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FC Porto: Europe’s best run football club?



With the impending completion of Jackson Martinez’s transfer to Atletico Madrid, FC Porto look to extend a lucrative record in the transfer market. The Colombian is set to become the ninth player the Portuguese club has sold for over £20 million*, generating their fourth highest transfer fee received, at an estimated £25 million. As with so many of their products in recent years, Martinez will be sold at a massive profit, as they bought him for a comparably modest £6.5 million from Mexican side Chiapas. Along with Danilo’s transfer to Atletico’s city rivals Real, Porto have already pocketed nearly £50 million from Madrid clubs alone this summer.

Since the turn of the 21st century, FC Porto have made an approximate £300 million (€422 million) profit on transfers, while maintaining a high standard on-field. Despite huge profit margins, a Champions League in 2004 and two UEFA Cup/Europa League triumphs in 2003 and 2011 have established the Dragões as Europe’s 8th ranked coefficient club. For all the criticisms given to other top sides on the continent supposedly buying success, the continued competitiveness shown by Porto, and to a lesser extent their league rivals Benfica, is remarkable.

Compared to their high-spending European rivals, Porto’s recruitment policy is a lot more business-orientated as their profit figures represent. Hundreds of millions of pounds in assets income is further weighted by what is now routine Champions League qualification, which provides a €12 million (£8.5 million) set fee simply for reaching the initial group stage – a round which FC Porto have been a part of every season since winning the competition in 2004. Along with gate sales, merchandise and television rights, club president Jorge Nuno de Lima da Costa has moulded an enviable and productive business as much as a successful football club.

Variable factors allow da Costa and Porto to reap such financial benefits. In terms of Champions League qualification, their early 2000s successes have stood them in good stead to this day. Jose Mourinho’s ‘Special One’ ascent brought continued domestic supremacy from the previous decade, capitalising on Benfica’s and Sporting Lisbon’s inconsistencies, and the rest of the league’s largely disappointing level of quality and support. Of the last 25 Primeira Liga seasons, Porto have won 16 – a phenomenal record it would be difficult to find replicated anywhere else in the world, never mind another division with at least two other reputable European clubs. Such success has ensured the routine Champions League qualification already mentioned, and in the two seasons that this competition was beyond reach, Porto made up for that failing by winning the UEFA Cup / Europa League instead, while securing a return to the premiere competition for the following season.

A huge advantage teams like Porto and Benfica have over a lot of other European clubs is Portugal’s unhinged quota on foreign players. Unlike other top divisions, international players do not require work permits to play in the Primeira Liga, meaning many up and coming South Americans see it as an easier way of making a big career step-up in Europe. Porto’s squad currently contains eleven Central and South American players, as well as six Africans, underlining the allowance Portuguese ruling gives for attracting a wealth of international talent. Along with what has time and again proved to be an excellent international scouting system, Porto are able to buy relatively cheap and unknown prodigies from the likes of Brazil and Colombia, develop them into hot properties over two or three seasons, and then sell for huge profits. This tried and tested policy is reflected in Porto’s list of record transfer sales – following this summer’s Danilo and Jackson sales, their top six record fees received for players were all for South Americans.

Colombian forward Jackson Martinez has been the Primera Liga's top scorer for the past three seasons and looks set for a move to Athletico Madrid.

Colombian forward Jackson Martinez has been the Primera Liga’s top scorer for the past three seasons and looks set for a move to Athletico Madrid.

That being said, while Portugal is a favourable destination with its laid back rules on international players, the country is also Porto’s biggest hindrance. The club are a classic case of the ‘big fish in a small pond’ cliché; one with the historical reputation of top European sides like Real Madrid and Barcelona in neighbouring Spain, but without sufficient support in the league they are in to become a truly internationally renowned brand. Aside from Benfica and, to a lesser extent, Sporting Lisbon, the Portuguese Primeira Liga is largely a wasteland of financial hardship, small fan bases and questionable playing quality, similarly to Celtic in the Scottish Premiership closer to home. For that reason, Porto and Benfica have to rely on selling players at big fees in order to make up for the lack of revenue from the likes of ticket sales, commercial products and media broadcasters that continental rivals in Spain, England and the likes take for granted. Profit proportions accounted for by player sales at FC Porto are regularly about 30-40% of their yearly total; the vast majority of teams they face off against in the Champions League each season have made regular losses in the transfer market each year. This, of course, is a huge problem for the club’s prospects of a long-term challenge to establish itself among European elite – with little chance of television money deals and thus global enterprise expanding, Porto will have to continue to develop and sell their brightest talents instead of keeping them. Indeed, a list of Porto’s former players this past decade and a half is mouth-watering: the likes of Radamel Falcao, Joao Moutinho, Ricardo Carvalho, Deco, Hulk… the premium list goes on and on.

However, as stated, FC Porto do indeed challenge at the serious end of every competition they compete in almost every season. Champions League knock-out appearances are expected and regularly delivered, while a formidable nine league titles have been won since 2002/03. The players required to keep the transfer train running smoothly continue to be produced, this summer being no exception, while marquee signings like Iker Casillas and Giannelli Imbula are attainable in order to meet the fans’ expectations for proven quality. Despite the constant comings and goings at the Estadio do, the grooming required to produce cash-flow talents keeps the action on the pitch refreshing and exciting to watch; the team is usually overseen by a young and ambitious manager too, such as pre-Special One Jose Mourinho, pre-Chelsea disaster Andre Villas-Boas, and presently Julen Lopetegui; thus the 21st century Porto teams have been largely associated with an open and attacking style most neutrals can enjoy.

To simply call FC Porto a ‘Moneyball’ club – one that is only interested in the financial gain to be sought from soccer – is an unfair accusation. While da Costa and his club reap the rewards of so many regular big-profit sales, the ethos instilled within the club for an entertaining brand of football is maintained. While clubs from Europe’s ‘Big Five’ divisions continue to spend the greatest money proportions every year, it is important to remember that clubs like FC Porto still exist, though very rarely: a firm business model coupled with enjoyable and successful  on-pitch results. In that respect and from an outward perspective, Porto are undoubtedly one of the most effectively run football clubs in Europe and around the world.


* – All monetary figures based on data from

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Jonathan is a football lover based in Dublin. He is an especially keen fan of Italian Serie A, and thinks Guti Hernandez's assists may have been the work of sorcery. Struggles to forgive his father's upbringing as a Saint Mirren fan.

AC Milan

Victory in Milan, but is this another false dawn for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger?

Arsenal were triumphant in Milan despite their recent miserable form.

Jake Jackman



Photo: Getty Images

Arsenal ended their losing run of four matches with an excellent performance away to AC Milan in the Europa League. This competition has the potential to save the Gunners season and the commitment from every player suggested that they want to go all the way.

They were coming up against a team full of confidence under Gennaro Gattuso. Milan hadn’t lost a match since the end of December. The Serie A club hadn’t conceded a goal in six and had won five of those inside ninety minutes.

These sides came into this fixture in remarkably different form, but football is played on grass and not on paper.

Despite Milan having more attempts, it was Arsenal who created the better chances. They had a couple of half-chances early on before the opening goal.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan has had a hot and cold start to life in a Gunners’ shirt, but he was one of the best players on the pitch in Italy. His goal was emphatically taken as he drove the ball past Gianluigi Donnarumma.

It is important to capitalise when you are on top, especially away from home in European competitions and Arsenal did just that. As the first-half progressed, they continued to create the better opportunities. Both Danny Welbeck and Mkhitaryan had good chances to double the visitors’ lead, but they were squandered.

(Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

In stoppage-time of half-time, Arsenal scored a second to give them a commanding lead in the tie. It was a great move from the team and Mesut Ozil found Aaron Ramsey who coolly rounded Donnarumma before putting the ball into the net.

The first-half performance from Arsenal was one of the best that supporters have seen this season. They were better all over the pitch and showed the work rate that they had lacked in previous weeks. Milan pushed in the second half, but they couldn’t penetrate the Gunners’ defence.

Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi were both excellent. Arsene Wenger will be hoping that both are returning to their best after some uncharacteristic errors in previous matches. The centre-back pairing made eight ball recoveries and were always in the right position on Thursday.

Patrick Cutrone is a teenager with a big future, but the young striker had no luck out of the Arsenal defence and that will encourage the manager.

Another player to emerge with credit is Danny Welbeck. The ineligibility of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the injury of Alexandre Lacazette means that the Englishman started the game up front for Arsenal. It was a huge opportunity for him after being pushed down the pecking order at the club and he took it with both hands.

The Englishman worked tirelessly and caused problems with his movement.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Although his final product wasn’t great, he was a constant threat and led the defensive effort from the front. Welbeck will never be a leading Premier League striker, but he is effective in matches such as this one. He deserves more opportunities during the run-in.

It would be too soon to get carried away for Arsenal fans. There are still questions regarding Arsene Wenger and the work rate of the players, but this was an excellent performance that finally provides the club with positive momentum. They have had a miserable few weeks and the supporters can get excited about their team once again.

When the draw was made, a lot of supporters checked their expectations when it came to the Europa League. Milan were the overwhelming favourites, but Arsenal have taken a dominant position in the tie and should be able to finish the job in London.

If they can do that, they will move into the quarter-final stage. Although it will be difficult to win it, they will have as good a chance as any.

There have been many false dawns for Arsenal in recent years and this could be another one. That said, it takes enormous character to go away to a huge stadium like the San Siro after a poor run of form and win comfortably.

Considering the criticism that they have had for their lack of desire, few would have thought the Gunners to be capable of a result like this.

It is now up to Wenger to prove that he can get this level of effort and performance out of his players on a regular basis. The Frenchman remains in a difficult position with no margin for error. If he is going to keep his job, he needs to finish the season strongly and win the Europa League.

It won’t be an easy challenge, but this performance and result will give him hope that he can upset the odds to claim his first European trophy.

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Champions League

Tottenham Hotspur 1-2 Juventus: Three talking points from Wembley

Tottenham bowed out of Europe against an experienced Juventus side.

Rob Meech



Photo: Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur crashed out of the Champions League after Juventus produced an inspired fightback to progress to the quarter-finals. The in-form Son Heung-min had put Spurs 3-2 ahead on aggregate shortly before the interval, but two goals in three second-half minutes changed the complexion of the tie.

First, Gonzalo Higuain stabbed home the equaliser before Paulo Dybala completed the comeback with a delicate finish. Harry Kane hit the post in the dying moments, but Spurs’ exit at the hands of last season’s runners-up was confirmed as they failed to score a second goal. Here are three talking points from Wembley Stadium..

Max Allegri outfoxes his Tottenham counterpart

So poor were Juventus in the first half that they were fortunate to be only one goal behind on the night and still in the tie. There was no indication of what was to come, as Max Allegri’s side transformed the match in the second period. At the final whistle, the Juve boss headed straight down the tunnel instead of venturing on to the pitch to celebrate with his players. But it was his tactical switch that paved the way for their victory.

With an hour on the clock, on came Kwadwo Asamoah and Stephan Lichtsteiner, who injected much-needed pace and guile. The visitors changed formation and suddenly they were getting in between the lines, with Dybala becoming much more effective. Within minutes, Juve were 2-1 ahead and in their element. Once in front, they managed the game brilliantly and didn’t look like conceding. Mauricio Pochettino, who could only stand and watch it all unfold, had been outwitted by the master.

Future looks bright despite heartbreaking exit

Disappointment may be the overriding emotion for all involved at Tottenham right now, but once the dust has settled they should look back at their Champions League adventure with pride. For this was the season they arrived as a major force on the European stage. Victories over Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in a group they topped were huge fillips and evidence of their continued progress under Pochettino.

Spurs were unlucky to be drawn against a club of Juventus’ pedigree in the last 16 and it was the Italians’ knowhow that paid dividends in the heat of the battle. The hosts looked a little naive, but the experience will benefit them in the future. Tottenham are odds-on to finish in the top four and thereby qualify for the Champions League again next season. Should Pochettino be given the funds to invest in his squad this summer, the club’s fans can look forward to more nights under the spotlight.

In-form Son strikes again for Spurs

The South Korean, who was given the nod ahead of Erik Lamela in the starting line-up, vindicated his selection with the opening goal at Wembley. Son had already gone close to breaking the deadlock and was causing Andrea Barzagli all sorts of problems with his marauding runs. There was more than a touch of fortune about the goal, which rebounded off his left leg and wrong-footed veteran keeper Gianluigi Buffon, but it was no less than the Spurs forward deserved.

Son came close to levelling the tie in the latter stages but, ultimately, it was to be neither his nor Tottenham’s night. With 16 goals in all competitions this season, the 25-year-old is making a big impression. He was the home side’s most potent attacking force, upstaging both Kane and Dele Alli at Wembley. Son has finally established himself in the starting XI and Spurs fans will hope he can continue to ease the goalscoring burden on Kane.

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Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona: Three talking points from Stamford Bridge

Rob Meech brings us three talking points as Chelsea held La Liga leaders Barcelona to a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge.

Rob Meech



Photo: Reuters

Lionel Messi finally broke his goalscoring duck against Chelsea to give Barcelona the edge after the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

Messi had failed to score in eight previous attempts against the Blues, but he was not to be denied on this occasion as he cancelled out Willian’s 62nd-minute opener.

A Chelsea clean sheet would have been a massive boost ahead of a daunting trip to the Camp Nou next month.

However, Messi’s equaliser 15 minutes from time means Antonio Conte’s men face an uphill battle to qualify for the quarter-finals of Europe’s showpiece competition.

Here are three talking points from Stamford Bridge…

Conte’s tactical approach so nearly pays dividends

But for the fatal error that led to Messi’s leveller, Chelsea would be heading to Catalonia in three weeks’ time with a one-goal lead to protect.

That they came so close to victory is testament to Conte’s tactical nous, which stifled Barcelona while also allowing the home side to flourish.

As expected, the visitors dominated the ball throughout the encounter. However, they created precious few opportunities as Chelsea’s back line held firm.

Conte had resisted the temptation to start with an out-and-out striker, with Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud both named on the bench.

The fluid movement of Pedro, Eden Hazard and Willian caused more problems than Barcelona have been used to this season and the Blues’ second-half goal was a deserved one.

Heading into the second leg, Conte will need to devise another masterplan if Chelsea are to proceed to the last eight.

Third time lucky for impressive Willian

The tricky Brazilian has by no means been a regular for Chelsea this season.

But he was given the nod against Barcelona in a three-man attack that featured Hazard as a false number nine.

It’s a system Conte has favoured recently, but although it failed to get the best out of Hazard, the same could not be said about Willian.

He was Chelsea’s chief threat and, on another night, could have walked off with the match ball.

Willian twice hit the post in the first-half, showing great skill on each occasion to create space and leave Barca keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen with no chance.

Despite his misfortune, Willian was unbowed and he broke the deadlock with a pinpoint finish that raised the roof at Stamford Bridge.

It was a fitting reward for a top-class performance that highlighted his natural ability.

Surely he can’t be far away from cementing a regular spot in Conte’s starting XI?

Messi ends Chelsea goal drought to have decisive say

It is not often that British football fans get to see the little magician at such close quarters, so each time he arrives on these shores it is to be cherished.

Chelsea had a game-plan to nullify his influence and in the first half this worked superbly.

Although there were the usual sublime touches that we have come to expect, Messi was largely shackled by a solid rearguard display from Chelsea’s three-man central defence.

However, it only takes a side to switch off for a moment for the Argentinian to flex his muscles.

A misplaced pass from Andreas Christensen was intercepted by Andres Iniesta, whose pull back enabled Messi to slide the ball past Thibaut Courtois.

Once the ball had arrived to him in the box, there was no doubting where it would nestle.

Messi’s exuberant celebrations underlined the importance of his equaliser in the context of the tie.

It could be the decisive moment.

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