Seven reasons Sporting are champions of Portugal

Sporting are the 2023/24 champions of Portugal. The Lions clinched the title with two games to spare this weekend after victory against Portimonense at home on Saturday evening followed by Benfica’s defeat at Famalicão on Sunday night.

The Lisbon giants may yet complete the double, with the Portuguese Cup final against FC Porto to come, but regardless of the outcome of that match, this season will go down as one of the most memorable in the history of the club.

Sporting are on course to break a club record for the highest number of points accumulated in a single season, and are one match away from finishing with a 100% winning record at home, which will also be a first for the club.

So how have they done it? Here are seven reasons explaining Sporting’s phenomenal season. 


1. Hitting the transfer jackpot

Back in the summer of 2020, in Rúben Amorim’s first summer in charge of Sporting, the club brought in a raft of cut-price signings with conspicuous success, most notably Antonio Adán, Pedro Porro, Zouhair Feddal, Pedro Gonçalves and Nuno Santos, all of whom would contribute decisively to winning the league.

Since then, Sporting understandably tried to repeat the formula, but without the same positive results.

One year ago the club took a different approach. Instead of bringing in several new faces for modest fees, Sporting spent big by their standards on two targets identified as fundamental for improving the team: striker Viktor Gyökeres and midfielder Morten Hjulmand. Both have been roaring successes.

Record signing Gyökeres has been far and away the best player in Portugal this season, the fee of €20 million plus €4 million in add-ons paid to Coventry City proving an absolute steal. 41 goals and 14 assists in 47 matches at the time of writing tells its own story. Midfield enforcer Morten Hjulmand has also been exceptional and more than justified the €18 million + €3m in add-ons Sporting paid Lecce for the Dane.

Spending over €40 million on two players was unprecedented in the club’s history, but it is no exaggeration to say that without either Sporting would probably not have been champions this season.



2. Fortress Alvalade

16 games, 16 victories, 54 goals scored and 11 conceded in the Primeira Liga 2023/24. Sporting have been strong at home throughout the Amorim era but this season the team has shown extraordinary authority at the José Alvalade stadium.

While crunch victories against Porto and Benfica will naturally live long in the memory of the Sporting faithful, the fans will also look back on goal-fests galore, especially in the second half of the season when the well-oiled green and white machine was crushing all-comers with consummate ease (5-1 v Estoril; 8-0 v Casa Pia; 5-0 v Braga; 6-1 v Boavista all coming in quick succession).


3. Like four new signings!

As mentioned in point one, Sporting went for quality rather than quantity in the pre-season transfer window, therefore relying on a squad in which the majority of players had been working with the current coaching staff for several years.

With main title rivals Benfica splashing millions on expensive reinforcements both in pre-season and during the winter transfer window, there were legitimate fears that at the business end of the campaign a lack of squad depth would harm Sporting’s chances of success. As it transpired, nothing could be further from the truth.

Daniel Bragança, Eduardo Quaresma and Geny Catamo were expected to be bit-part players at best, with speculation even suggesting the latter two may leave the club. However, all three players proved key components in Sporting’s title push. Catamo has been transformed into a dazzling right wing-back, Bragança at last adding consistency to his undoubted talent, and Quaresma showcasing the ability that made him such a hot prospect when he first burst onto the scene four years ago.

And that is before we talk about Francisco Trincão. Sold by Braga to Barcelona for €30 million in 2020, the skilful winger increasingly lost his way in Catalonia, then at Wolves in England and also in his initial months at Sporting. However, Amorim persevered with the 24-year-old and has been richly rewarded. Trincão has been outstanding in the second half of this season, oozing with the attacking verve that made him such a hot property in his youth.

At the start of the season the market value of these four players – Bragança, Quaresma, Catamo and Trincão – was for sure a fraction of what they would fetch today. Tremendous credit must go to the coaching staff for harnessing the immense talent the quartet had to offer, and to the players themselves for persevering and making it to the top of their games amidst a considerable legion of doubters.


4. Amorim’s positive pressure

In Sporting’s title-winning season in 2020/21, despite hitting the top of the league early just like this season, Rúben Amorim famously insisted his team could only be considered title contenders if they remained well-placed with two or three matches remaining, referencing the history of the Portuguese league – Sporting had not been champions for 19 years – to back up his point. It was an ultimately effective policy to alleviate the pressure on his players.

After two seasons without winning the league and a poor campaign last time out, Amorim changed his position in relation to expectations. “If we don’t win trophies this season, I will leave at the end of it. Sporting cannot be a club that is satisfied not to win anything,” he said.

Rather than adding to stress levels at the club, the bullish attitude has focused minds and the players have thrived under the pressure of knowing second-best is not good enough. Leading from the front for months, Sporting have never looked like relinquishing top spot despite Benfica also rarely dropping points.


5. Multiple routes to goal

The biggest criticism levelled at Amorim last season was that Sporting had become one-dimensional when attacking, looking to swing in crosses mainly from Nuno Santos on the left to an out-of-form Paulinho as their only route to goal, with predictably poor results.

This season has been the diametric opposite. The emergence of the effervescent Geny Catamo has given Sporting’s wide attacking play more balance, with either flank equally capable of providing ammunition for the front men, in addition to a raft of goals coming through the middle through intricate passing movements, not to mention individual actions from clever incursions between the lines by Trincão, Pote and Edwards.

Viktor Gyökeres has obviously been a massive boon to Sporting’s prolific strike rate, the Swede up to 41 goals at the time of writing, but the burden of goal-scoring has been distributed throughout the team. Paulinho has thrived playing alongside Gyökeres and Pote has been back to the lethal form he showed in Amorim’s first title-winning season, both players notching 18 goals to date. A further six players, Trincão, Nuno Santos, Sebastián Coates, Marcus Edwards, Geny Catamo and Daniel Bragança have scored 5 or more goals, with defenders Inácio, Diomande and defensive midfielder Morten Hjulmand also chipping in with 11 more combined. The goal threats are so diverse and potent that no team has prevented Sporting from scoring in the league all season.


6. Comeback kings: falling behind, no problem

One of the few metrics where Sporting’s previous title-winning team outdid the current version is in defence, the 2020/21 side conceding a miserly 20 goals in the 34 matches. But this year, Sporting have not required a watertight defence to win games and conceding goals has not proven troublesome, even when it has seen the team fall behind.

Five times Sporting have conceded the first goal(s) in Liga matches throughout the season. The outcome of those matches? Four victories and one draw. The lack of panic when falling behind is another clear sign of the team’s maturity, the players confident they can turn it around and knowing they have the firepower to do so.


7. Rúben Amorim – the real deal

If any doubts persisted, they have surely been dispelled this season. Rúben Amorim showed the Midas touch in his first high-profile job at Braga, making such an impact in his two months in charge that Sporting immediately moved to recruit him.

His first full season in charge at Alvalade brought Sporting their first title after a 19-year drought, and he has now won a second in his fourth season at the Lisbon club. This after the club had won only two titles in the 38 years prior to his arrival AND despite the fact Sporting were in a state of utter turmoil when he walked through the doors, still reeling from the infamous attack on the playing squad at the Alcochete training centre by a group of ultras and a succession of failed coaching appointments.

However, it is the visible individual improvement one sees among practically all players working under Amorim and the ongoing positive evolution of the collective that points to a coach of the highest calibre. Like José Mourinho, Amorim is a masterful communicator, and at just 39 years of age, we could be in the presence of another Portuguese coaching phenomenon.

By Tom Kundert