Has the January transfer window tipped the Portuguese title race in Benfica’s favour?

The winter transfer window has closed and Portugal’s major teams can breathe a sigh of relief given that, unlike most seasons, they have not lost one or more of their best players to high-profile clubs/leagues.

That is not to say that no activity took place, however, with Benfica, Porto and Sporting all fine-tuning their squads ahead of the second half of the season. With the tightest Primeira Liga title race in years playing out, the business done in the last few weeks could be a crucial factor deciding who will be crowned champions of Portugal in May.

So who “won” the transfer window in Portugal? PortuGOAL summarises the moves made. 

 

Sporting

Sitting pretty on top the league and in fine form, Sporting opted to make only minor adjustments to their squad. Centre-back Rafael Pontelo was brought in early in the window, but with the re-emergence of Eduardo Quaresma and the fact neither Gonçalo Inácio nor Ousmande Diomande – two highly sought-after assets – departed from Alvalade, it is unlikely the young Brazilian will see much playing time this season.

Sporting’s main signing ended up being central midfielder Koba Koindredi. The Djibouti-born Frenchman is something of a surprise transfer, costing €4 million from Estoril, but it is a position in which the Lions were lacking in numbers. Morten Hjulmand, Hidemasa Morita (currently away on Asian Cup duty with Japan) and Daniel Bragança were the only three natural options for the middle of the pitch, often necessitating attacker Pedro Gonçalves to drop deeper to slot into that position. Koindredi could prove useful, especially as coach Rúben Amorim does not appear to be a huge fan of Bragança.

The best news for Sporting was undoubtedly the non-fruition of the numerous rumours linking key players such as Viktor Gyökeres, Marcus Edwards, Inácio and Diomande with lucrative moves abroad.

Incoming players: Rafael Pontelo, Koba Koindredi

Outgoing players: Afonso Moreira, Rodrigo Ribeiro, Dário Essugo (all on loan)

 

Benfica

Portugal’s wealthiest club and current champions Benfica flexed their financial muscle this January. The Eagles brought in Brazilian striker Marcos Leonardo (€18 million), Spanish left-back Álvaro Fernández Carreras (on loan with a €6 million purchase option) and Argentine wingers Benjamín Rollheiser (€9.5 million) and Gianluca Prestianni (€9 million), while Croatian striker Petar Musa was sold to FC Dallas (€10 million).

It can be argued that the four newcomers have been signed more with a view to Benfica’s long-term squad building rather than making an immediate impact, especially in the case of Rollheiser and Prestianni. The Lisbon club are well stocked with players occupying the wide attacking positions with Ángel Di María, Rafa Silva, Tiago Gouveia, João Mário and David Neres all apparently ahead of the new acquisitions in the pecking order. However, with Di María and Rafa almost certainly leaving in the summer and coach Roger Schmidt seemingly unconvinced by Gouveia, the two Argentines can expect to play a more prominent role in 2024/25.

That may not be case of Leonardo and Carreras though. Although both players are just 20 years of age, they appear to offer an upgrade on the current options. The Brazilian forward is yet to start a match but has already scored three goals coming off the bench and looks a tremendous prospect. With question marks still surrounding summer signing Arthur Cabral, it would be no surprise to see Leonardo force his way into the starting lineup sooner rather than later.

The same can be said of Carreras, also just 20 years old. Adapted left-back Morato has done a decent job defensively but offers little going forward and in his one cameo performance off the bench in the Taça da Liga the young full-back looked lively and a far more natural fit for that position. That said, with Alexander Bah returning from injury, Schmidt could also opt to shift utility player Fredrik Aursnes over to left-back again, which would bar the way for Carreras.

Incoming players: Marcos Leonardo, Álvaro Fernández Carreras, Benjamín Rollheiser, Gianluca Prestianni

Outgoing players: David Jurásek, João Victor, Chiquinho, Gonçalo Guedes, Petar Musa

 

FC Porto

Porto’s hierarchy seems to have taken Sérgio Conceição’s recent observation that there is a difference between “signings” and “reinforcements” to heart, with the Dragons contenting themselves with a single new face at the club this January.

It is a significant one, though, with Famalicão’s brilliant Brazilian centre-back Otávio purchased for €12 million. Porto desperately needed to strengthen the heart of their defence after Iván Marcano picked up a season-long injury, David Carmo was frozen out and ageing captain Pepe is constantly battling to remain fit – hardly surprising given he turns 41 at the end of the month.

21-year-old Otávio has been immense for Famalicão ever since joining on loan from Flamengo one year ago, and it was surprising none of the big three made a move for him in the summer. The deal was at risk of being aborted as the clubs haggled over the price and it is a significant fee, but Otávio will surely quickly establish himself as a mainstay at the Estádio do Dragão and will likely be sold for a considerable profit further down the line.

Incoming players: Otávio

Outgoing players: David Carmo, Fran Navarro

 

Conclusion 

So who has done the best business this January transfer window? In terms of addressing an urgent requirement, Porto would appear to have made the most important transfer. Sérgio Conceição usually takes several weeks to bed in new signings, but that will surely not be the case with Otávio, who will undoubtedly strengthen the starting XI.

Benfica’s new acquisitions can be considered “luxury” transfers. None of them were urgently needed, but all of them could provide a timely boost to the team, especially Marcos Leonardo who has not wasted any time in demonstrating his nose for goal. It is early days but the Brazilian seems to fit the classic “buy young, develop, sell for a huge profit” modus operandi so often seen in Portugal.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” could be the motto to describe Sporting’s parsimonious transfer activity this January. Time will tell who has made the best (non)moves.

By Tom Kundert