistical terms, his numbers are not exactly an improvement to Hector’s: he has played 24 games for Rennes last season, completing 4 assists and scoring no goals. Herrera has assisted 3 times, but netted nine goals – quite apart from his excellent all-round contribution. Siliki has a passing accuracy of 75% compared to the Mexican’s 85%, according to WhoScored.
Guzman, on the other hand, looks like much more of a player who would fill the boots of his fellow Mexico team-mate. He is 24 years old and this season, in 40 appearances in Liga MX, he has scored 12 goals and assisted 7. Not bad for a midfielder, even though Ligue 1 is more competitive than the CONCACAF league.
Wanted: new centre-forward
If Porto is able to sort this position, they should probably also prioritize the attack. Even if Marega ends up staying, which is highly doubtful, the team should be on the lookout for more attacking options. One of the main struggles of the Dragons last season was the lack of finishing despite multiple chances created. Although Tiquinho Soares scored 22 goals in all competitions, a reliable undisputed starting number 9 is something that Porto has lacked for quite some time.
There are many names on the table, but three seemed to have gained relevance in the last few days: Pedro, from Fluminense, Cape Verdean striker Zé Luís, who plays in Spartak Moscow and finally the Brazilian Roger Guedes, who is at the moment in China, in Shandong Luneng.
Looking at their ages, it seems obvious the option for Zé Luís appears to have little upside. He is 28 years old and although coach Conceição is familiar with the player, from their time together at Braga, it smacks of a wrong move when you are trying to rejuvenate your frontline. Last year Zé Luís scored 14 goals and got two assists for the Russian club, but he seems to lack passing accuracy, registering only 65%.
Pedro, on the other hand, even though he performs in the Brazilian league, has a passing accuracy of 85%. The forward has already scored 3 goals in 5 appearances in this season, that has just begun, of the Brasileirão. At 21 years of age, he definitely seems like a more viable prospect.
There is also Roger Guedes, who last year left Atletico Mineiro to join Chinese club Shandong Luneng. The player has not adapted well to the Asian country and he is eager to leave, either to go back to his home country or to move to Europe. Shandong Luneng is open for a loan with an option to buy and it is possible that Porto chooses that path. He is currently 22 years old and during his short stint in China he scored 5 goals in 15 games.
Roger and Pedro could be an interesting partnership upfront, one that could offer more creativity and dynamism than the current options of Marega, Soares and Aboubakar. However, if the club instead decides to splash 5 million euros or more in signing Zé Luís it surely will be another catastrophic and probably meaningless signing, that will waste money and try the patience of the fans.
Finally, following Iker Casillas’ health problem and his indecision as to whether he continues his career or not, Porto is looking for a goalkeeper to replace him. After names such as Keylor Navas and Anthony Lopes were thrown onto the table, now the latest name to show up is… Gianluigi Buffon.
Well, some years ago it would be more unlikely for Porto to sign such a world class, albeit ageing name, than for Atlanta Falcons to be NFL Superbowl favourites. However, the good impacts made by veteran goalkeeping legends Júlio César at Benfica, and then Casillas at Porto, may have changed perceptions. Although Buffon is 41 years old, it doesn’t seem completely implausible.
Nonetheless, questions arise whether this would be a profitable move for any of the parts, or if Gigi should just hang up his boots or head up to MLS. No disrespect to the legend, but some Porto supporters are not looking with positive eyes on the perspective of turning the club into a retirement home!
by Jorge Costa