Football fans in Madeira will have an abundance of top-flight football to watch in the 2015/16 campaign right on their doorstep.
For the first time since the 1990/91 season, the island will play host to no fewer than three clubs in Portugal’s Primeira Liga after União’s promotion.
The achievement triggered wild celebrations (pictured), and Paul Gellard takes a look at football’s hold in the island the Portuguese call “the Pearl of the Atlantic”.
It should be pointed out immediately that Madeira has a superb football pedigree in its own right. With Marítimo and Nacional firmly entrenched in the upper echelons of the Portuguese game, União’s surprise promotion ups the ante for Madeiran clubs.
The island of course gave the world Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo. The global superstar did in fact spend two seasons playing for Nacional’s youth setup after joining from local club Andorinha. However, a three-day trial with Sporting in the nation’s capital meant he was lost to the island’s clubs and the rest is history as stints at the Portuguese giants, Manchester United and then in the Spanish capital followed. Indeed, Ronaldo is arguably the most recognisable face in world football at the moment.
Nacional finished in 7th place in the Liga NOS, just three points clear of island rivals, Marítimo who ended the season in 9th. However, Os Verde-Rubros aren’t finished just yet. They also have the Taça da Liga final to look forward to, when they take on Benfica in Coimbra on Friday 29 May.
2014/15: P34, W12, D8, L14, F46, A45, Pts44 - Position: 9th
Stadium: Estádio dos Barreiros (9,177)
Coach: Ivo Vieira
This season Marítimo dispatched the much-fancied FC Porto 2-1 from the Taça da Liga at the semi-final stage in April. They also defeated the Dragons in the league at the Estádio dos Barreiros and took maximum points from their league encounters against an impressive 4th placed Braga side. Add to that the coaching change that took place at the end of February, where Leonel Pontes was replaced by former Nacional boss, Ivo Vieira. The new man has quickly stamped his authority on the Marítimo players and the side lost just two games after his arrival, to Sporting and Benfica.
Of a slightly worrying nature to Marítimo supporters is the fact that the club’s top scorer in 2014/15 was Niger international, Maazou Moussa. All well and good of course, but he left the club for China and played his last game on 25 January against FC Porto. He managed 9 goals in his brief time in Funchal but it will be a priority for the club to find a regular goalscorer next season.
Whether they have already found him in Malian striker, Moussa Marega, is open to debate. Signed from Espérance in Tunisia, he made his debut for Marítimo against Gil Vicente in January before finding the net in his second game at Penafiel. He added to his tally in the Taça da Liga semi-final defeat of Porto and then netted 6 goals in the final 5 games of the season, including one at the Luz against Benfica and a brace at home to Rio Ave in the penultimate game of the season. Marítimo’s supporters will be hoping he can carry their forward line again next season and also into the Taça da Liga final.
The club now has the opportunity to finish its season with a flourish against Benfica and, with the futures of Jorge Jesus and many of Benfica’s players up in the air, could an “upset” be on the cards for the men from Madeira?
Nacional da Madeira
Name: Nacional da Madeira
2014/15: P34, W13, D8, L13, F45, A46, Pts47 - Position: 7th
Stadium: Estádio Madeira (5,132)
Coach: Manuel Machado
Not since the 2011/12 season have Nacional finished below their local rivals, Marítimo. In that respect, it’s been another good season for the Nacionalistas. Unfortunately, it will also be looked back on with a tinge of regret after the club missed out on the Europa League qualifying spots by a solitary point from Belenenses.
The Europa League was to be a moot point at the club this season after falling at the first hurdle in the qualifying rounds to Belarussian side, Dinamo Minsk. A 2-0 loss in the Belarussian capital was then compounded by a 3-2 loss in Funchal which meant the sojourn into Europe, courtesy of the club’s 5th place finish in 2013/14, was all too brief.
Despite the problems with European competition, Nacional supporters can take heart from the fact they were unbeaten in all three of their encounters against Marítimo. A win and a draw in the league campaign was given an added bonus with January’s penalty shoot-out win in the quarter finals of the Taça de Portugal. Bragging rights on Madeira are firmly with the Alvinegros this season.
Manuel Machado’s third straight season in charge (in his 3rd spell as the club’s Coach) hit its high point though when the club narrowly lost out to Sporting in the semi-finals of the Taça de Portugal, 3-2 on aggregate.
Another positive this season was summer signing Marco Matias from Vitória Guimarães. In 33 appearances Matias scored 17 goals, making him the highest Portuguese goalscorer in the Liga, and only four short of the overall top scorer Jackson Martínez. Provided they can keep hold of him, Nacional will have some firepower to build on for next season. Matias managed 4 goals in the club’s final three games of the season, which included a brace against his old club, Vitória Guimarães. Two goals in the December 3-0 league win over Marítimo will also have done much to endear him to the club’s faithful.
A special mention should also go to 23-year-old central midfielder, Tiago Rodrigues, who was signed in the January window from FC Porto’s B team. A return of 4 goals from 17 starts for the Portugal Under-21 and Youth international shows the talented playmaker is still in time to build on his undoubted potential.
União da Madeira
Name: União da Madeira
2014/15: P46, W22, D14, L10, F69, A39, Pts80 - Position: 2nd
Stadium: Centro Desportivo (2,325)
Coach: Vítor Oliveira
It’s been 20 years since União were relegated from the top flight and since then they have laboured in the second and third tiers of Portuguese football. This campaign, they went on a run that saw them lose just two league games from mid-February onwards under Vitor Oliveira’s tutelage.
Goals were predominantly shared by French striker Mendy (20), and Portuguese wide man Élio Martins (14). Both players were new to the club this season. Mendy arrived from newly promoted Moreirense while Martins joined from a two-season spell in Bulgaria with FC Beroe. Both fitted superbly into Oliveira’s 4-5-1 / 4-3-3 system which saw the club vastly improve on its 2013/14 showing of 13th.
At the other end, credit must also go to goalkeeper Trigueira, who played 35 games between the sticks. In his second season with the club, Trigueira saw off the challenge of new Mozambique international signing Ricardo Campos for the No1 jersey.
In front of them, kudos must go to defensive mainstays such as Burkinabe left-back Stéphane who made 41 starts this season and played over 3,660 minutes. Algerian centre-half Kheireddine Zarabi also made a crucial contribution with 37 starts in his second season at the club alongside 32-year-old Portuguese Roberto. A mainstay of União, Roberto played 43 games this campaign in what was his 6th straight season with the club, although he had also previously had a 5-season spell with União between 1999 and 2003. As a result, União gave up just 39 goals this season. Only 8th placed Freamunde conceded fewer (32) in the Segunda Liga.
So it’s a bright season to look forward to for Madeiran fans in 2015/16. Whilst it would appear that the Benfica, FC Porto, Sporting top-three will be unchallenged again next season, don’t be surprised to see a few shocks along the way, especially involving Madeira’s clubs.
And if União can manage to hold their own, in a similar fashion to Boavista this season, then there is no reason why we shouldn’t see a tripartite presence from the island for years to come.
by Paul Gellard