Sporting Lisbon haven’t won the Portuguese league title since 2002, but with the quality of this season’s team and the continued guidance of manager Jorge Jesus, are they finally ready to be champions again?
Sporting Lisbon has always been a top contender for the league title since the club was founded in 1906. They are part of the so called “Big Three” of Portugal, which also includes their Lisbon neighbours, Benfica, and Porto, and they are the third most successful club in Portugal. However, the last 16 years have caused a great deal of disappointment amongst all Lions fans.
Impact in Europe
Sporting Lisbon is, without a doubt, an important contributor to European football, having been responsible for developing Ballon d’Or winners such as Luís Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo. But it was also a major European influence before, so much that the Portuguese club, along with the Serbian club, Partizan, inaugurated the first ever edition of the UEFA Champions League. Not only that, but the first ever goal in the Champions League was scored by the Sporting midfielder, João Martins.
Sporting Lisbon’s golden age stretches out from the 1940’s all the way up to the 1960’s. In 20 years, the club won 10 league titles, three Taça de Portugal trophies and succeeded in clinching their first and only European title to date, by being crowned champions of the 1963/64 European Cup Winner’s Cup. In the same year, the Lisbon club broke the world record for the biggest win in European football when they achieved a massive 16-1 victory against Apoel.
Despite all this, Sporting’s recent European ambitions can be described as largely mediocre, excluding the 2011/12 season, where they reached the semi-finals of the Europa League.
In the past eight years, the Portuguese club only managed to grab two spots in a Champions League group stage. Once where they were then relegated to the Europa League, and last season, where they finished bottom in their group in a disappointing campaign, resulting in their elimination from European competitions altogether.
What is different this season?
Ever since the extremely underwhelming performance of the Portuguese club in the 2012/13 season, where they finished in an embarrassing 7th place, Sporting has done nothing but improve. The following season they were vice champions and the one after that they managed to grab the last spot in the podium with the addition of winning the Taça de Portugal.
The one that impressed the most though, was the 2015/16 season, Jorge Jesus’s first attempt at leading the team.
After 14 years, the Lions were the closest they had been to securing the league title, and the club ended the year with a record 86 points. The season ended bitterly for Sporting fans, though, as Benfica pulled off an even greater miracle, gaining an outstanding 88 points and grasping the trophy from Sporting’s desperate hands.
Last season wasn’t great, as Sporting achieved the bare minimum with the final spot in the podium, but this year is looking to be a promising one for the resilient Lisbon club. With impressive signings which include the likes of promising young talent and captain of the U21 Portugal team, Bruno Fernandes, Ivorian attacker Seydou Doumbia, and former Barcelona defender, Jérémy Mathieu, Sporting’s team is beginning to look like one fit for a champion.
The choice to preserve Jorge Jesus as a manager for a third consecutive season is proof in itself of the club’s recent improvements. It also means the team is more accustomed to the manager’s plans and tactics than ever before, a crucial aspect for any team who wants a shot at the title.
As of right now, Jorge Jesus has only managed to bring one addition to the trophy cabinet as Sporting Lisbon’s manager, with a victory over Benfica in the 2015 Supercup, it being Jesus’s first ever official match with the Lions.
Sporting have also impressed with their recent final pre-season matches, having beaten the Italians of Fiorentina and current French champions and Champions League semi-finalists, Monaco.
Another important factor that can undoubtedly help Sporting Lisbon rise to the challenge of winning the league title concerns the psychological aspect of the team. There has been, (and still is), a lot of controversy amongst the Sporting community regarding the club president, Bruno de Carvalho. However, despite having, in my honest opinion, many flaws, one cannot deny that this president has succeeded in bringing a huge amount of new Sporting fans to the club.
Since the introduction of Bruno de Carvalho into the club in 2013, the Lions fan base has increased immensely. A recent news article states that the number of club members has reached a staggering 160,000.
With a skilled manager on board for his third consecutive season, the daily increase in fans and the arrival of a great batch of talented players, the Leões are in the best possible shape they could be to finally secure the league title after a distressing 16 year drought. They are also hoping for a great European campaign for the first time in a long while.
It will be no easy task getting a hand on the Liga NOS trophy though, with Benfica ready to continue their title-winning form and Porto fighting to get back to the champions spot. But I know that the president, the manger, the fans and the players are eager to try their luck for the 16th time and are longing for Sporting Lisbon to return to what it once was.
Sporting begin their journey this season in the inaugural Liga NOS match against newly promoted Desportivo das Aves. They will play their first official European match the week after, in the first leg of the Champions League playoff.
Do you think Sporting can best Benfica and Porto to the league title? Do they have what it takes to prove themselves in Europe? With Jesus leading for a 3rd time, is the third time the charm?