Fredy Montero yesterday re-signed for Sporting, precisely two years after the Alvalade favourite had left the Lisbon club.
The last time Montero wore a Sporting shirt he scored the winning goal against Académica, giving Sporting a 3-2 victory. There was no celebration from the Colombian; he knew he would be gone shortly.
It was an important moment in Sporting’s ultimately futile title push that season. Now, Sporting will be hoping his return can provide these important goals in another big tilt at the Primeira Liga championship for Jorge Jesus and Sporting, in search of the prize that has eluded the club since 2001-2002.
At that point in time during the 2015-2016 season Sporting were top of the league, two points ahead of Benfica having only lost a single league game that season until then, that loss being an incredibly poor showing away to União da Madeira. From this point onwards Benfica would win all but one game of the remaining season whereas Sporting would only lose one game. That match, importantly, was against Benfica but it was their goalless draws that cost them more than that single game. Without dropping points against either Rio Ave or Vitória de Guimarães the Benfica game would have been inconsequential.
In the days after that Académica match Fredy Montero made his move to Tianjin Teda in exchange for Argentinian striker Hernán Barcos and, in retrospect, a small transfer fee of €5,000,000.
Next, Sporting played at home to Rio Ave. It was exactly the kind of game that cost Sporting the Primeira Liga. That evening Sporting had Islam Slimani and Teófilo Gutiérrez up front with João Mário and Bryan Ruiz providing the creativity. When the journeyman Barcos came off the bench in the 61st minute for Gutiérrez, the Alvalade crowd was hoping he could have a similar impact that Montero had had previously. There were to be no late heroics from Barcos, who looked out of place, or any other player like Fredy Montero had provided against Académica.
In late February Sporting faced Sérgio Conceição’s Vitória de Guimarães at the Afonso Henriques. Again the game was goalless and Guimarães were down to 10 men when Barcos replaced Slimani in the 83rd minute. Even with Gutiérrez and a young Gelson Martins there was no way through for Sporting and Barcos again didn’t have the sufficient quality to make any impact.
Could Montero have made the difference in either of those games? It’s impossible to tell but you suspect he certainly could have made more of an impact than Hernán Barcos, a forward who will be held with similar reverence among Sporting fans as players like Sebastián Ribas and Luc Castaignos - none. It was another deadlock and a costly one that ensured a Benfica win at the Alvalade the following week would put Benfica top of the table. We all know what happened next.
This is not to say that there was no justification in selling Fredy Montero at that time. Islam Slimani was having an excellent season and Gutiérrez was arguably the better player of the two Colombian forwards at the club. Where Montero had the upper hand over his compatriot, though, was in his positive attitude or perhaps, Gutiérrez’s lack of any attitude.
In his first two seasons at the club Montero scored 16 goals in 33 mathces and 15 in 38 respectively. A decent record but in that final season before his departure the goals dried up somewhat.
However, his impact from the bench was significant. Montero was a 60th-minute substitute for Bruno César with the lions losing 2-1 to Braga at home, having been 2-0 down at half time. Montero grabbed the equaliser before a last-gasp Slimani goal completed the comeback. He was also the super sub against Nacional earlier in that season bagging an 86th-minute winner.
But Fredy Montero’s best feat as a substitute happened in the last game of the previous season in the Taça de Portugal final against Braga. His equaliser in the last seconds of stoppage time took the game into extra time, and Sporting eventually won on penalties giving them their first major silverware in seven years.
Speaking to Maisfutebol after his departure to China, Montero said he wanted to keep the doors open to return to Sporting, “of course, I would like to come back one day.”
And now that he is back, can Montero make the difference this season? He certainly has the tools to be a difference-maker in a crucial game at any given opportunity. Most likely he’ll be playing as the foil to Bas Dost and if that partnership clicks then perhaps Sporting can rewrite the wrong of two years ago and finally become campeões.
By Richard Cole