Casa Pia squad and coach analysis and prospects for 2022/23

Back in the top division after 83 years, Casa Pia have brought a well organised team with some standout individuals all fighting for exciting young manager Filipe Martins to the Primeira Liga this season.

After securing a place in the second division on a technicality two years ago “The Geese” (Os Gansos) have not looked back. 

Background to the back management

At the end of the 2019/20 season Casa Pia found themselves in the relegation spots and in financial difficulty. They weren’t the only club in financial difficulty as Vitória de Setúbal also faced relegation. Casa Pia president Victor Franco had to make a choice: accept foreign investment, or accept a relegation forfeit and quite possibly condemn the club to forever play in the district leagues.

The members accepted the creation of the Sociedade Desportiva Unipessoal por Quotas (SDUQ) business setup and they found a partner in US businessman Robert Platek who has also invested in Spezia (Italy) and Sonderjysk Elitesport (Denmark). His investment has allowed Casa Pia to develop their stadium as well as build a new headquarters, something the club has been missing for 100 years.

“I don’t like going up elevators. I prefer to go up the stairs and stay there for a while,” Victor Franco has said. “It’s heavy, but for a club with so much past, it’s important not to mortgage the future.”

Clever recruitment

Unlike other clubs of a similar size in Portugal, Casa Pia refused to be turned into a ‘warehouse for foreign players’. Instead, they would look to young players from the lower leagues as well as experienced pros who have played at the top level in Portugal. Their young star player was Jota Silva whose performances last season earned him a move to Vitória de Guimarães, but there are plenty of key players still at the club.

Casa Pia captain Vasco Fernandes

Captain Vasco Fernandes is one of many players at the club who were brought in for their experience. Ricardo Batista (ex-Sporting, 35 years old and elected the best goalkeeper of the second division for four consecutive months), Fernando Varela (ex-Estoril, 34 years old)  and Afonso Taira (ex-Estoril and B-SAD) have Primeira Liga experience, but it is Fernandes who has stood out most so far; he is key to the way Filipe Martins likes to play.

Pushing up from the back three into a defensive midfield position, Fernandes has the passing ability to start all types of moves whether it’s direct passes between the lines or searching balls to the wide areas. He’s also excelled defensively too and currently has blocked the most shots in the league.

Alongside him in the back line are João Nunes and Nermin Zolotic, both who, like Vasco Fernandes, have ranked highly in the league for defensive contributions. João Nunes was a product of Benfica’s academy before seeking first-team football abroad in Poland, Greece and most recently Hungary. Despite no Primeira Liga experience, Nunes has been exceptional in Casa Pia’s back line.

Rock-solid defence

Perhaps the most impressive thing we’ve seen from this Casa Pia team has been how good they’ve been defensively. They have conceded the fewest goals in the league this season, letting in just 4 in 9 games. In comparison, Benfica have conceded 5, Porto 6, Braga 9 and Sporting 12.

This is the result of Filipe Martins’ organisation and conservative yet effective pressing style. The attackers are quick to shape up and start the press after losing possession whilst the midfielders back them up quickly. By not overexerting themselves or being too aggressive they allow the opposition to keep the ball but force them to play out wide. It’s then they anticipate the move and pounce, often intercepting balls played out wide. 

Interview with Diogo Boa Alma, Casa Pia sporting director

The width of the team is created by the marauding wingbacks with Lucas Soares on the right and Leonardo Lelo on the left. Both of these players, like Jota Silva, are examples of the excellent scouting Casa Pia have done in the lower leagues in Portugal. Leonardo Lelo perhaps is the more polished than the two despite being just 22 years old. His displays this season have been nothing short of remarkable. His skill on the ball and pace have resulted in several of Casa Pia’s goals this season. Breaking into the Portuguese U-21 team this season, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Lelo at a big-3 club next year.  

With the wingbacks creating the width, the wide attackers cut inside to try and find spaces in the box alongside the striker. Here we find the jewels in Casa Pia’s Crown. Longball Futebol favourite Rafael Martins has been brought in to lead the line. We’ve in the past described him as a pit-bull who is tenacious in the box. More recently young Brazilian forward Clayton has been given an opportunity and his extra pace has made the attack even more dangerous.

Wide threats from Nigeria and Japan

Either side of him are Nigerian speedster Saviour Godwin, who was part of the team that gained promotion last season, and new summer signing Takahiro Kunimoto, a.k.a ‘Kuni’.

Having started his career in his native Japan, Kuni moved to South Korea where he won two championships and was regarded as one of the best players in the league. However, earlier this year he was convicted of drink driving and his contract was terminated by Jeonbuk Hyundai. Casa Pia saw an opportunity and pounced, and have arguably secured the signing of a calibre of player they may not have been able to have otherwise. His passing has been, at times, incredible to watch carving open defences with a wide range of pin-point deliveries.

Godwin is the more direct of the two and relishes a duel. Despite having vastly different skill-sets the front three have clicked together beautifully under the guidance of Filipe Martins, who specifies where he wants each of his attackers to be in the box when there is a crossing opportunity. This attention to detail from Martins has paid off. Of the 9 goals scored by Casa Pia this season, the front three have scored 6 of them.

In midfield Afonso Taira offers defensive stability with tough tackling and hard work. He has done well to keep his place in the team after the signing of Cameroonian international Yan Eteki from Granada, formerly of Sevilla. Filipe Martins likes to balance the midfield with a more creative player, and Romário Baró on loan from Porto has been an exciting signing. After a disappointing loan spell at Estoril last season, Baró still has a lot to prove. His talent is undeniable though and in Filipe Martin’s system, and under his guidance, I’m hoping we can see the best of him.

Coach Filipe Martins on the up and up

Casa Pia manager Filipe Martins

Throughout this dive into Casa Pia’s squad, and the individuals who have excelled so far this season, I have repeatedly come back to the same point: it is through Filipe Martins’ coaching that we are seeing the individuals excel. He is, without a doubt, one of the most exciting managers we’ve seen in a while in the Primeira Liga. Whereas in previous seasons managers like Bruno Pinheiro and Rafa Soares had success through assembling good squads and putting out good XIs, with Filipe Martins we are also getting tactical finesse.

When asked about his success with Casa Pia last season he replied humbly: “I was fortunate to be chosen by a great club, with a unique history in Portuguese football, and by an investment group that believed in what it saw. Today we are reaping the fruits of all that many people have worked for hours and hours to achieve. We have created a very good team on a technical level, but also on a human level.”

I think this response from Martins sums up Casa Pia perfectly. This is a club that does things right. Despite financial backing from a foreign investor, the club is staying true to its roots. They have a smart president, an exceptional young manager and a squad that has been put together pragmatically.

I’m sure they will stay in the top division this season. Perhaps it is too early to consider the European spots, but whatever happens, keep an eye on Casa Pia.

By Barney Carter-Phillips