Friday, May 6, 2011

FC Porto Looks in Mirror, Sees Benfica in Reflection

Hey F.C. Porto, look at your Classico rivals Benfica. That could be you a year from now.

Remember Benfica's wondrous championship season last year? Remember how they used to score goals by the bushel, 4, 5, 6 at a time? Remember how they'd run teams into the ground, literally and figuratively? Looks a little familiar no?

There are a couple of stone-cold facts Porto--a team some are calling perhaps the second-best squad in Europe right now--cannot escape: You play in Portugal. Portuguese teams are a horrid combination of poor and greedy. This year's Falcao and Hulk are last year's Di Maria and David Luiz. They and you will be tempted by shiny new uniforms, big money and a bright spotlight. And you won't turn down the money. It's in your DNA to sell off your best players and reload the hard way--just ask Sporting and Benfica.

Sad, really if you give a damn about the Portuguese league, or any smaller league in Europe. The pattern is the same and the cycles of winning are few and far between.

Benfica was dumped out of the Europa League by SC Braga yesterday. Benfica should have, and would have, cruised to the title game under different circumstances. Economics, greed and those bad genes all conspired to doom Benfica. And it's a safe bet Porto will be in a similar boat next year. Dominant domestically, Porto is going to hoist another continental cup in a couple of weeks and then the fire sale begins. Too bad, because this is a league that desperately needs some consistency. Imagine a three out of four Champions League semifinals, instead of the very NIT-like Europa League? Imagine the spotlight on Portuguese football in that case? All it would take is a little consistency, because apparently, Portuguese clubs are pretty good at developing and nurturing players. They just haven't figured out how to keep them!

And then you have Braga, a true anomaly. A collection of relative unknowns headed by a lame-duck coach who spoiled the party by hanging on by the thinnest of threads yesterday to beat Benfica. It's a great story; everyone loves a Cinderella. And if Braga wins in Dublin, that only further flames the impending Porto fire sale. It's going to be a bittersweet game either way for Porto. Win and the Falcaos and Hulks are gone; lose and guess what? They're gone too.

Yes Porto, take a hard look at Benfica. You too could win just the BWin Cup next year and come ohsoclose to winning more important silverware--if you only had the players.

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