LISBON (Reuters) - Sporting Lisbon’s new coach Jorge Jesus has promised to turn Portugal’s Primeira Liga into a three-horse race rather than just a contest between Porto and his former club Benfica.
The feisty, irascible Jesus resurrected Benfica during six seasons at the club, leading them to three league and one Cup titles and two Europa League finals, before moving across Lisbon in early June in a move which stunned Portuguese football.
He is now determined to end the Porto-Benfica duopoly which has lasted since Sporting last won the league title in 2001/02.
“It’s time for us to affirm that we want to be candidates for every title in Portugal,” he said on his official presentation.
“From today onwards, there are not two candidates, but three candidates in Portugal. We have to awaken the sleeping lion.”
Sporting, who kick off the season by visiting promoted Tondela on Friday (2030 GMT), fired a salvo when they beat Benfica 1-0 in the season-opening Supercup match on Sunday.
Jesus then rubbed it in by saying that his former team appeared “afraid” of new-look Sporting.
Jesus departed Benfica amid reports that he had been asked to take a wage cut while Sporting’s Marco Silva was unceremoniously fired to make way for him.
Sporting said that Silva, who was in charge for only one season, had been dismissed for “just cause”. Club president Bruno de Carvalho cited reasons such as missing a meeting and failing to wear the official club uniform to a cup match for his dismissal.
Portuguese clubs have become European leaders in the art of buying young players, developing their talents and selling them on at a huge profit, and this summer has been no exception.
Porto raked in around 92 million euros from sales which included Colombia forward Jackson Martinez, the league’s leading scorer for the last three seasons, to Atletico Madrid for 39 million euros.
Benfica pulled in almost exactly the same amount as three of their top players, Rodrigo, Joao Cancelo and Andre Gomes, all moved to Valencia, and 21-year-old Ivan Cavaleiro to Monaco.
Porto’s new signings, however, marked an interesting change of emphasis as they brought in players who appear to be in the twilight of their careers.
These included much-travelled and controversial Italy forward Pablo Dani Osvaldo, Uruguayan fullback Maxi Pereira, signed from Benfica, and Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
Despite the departure of mercurial striker Ricardo Quaresma, coach Julen Lopetegui’s side are widely seen as favourites to win back the title after suffering two years’ of Benfica dominance.
“This season we have built a new team,” said Lopetegui. “We don’t take into account the titles players have won before, that’s something for the museum. We look at their competence, ambition and will to achieve.”
Over at Benfica, former Vitoria Guimarares coach Rui Vitoria has been chosen for the thankless task of trying to fill the void left by Jesus.
“Every time I have changed club, I have taken a risk,” said Vitoria, who spent four seasons at Guimaraes and was previously at Pacos de Ferreira. “I don’t have any worries. Nothing frightens me.”
The departure of Uruguay fullback Pereira to arch-rivals Porto after eigth seasons was another psychological blow which suggests the Eagles could be in for a difficult season, starting at home to Estoril on Sunday (2030 GMT).
As well as Benfica and Sporting, there are also new coaches at Vitoria Guimaraes (Armando Evangelista), Braga (Paulo Fonseca), Vitoria Setubal (Quim Machado), Belenenses (Sa Pinto), Pacos Ferreira (Jorge Simao) and Arouca (Lito Vidigal).
Evangelista is already under pressure after Guimaraes were knocked out of the Europa League qualifiers by tiny Austrian club Altach and fans waved white handkerchiefs in protest.
Writing by Brian Homewood in Berne; editing by Justin Palmer