This week has been a disaster for Liga NOS teams in the Europa League. Braga, Porto, Sporting and Benfica, undoubtedly the four strongest clubs in Portugal, were all knocked out of the competition after first-leg results had seemingly given all four a decent chance of making progress.

Unfortunately, it is more evidence of an alarming slide in the quality of Portugal’s top division. It was not so long ago that Porto lifted the world’s ultimate prize in club football, José Mourinho’s Dragons winning the Champions League in 2004. One year earlier Porto had triumphed in Europe’s secondary competition and would do so again in 2011, while Sporting, Braga and Benfica (twice) also made the Europa League final between 2005 and 2014. 

In the first decade and a half of the new millennium, Portugal’s top division was considered an incubator, even a finishing school, for some of the world’s biggest footballing talents: Hulk, Di Maria, James Rodríguez, Falcao, David Luiz, Ederson, Oblak, as well as a smattering of top-class local talent such as Rui Patrício, William Carvalho, Ricardo Carvalho and Fábio Coentrão to name just a few.

Those days seem long gone. So why has this unfortunate metamorphosis taken place? Here are five reasons that help explain the decline of Portuguese club football. 

1. Money

Like so many things in life, it mainly comes down to money. The obvious cause of Portugal’s increasing inability to compete at the top of the European game is the huge financial disparity among the traditional football nations. You can even argue money is also the root cause of the other reasons listed below. Never before has there been such a chasm in wealth between the richest leagues and the rest.

Shortly before Porto won the Champions League in 2004 José Mourinho commented: “The Champions League is not a competition for Portuguese clubs”. A mixture of clever scouting, brilliant coaching, a touch of luck with the draw, and he duly disproved his own theory. But in reality he didn’t and he was absolutely right. Porto’s Champions League victory in 2004 was an anomaly – it was the only time in the last 24 years that a club outside of Spain, England, Italy or Germany has lifted the biggest prize. As things stand, it is very difficult to see anyone other than the so-called super-clubs from winning it again any time soon.

 

2. End of third-party ownership

Yet even when the disparity in wealth was huge, Portugal found a way to compete, combining its innate flair and passion for the game with clever stratagems, one of which was the expert use of third-party ownership. Unable to offer the same kind of transfer fees or wages as their European counterparts, Portugal’s top clubs part-bought players with the help of external investment funds, thus enticing top talents to these shores.

While it would only ever be a temporary arrangement, the players in question knew if they performed well, bigger and better things (or at least more money) would come their way, and Portuguese clubs would also benefit in both a sporting and financial sense. When UEFA outlawed TPO, Portugal largely lost its ability to attract top talent.

 

3. No longer top dogs in scouting 

Similarly, another stratagem that enabled Portugal to be ahead of the game was the excellent scouting networks of its top clubs, especially FC Porto, and especially in South America. Benefiting from the linguistic and cultural links to Brazil, and also investing in neighbouring countries, Portuguese clubs would often make sure they got first dibs on the best talent coming out of the American continent.

Unfortunately, the rest of the world caught up, again largely down to the immense financial resources available allowing them to supersede the scouting set-ups of Portugal’s clubs and even if they don’t get there first, to offer wages that will entice the player in question to the EPL, La Liga, Bundesliga or Serie A rather than the Liga NOS.

 

4. Stripped of academy products

The end of TPO and the curtailing of the steady stream of young talented South American footballers had the corollary of clubs investing more in their academies. Indeed, this at first seemed a highly positive consequence of having to tighten the purse strings, especially in the wake of the Euro 2016 triumph in which youngsters such as Renato Sanches and João Mário played a big role. However, the massive discrepancy in wages even Portugal’s top clubs can offer in comparison to their European counterparts has seen Portugal’s best young players leave their clubs at an increasingly early age, recent examples being Renato Sanches, João Félix, Diogo Dalot and Francisco Trincão. While in the past the best young players in Portugal would stay until their early to mid twenties, it is now commonplace for these stars of the future to complete a transfer abroad while still teenagers, as was the case of the four players cited.  

If the best young players keep leaving, it is hardly surprising their teams will be weakened.

 

5. Bad vibes in Portuguese football

Walking back home from the Estádio da Luz tonight, I was interested to listen to Antena Um journalist José Nunes lamenting the general state of the game in Portugal as regards the constant vitriolic verbal attacks between the top clubs, never-ending accusations of corruption and favouritism to x, y and z from referees, and general “infighting while the house is burning down”. Some will claim, somewhat justifiably, that that is just the way Portuguese football has always been, but it certainly seems, perhaps exacerbated by the social networks, that the men running Portugal’s major clubs are more interested in getting one over their bitter rivals than addressing the underlying problems that prevent the game from moving forward in the country.

Will tonight serve as a wake-up call and change this state of affairs? As they say in Portugal: “É melhor esperar sentado”. Or in plain English: “Don’t hold your breath”.

by Tom Kundert 

Related: Braga bow out of Europa League after diappointing defeat to Rangers

Related: Porto punished 3-1 by Bayer Leverkusen in limp Europa League exit

Related: Sporting suffer terrible time in Turkey

Related: Benfica head for exit after being edged by Shakhtar

 

Comments (10)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

It's funny now that all the top 3 in Portugal historically and now Braga have all fallen out at the same time, nobody can laugh or claim they are the only good club representing Portugal.

Losing to a scottish team is bad enough at least Porto...

It's funny now that all the top 3 in Portugal historically and now Braga have all fallen out at the same time, nobody can laugh or claim they are the only good club representing Portugal.

Losing to a scottish team is bad enough at least Porto lost to a German team which we all know in general that German teams are stronger.

Still when we look, Porto losing 1-3 at home is sad.

Sporting end game management was just appalling beyond belief they literally threw the game away in the 90min and that 119min penalty was so embarrassing to concede.

Braga bottling it when they had a 2-0 away from home at one point against a Scottish team... when Porto and Braga cant beat Scottish holy damn that's just... a loss for words.

Benfica winning 3-1 and still drawing the game at home, incredible that one game was won and that was Sporting of all teams to do it.

I mean all of this are just terrible to look at. It wont be long until Portugal 1st spot is a champion league qualifier and no longer a guaranteed spot.

Portuguese league is just a feeder one now.

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Rangers has played Portuguese clubs 18 times in European football. Won 10, drawn 5 and lost 3.

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Well it was an abysmal week (and season) for Portuguese clubs in Europe, no doubt about it. Particularly given the fact that after the first leg results, all 4 teams stood a good chance of going through. Add to this the fact that Porto didn't...

Well it was an abysmal week (and season) for Portuguese clubs in Europe, no doubt about it. Particularly given the fact that after the first leg results, all 4 teams stood a good chance of going through. Add to this the fact that Porto didn't even qualify for the CL group stage and Benfica were disappointing yet again in the CL, and it has been a season to forget in Europe for Portuguese clubs. Nevertheless, I would argue that we shouldn't look at it as all doom and gloom, and must simply look forward from here. Shit happens in life, and sometimes it just doesn't go for you, but this doesn't mean that everything is terrible. As we also know, things change super quickly in football. Last season Porto got to the last 8 of the CL, and Benfica very nearly got to the last 4 of the Europa league (a clear offside goal knocked us out in the quarters). Therefore, next season could well be different again, we'll just have to wait and see. The thing is, it's typical of Portuguese fans to perennially see the glass as half empty, and this is essentially part of the problem we are in currently, it's often mostly about attitude in football and I think this is the case here.

Sure the big 3 in Portugal look weaker this season than in many years, and top players keep getting sold off quickly, which does make it more difficult for us to compete in Europe. But i also think a lot of this is down to attitude, and this can often be the main problem with Portuguese football: we are often lacking in enough positive attitude and self belief. Let me give an example, for the last couple of seasons things have actually looked far more competitive and unpredictable in European competitions than for many years. Ajax were on the brink of the CL final last season and Tottenham pipped them to the final. Either of these two teams being in the CL was a major surprise. This season, I have seen teams like Slavia Prague and Club Bruges go to places like the Nou Camp and the Bernabeu and put on strong performances and get positive results. Are you telling me that Slavia Prague or Bruges have more quality and talent than Benfica, Porto or even Sporting? No ways! It's just that perhaps they have a more positive attitude or take their European games more seriously and give 100% into them. We have seen with Benfica under Lage so far, not giving 100% into the European matches, and the results of this attitude have been clear to see. I think a problem with Portuguese football mentality (for many years already) is not having a positive enough attitude or not giving 100% effort at all times, and this remains the problem...the talent is there, I don't care what anyone says, Portuguese academies have been producing as much talent as any other countries in recent years.

And I think it's precisely in this young talent production where the solutions lie. Our league can't compete with other leagues when it comes to finance and ability to buy players for huge fees. But where we can certainly compete is with producing major young local talent. Benfica's Seixal academy is a good example for the rest of Portugal. We are producing some of the best young talent in the world. And if Porto and Sporting would follow suit more, and focus more on producing young talent for their main squad, rather than buying cut price, average quality foreign players, then I believe the results would improve. What our clubs have to find a way to do, is to hold on to the talent we produce for a lot longer, and not allow a constant repeat of the likes of Renato, Joao Felix, Rafael Leao etc, getting sold off immediately. If we can manage to do this, then the squads of our big three would be a lot more stable in the long run. To sum up, I think the talent is there in Portuguese football, what we need is a more positive attitude and self belief on the whole, and for our clubs to find a way of keeping hold of their talent for at least a few more years.

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I do not agree with the writer. This season was just pure bad lack. All 4 teams had tough opponents. Istanbul are top of Turkey, Rangers are a class act under Steven Gerard, Bayer Leverkusen and Shaktar are perennial Champions league knock-out...

I do not agree with the writer. This season was just pure bad lack. All 4 teams had tough opponents. Istanbul are top of Turkey, Rangers are a class act under Steven Gerard, Bayer Leverkusen and Shaktar are perennial Champions league knock-out teams. Its a shame we did not draw any of the weaker opposition. Any of our teams could have beaten any of the English or Italian sides. In the end of the day, just weird freakish bad luck.

Remember it was just during a year's period that big signings were made from Portugal like Jimenez, Felix, Trincao, Fernandes and Militao. And next summer likes of Seferovic, Danilo, Dias, Acuna, Pizzi, Marega, Rafa, Telles and Sequeira will definitely have their chance too so that next next summer Luis Diaz, Carlos Vinicius, Chiquinho, Ferro and Plata will get a crack to shine with the void the former players will have left.

Porto, Benfica, Sporting and especially Braga still have great quality squad players and emerging young talent.

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@Joao
Rangers and Celtic are massive clubs with big financial resources. Hardly embarrassing losing to one of these Scottish clubs. Porto also couldn’t beat Rangers in 2 matches.

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With the draining of talent it’s not a surprise. The FPF has done a great job the last decade cultivating the younger generations. But the game is global now, and the Liga is not that attractive. Clubs can’t say no to some of the transfer fees...

With the draining of talent it’s not a surprise. The FPF has done a great job the last decade cultivating the younger generations. But the game is global now, and the Liga is not that attractive. Clubs can’t say no to some of the transfer fees being offered, and youngsters are eager to prove themselves and build their “brand”. They are so many more attractive league either because of money, tv deals, or just flat out living conditions.

The Liga really needs to stop the nonsense and understand they’re missing (or even missed) a huge opportunity. If the likes of the big three got together and negotiated an over sea tv (or streaming) deal and got more eyes on the league it would of helped. The hype of Bruno Fernandes, Joao Felix, or even Trincão would have some people not interested in the league tune in. Clubs understand players as assets to be sold, but until they understand they can be an asset to attract more fans to the clubs, Portugal teams will stay in their own world.

The world had their eyes on Portugal for the 2004 Euro and it raised to the occasion. But sadly those feel good vibes have waned, the bickering and infighting has returned. I’m glad the bulk of the national team plays abroad, because honestly the domestic toxicity would sink it as well.

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What's wrong is simply having 10 class Z south Americans and others playing for the clubs and inserting a level z Portuguese among the starting 11........ Wake up Portuguese clubs wake up and watch What Nuno is doing and copy him!!!!! It's a...

What's wrong is simply having 10 class Z south Americans and others playing for the clubs and inserting a level z Portuguese among the starting 11........ Wake up Portuguese clubs wake up and watch What Nuno is doing and copy him!!!!! It's a shame it's disgusting........

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Only one reason: good players, laizy boys.

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Jorge Jesus made a career benching Portuguese talent in favour of second tier South Americans, have you forgotten? Where were the questions then?

Nuno Espirito Santo and Leonardo Jardim seek out Portuguese talent and bring them to France and...

Jorge Jesus made a career benching Portuguese talent in favour of second tier South Americans, have you forgotten? Where were the questions then?

Nuno Espirito Santo and Leonardo Jardim seek out Portuguese talent and bring them to France and England. Tells you alot about the people in high places and what they care for.

League is weakest ever, this is true. After Bruno F left there are no stars left. Joao Felix and Bruno F were the last. Pizzi and Marega are great Liga players but thats it, they wont go anywhere. Price is too high and they dont offer anything to other clubs outside Portugal.

Academies are still strong but they kids are being bought prematurely and shipped off to stall in development. Trincao, Renato, Joao Felix, Luri Medeiros, Rafael Leao, etc. ALL these players should still be in Portugal playing at the top 4 clubs but they are sold for millions (often way over priced) not due to them but the greedy clubs and agents.

Look no further than Bruno F who had to leave Portugal to play. He was part of the Boavista youth club but left for Serie B to play. Bernardo Silva didn't play in Portugal regularly, neither did Goncalo Guedes, Andre Gomes, Candeias was bought by Benfica then promptly abandoned. That is your Portuguese league in a nutshell.

Nothing will change, the teams dont care. Its all about the money and it always will be. Club presidents will say the right things on camera then promptly sell anything with a pulse.

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That’s all true but again Porto have been the only portuguese team to qualify past knockouts in the champions league than any other team in Portugal benfica can only battle in Europa league and still lost Porto and Benfica dominate the league...

That’s all true but again Porto have been the only portuguese team to qualify past knockouts in the champions league than any other team in Portugal benfica can only battle in Europa league and still lost Porto and Benfica dominate the league every year and because of the same reason no other teams have the financial backing to push any of them and the same goes to in Europe how are they supposed to compete without spending big like other clubs can and also Porto are very unlucky in Europe when we lose the referee is always biased to the other team like last year against Liverpool the refereeing was shocking but because we re the underdogs no one cares and this year again against Leverkusen some of the decisions were shocking so not only do we need backing financially and UEFA to do something about other clubs not spending a lot the refereeing needs to stop helping bigger clubs win I’ll get called biased but it’s true

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