It has now been almost a fortnight since Julen Lopetegui and his former employers, FC Porto, went their separate ways, but we are still none the wiser as to who will take managerial control at the Estádio do Dragão.
Being five points behind top spot might not seem like a great deal, but with 16 games left of the Liga NOS season to go in what’s proving to be, finally, a three-horse race between Sporting, Benfica and Porto, the need for the ‘Dragões’ to appoint the correct manager and stay within a shout of the title appears to be paramount. Failure to do so would be seen as throwing the title away when Lopetegui was just four points off the top two fixtures ago. But who might the right choice be for Porto?
Unlike Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur fans, those in Porto will have nothing but fond memories of local boy André Villas-Boas. After a short stint at Académica, ‘AVB’ made the jump in 2010 to a Porto side in search of the Primeira Liga title, won by Benfica in the 2009/2010 season. Villas-Boas didn’t disappoint, winning the league title, Taça de Portugal and the Europa League, as the likes of Hulk and Radamel Falcao excelled.
The 38-year-old’s good work, then just 33, saw him move to Chelsea the following season, but his spell at Stamford Bridge, as well as his reign in command of Spurs, proved to be particularly underwhelming and he was sacked on both occasions. Since then, the Porto-born manager has been picking up the pieces at Zenit St. Petersburg, but frustrations over the league’s new registration rules, among other issues, will see him leave Russian football at the end of the season.
As a consequence, a return to Porto has been following Villas-Boas quite closely. On more than one occasion, the need to have a manager who understands Porto’s values has been a popular cry from the fan base, so Villas-Boas ticks all the boxes. In the event of appointing him, Porto may have to settle for an interim manager, however, until the end of the season, which may derail their title aspirations. Furthermore, the former José Mourinho understudy has garnered quite the wage packet since leaving Porto in the summer of 2011; so big in fact that he stated a return home would be “highly unlikely” this week to beIN Sports, so one would think the club would need to seriously restructure their finances in order to pull off this appointment.
Never too distant to speculation of a return to his former club, Sérgio Conceição is yet another who gets what it means to represent Porto. It was the 41-year-old who was responsible for defeating Porto in their last fixture, visibly annoyed at the suggestion he’d lose the game with a view for a move, but the Guimarães manager didn’t deny that a move to Porto could eventually materialise, instead choosing to not make a comment on all questions concerning the rumours.
In Conceição, Porto has a manager who has an understanding of the club and whose passion will suffice. He could even be the quick-fix Porto needs before going all out for Villas-Boas in the summer, but whether the former Portugal international is satisfied with a five-month project remains unclear. Furthermore, doubts still surround Conceição over his managerial capabilities and whether he’s currently ready to take control of a club of Porto’s magnitude.
A familiar face for most, Marco Silva took charge of Sporting in the summer of 2014 after an impressive job with Estoril. Despite winning the Taça de Portugal with ‘Os Leões’, Sporting finished 3rd, nine points behind champions Benfica and never really looked like being in the title race. Sporting’s president Bruno de Carvalho took action and replaced Silva with Benfica boss Jorge Jesus, a switch many saw at the very least as harsh.
Silva wasted no time out of football’s orbit and soon succeeded Vítor Pereira as Olympiacos boss last summer, where he has since gone on to win a record-breaking 17 games out of a possible 17 before drawing 1-1 to Platanias this Monday. The 38-year-old’s recent success will surely leave him in good stead to land the Porto job, whereas his history with rivals Sporting will only serve as a further incentive to get behind the concept.
In revisiting the aforementioned requisites, Silva certainly seems to follow the narrative, being both young, respected and Portuguese, but beyond the praise currently going his way are doubts as to whether even he may have what it takes to manage Porto. When compared to Lopetegui’s disappointing reign at Porto, Silva’s record appears to be considerably worse. Should Silva return to the Portuguese top flight, he’d have to win at least 19 out of his next 21 games to even equal the Spaniard over the 74 matches he had with Porto.
Indeed, Lopetegui may have had greater tools for success than Silva did with last season’s crop at Sporting, but there is no doubt that Jesus’ current tenure in the green half of Lisbon is demonstrating Silva at least had enough to remain in the battle for the title, which he failed to do. Sporting currently have nine points more than they did at this stage last season, having lost Nani and Cédric Soares in the summer and thus far played without contract rebel Andre Carrillo.
With just 12 games left to go, Silva’s Olympiacos side lead the Greek Super League by 16 points, largely down to a superior financial advantage over its competitors. Of the 28 million euros spent this summer in the Super League, 18 million originated from the Greek champions’ coffers. The more league titles Olympiacos win, and they have won 17 out of the last 19, the greater the funds the Piraeus outfit have access to because of Champions League money, meanwhile opponents struggle with the economic crisis that has brought the country to its knees.
That may in turn make Silva more accessible for Porto, however, as they’re hot favourites for the league title regardless of who is in the dugout. Despite winning the title for five consecutive years, the Greek champions have had five different managers in the same period, so they won’t be too worried if Silva makes the move to Porto either now or at the end of the season.
Yet another ex-Sporting and Olympiacos boss, Leonardo Jardim is the fourth Portuguese manager to be placed on Porto’s radar. After solid spells with Beira Mar and Sporting de Braga, Jardim was appointed as manager of Olympiacos back in the summer of 2012, where he was on course to clinching the title but left the club abruptly in January 2013 due to internal problems.
Jardim was then picked by Bruno de Carvalho to guide Sporting’s renaissance the following season, doing so successfully with a 2nd placed finish and ensuring the club an automatic spot for the next edition of the Champions League. It was at that stage that AS Monaco approached Jardim and attracted him to the Principality.
But the Monaco project changed soon after his arrival, seeing the likes of James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao leave the club in the summer of 2014 in a bid by owner Dmitry Rybolovlev to invest in younger players instead. Jardim was in the spotlight once more when he eliminated Arsenal from the Champions’ League, but the Venezuelan-born failed to even qualify for this season’s edition, as speculation concerning his position as manager of Monaco begins to circulate after the appointment of Claude Makélélé as technical director.
Should Porto make a move for Jardim, however, Sporting are believed to be owed 9-12 million euros from their rivals. Sporting point to a clause in the deal that took Jardim to Monaco stipulating that he can’t join a rival at any time prior to 2018, unless compensation is paid. A similar clause can be found in Marco Silva’s current contract, only this time it’s a fee in the region of 1 million euros.
Such a situation looks like a win-win situation for the Sporting president Bruno de Carvalho who, arguably, has the best financially accessible domestic manager currently at his club and the following two all protected by anti-rival clauses.
Nobody is sure if Porto will swallow their pride by bringing Jardim back to the Primeira Liga, in particular since they are yet to agree on a fee for Lopetegui’s departure, but the current Monaco boss certainly looks like one of the most appealing names on the shortlist.
The name ‘Jorge Sampaoli’ was bounced around quite frequently in the initial aftermath of Lopetegui’s sacking, a manager who’s impressed on the international stage with Chile but is now looking for a way out due to contractual issues. But, according to information from Antena 1 on Monday night, it’s his compatriot Marcelo Bielsa who could well take the hot seat as early as today. Lauded for his attractive style of play, so much so that he was once branded as “the best manager in the world” by Bayern Munich’s Pep Guardiola, Bielsa could well offer Porto the boost it needs to win the title for the first time since 2013.
And here comes the ‘but’.
The Argentine is not an easy manager to deal with and Chile, Athletic Bilbao and Olympique Marseille can all vouch for that. Nicknamed ‘El Loco’, Bielsa threatened to resign as Chile boss if the Chilean Board of Football elected Jorge Segovia as President, and come February 2011, Bielsa walked away from his job. The 60-year-old also took issue when Bilbao decided to drop Fernando Llorente due to the striker agreeing to join Juventus on a free transfer in 2013. ‘Los Leones’ finished 12th in La Liga and Bielsa was gone after his contract expired.
Then came Bielsa’s adventure in the south of France with Marseille last season – a project that initially promised a lot but saw the club finish 4th in Ligue 1, outside of the Champions League spots. Bielsa lost a number of key players, notably André Ayew and Dimitri Payet for nominal fees, and again the man from Rosario found himself at war with the powers above him.
As Marseille welcomed a number of players affiliated to third party ownerships (TPOs), Bielsa blasted the club’s directors repeatedly in the media for their running of the club, resigning after just one game of the new season. That may be a cause for concern for Porto fans, a club renowned for working closely TPOs.
By Patrick Ribeiro