João Mário has joined Benfica on a free transfer after reportedly cancelling his contract with Inter Milan to complete his move to the Eagles, ahead of interest from former club Sporting.
The want-away Portugal international signs a five-year-deal with the Estádio da Luz outfit after months of speculation linking him to a permanent switch back to Sporting, where he won the Primeira Liga just last season whilst on loan from the 'Nerazzurri'.
Instead, after the confirmation of his Inter contract termination coming on Monday, João Mário becomes Benfica’s first major summer signing, reuniting with former manager Jorge Jesus.
A mainstay under Rúben Amorim in Sporting’s historic Primeira Liga conquest last season, ‘the Green & Whites’ were thought to be measuring up their financial power to swoop for their former player on a permanent basis, as the 28-year-old entered the final year of his contract in Italy.
Sporting’s hierarchy were said to have failed to meet Inter’s valuation before Benfica became interested in their bitter rival’s midfield target.
An anti-rival clause stood as an obstacle in the deal to take João Mário to the other half of Lisbon, however. But coming into the new week, the Eagles and the Euro 2016 champion appear to have found a loophole.
As per widespread reports, João Mário bought out the remainder of his contract himself, matching the €7-million-valuation Inter held over his head, before penning a five-year-deal with his new club, Benfica.
Jesus’ men, now temporarily headed by Rui Costa as president, are thought to have given the €7 million back to the player in contract fees, avoiding, for now, the stipulated €30 million anti-rival clause Sporting initially had in place with Inter when selling the 28-year-old back in 2016.
Sporting, who have since switched their attentions towards Famalicão’s Manuel Ugarte, have confirmed in a club statement that they will challenge the legality of the clause breach, with Inter standing firm against the Lions after issuing a statement of their own.
By Patrick Ribeiro