Jorge Jesus has Benfica on the march as they aim to regain the Portuguese Primeira Liga

With Jorge Jesus reaching the twilight of his stellar managerial career, he will know that this season might well be his last hurrah and he will surely want to go out on a high with Benfica.

Jorge Jesus led Benfica into the UEFA Champions League group stage by the skin of their teeth as they edged PSV Eindhoven 2-1 on aggregate, despite having had their backs to the wall for over an hour following Lucas Verissimo’s dismissal. As a reward for their progression Benfica have been gifted both Bayern Munich and Barcelona in their group with Dynamo Kiev also joining them.

Their qualification for the Champions League group stage follows a strong start to the season. Having made relatively easy work of Spartak Moscow over two legs, they quickly racked three consecutive wins in the Primeira Liga against Moreirense, Arouca and Gil Vicente and now ensuring Champions League qualification.

Jorge Jesus will be looking to maintain momentum when they face Tondela this weekend. In his spectacular first stint at Benfica between 2009-2015 he guided the side to three league titles. Upon leaving Benfica, Jesus had two rather underwhelming spells firstly with Benfica rivals and his boyhood club Sporting CP and then with Al Hilal in Saudi Arabia.

The veteran then came alive when he was surprisingly named Flamengo’s new head coach. Despite an initial negative reaction to his appointment, the Portuguese guided Flamengo to the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A and the holy grail of the Copa Libertadores in his first season in charge.

In doing so he became only the second European coach to win the Copa Libertadores, whilst he was subsequently awarded the Order of Prince Henry commander medal by the Portuguese President as his achievements aided Portugal’s reputation abroad.

He then followed this up by running Liverpool close in a narrow 1-0 in the FIFA Club World Cup. He added an extra three trophies in his final season with Flamengo and left the country with a real cult status having won an impressive 43 out of 57 games.

Many expected his Flamengo stint to be the last in a stellar managerial career. Yet despite the old saying being never go back, he returned to Benfica in August 2020 on a two-year contract.

Despite an early elimination in last season’s Champions League, they maintained a strong finish in the Primeira Liga despite finishing nine-points off eventual winners Sporting CP – who they beat 4-3 in the penultimate match of the season to provide a boost for this season – whilst losing the Taça de Portugal final 2-0 to Braga, having seen goalkeeper Helton Leite sent off early on.

On their start alone, Jorge Jesus certainly seems to have his side primed for this season’s domestic charge. However, with both Rui Vitoria and Bruno Lage having lifted league titles with Benfica since Jesus left in 2015, the pressure is certainly on the 67-year-old to come out on top this season.

His side will depend heavily on the attacking talents of Pizzi, Everton and Rafa Silva, whilst new summer signing Roman Yaremchuk should provide a boost having scored 20-goals at Gent last season.

Still question marks remain over the future of Uruguayan Darwin Nunez who is currently linked with a big money move to Premier League side Brighton. Nevertheless if Nunez was to leave, much is expected this season of young academy forward Goncalo Ramos with many tipping a breakthrough campaign.

Whilst the creativity of Alex Grimaldo from left wing-back will prove invaluable as the season goes on, they will certainly look to the experience of Nicolas Otamendi and Jan Verthongen to guide them through the season – with both having won league titles previously in their careers. Both might see David Luiz join their elder ranks with reports emerging he also is in talks over a return on a free transfer.

In Jorge Jesus they will be sure to know they have a proven manager to fall back on when the going gets tough. Yet with Jesus also reaching the twilight of his managerial career, he will know that this season might well be his last hurrah and he will surely want to go out on a high. What better conclusion than returning Benfica to the pinnacle of Portuguese football.

Feature image sourced on Wikimedia.

Estádio do Dragão roars under Sérgio Conceição

A recent trip to the Estádio do Dragão got us thinking about Porto and their devastating start to the season under Sérgio Conceição..

By Danny Wyn Griffith

Off the metro at the last stop, out into the blistering October sunshine. At first, it’s hard to see it, as it stands elevated above your initial eyesight. As you cross the road, journey up the stairs, you’re suddenly welcomed by the Estádio do Dragão. This wonderful, yet modern stadium, stands like a giant overseeing the city of Porto. Futebol Clube do Porto’s guardian.

From your elevated position, you’re able to see the iconic Douro River run through the length and breadth of the city, with stand-out colourful architecture all along the banks. The stadium’s grey outer-base isn’t in keeping with the city’s, that much is true. But the fact that it stands out like a sore-thumb, perhaps adds to that cauldron-like intimidation visiting players and fans alike, feel upon arrival. You sense that once at full capacity, the Estádio do Dragão – Stadium of the Dragon once translated – roars like no other.

Inaugurated against Barcelona on 16 November 2003, the stadia’s capacity holds just over 50,000. This match also saw a then lesser-known Lionel Messi making his first-team debut for Barça at 16 years old.

Unfortunately, the day I visited wasn’t a match day. Porto were playing the previous night in a Portuguese Cup third round tie at lesser-known Lusitano GC Évora in the city of Évora. Their hosts from the III Divisão were no match for the Primeira Liga giants as they were dispatched 0-6.

Nevertheless, whilst walking through the Estádio do Dragão, you sense it was purposefully built for a club of real stature. Images of Porto’s recent successes welcomes visiting sides all along the tunnel and inside the dressing room. From José Mourinho’s all-conquering side of 2002-04, Andre Villas-Boas’ unbeaten league and Europa League winners of 2010-11 and Vitor Pereira’s dramatic late-win against Benfica, thanks to a pot-shot by Kelvin, to more or less seal their 27th title. All of these triumphant scenes must create a sense of general awe amongst some sides, and fear amongst others.

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Porto’s UEFA Europa League win in 2011 along with Brazilian cult-figure, Jardel.

Porto is a club rooted in football history. Founded in September 1893, FC Porto came to being from a secret ambition that became a reality. António Nicolau d´Almeida, a fine sportsman and an expert Oporto Wine trader, was invited by the F.C. Porto president to a game against Club Lisbonense. The president, José Monteiro da Costa, went on to unite the efforts of the local community that included a strong English expat community in Oporto. This led to the extinction of a club called Grupo Recreativo “O Destino” in favour of F.C. Porto. It was the beginning of a structure built on a strong foundation –  that became the team we now see today.

Nowadays, Porto are experiencing something of a rebound following a dismal spell under the guidance of now Spain national team coach, Julien Lopetegui. Former Porto and Portugal winger, Sergio Conceicao, has them playing in a dynamically flamboyant style. He has overseen an unbeaten start to the season – having won 10 of their 13 competitive matches, only drawing away at Sporting Lisbon, and losing twice in the UEFA Champions League to RB Leipzig and Beşiktaş. They sit atop the Primeira Liga, having scored 25 goals whilst conceding the mere four. Sérgio Conceição has Porto well and truly back on the domestic march.

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Porto manager, Sérgio Conceição.

The former Nantes manager, who turned down Leicester City’s advances following Claudio Ranieri’s sacking in early 2017, has turned Porto’s fortunes on its head. Although never a club for real struggles in the modern day, under Julien Lopetegui they became a one dimensional and dismal side to watch.

A stadium operator told me: “It was awful under Lopetegui and I’m amazed how he somehow managed to land the Spain national side’s manager role.”

Yet, it seems that Conceição’s vigour is the perfect remedy. Usually known for his technical ability as a player, it also needs remembering that this was the player who was once sent-off, then decided to spit in the face of an opponent, before taking his shirt off and throwing it towards the referee. He was also at the centre of a melee when playing for PAOK at Aris, when plastic was thrown towards him from the crowd and he somehow got red-carded for it.

His career took him from a humble beginning at Penafiel to Porto, on a journey through Italy with Inter Milan, Parma and two spells at Lazio –  where he’s still revered today – before another spell at Porto, and then some late form with Standard Liège and PAOK – via Kuwait’s Al Qadisia. The full-circle manner of his career says a lot about the link he has with the Porto faithful.

Discipline has been the formula under Sérgio Conceição. He is renowned from his time at Nantes to have subjected players to double training sessions and a stricter, more precise style of management. When hiring Conceição, you also buy into a culture and vision – a way of life.

Veteran Spain icon, Iker Casillas, is enjoying something of a renaissance in goal. Fellow Spaniard, Ivan Marcano, is playing better than he ever did under Lopetegui. Danilo has become a real force in the centre of midfield – and seems destined for a big-money move one day. Conceição’s biggest success story, however, is Vincent Aboubakar. The Cameroonian is enjoying a second-chance in Porto, having been discarded on-loan to Beşiktaş by Lopetegui. He seems full of confidence, fulfilling potential that was all so often obviously there, romping the domestic scene with seven goals in nine games.

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Falcao, Moutinho, Rodriguez and González – Porto’s recent glories.

Up next for Conceição’s side is a local derby against Boavista. They are also high-flying compared to previous years, and will undoubtedly pose a threat to Porto as they look to keep the momentum going in their march on the league. But you sense that Conceição’s Dragões are destined for domestic success this year.

As the stadium operator said: “It’s all different under him. He understands the club. His focus, concentration and pure desire to win. That’s what Porto is all about.”

Benfica’s Béla Guttmann Curse

Take a look at the Béla Guttmann curse that has been hanging over Benfica for 54 years, and counting..

By  Danny Wyn Griffith

Reigning Portuguese Primeira Liga champions Benfica prepare to welcome Germany’s Bayern Munich on Wednesday whilst hoping to overturn a one-nil deficit in their Champions League last-16 tie.

During last Tuesday’s first leg at the Allianz Arena, Juan Bernat’s cross picked out Arturo Vidal within the opening two minutes and the Chilean didn’t waste the chance as he perfectly timed his jump to score the header.

Many expected Bayern to go on and build on their early lead having been the stronger side on paper. Benfica grew into the game however, and despite allowing the home side to acquire the vast majority of ball-possession (65%-35%), the Águias continued to look dangerous on the counter-attack.

Bayern managed sixteen shots on goal whilst Benfica managed ten – despite only one subsequently hitting the target.

Benfica will attempt to overturn Bayern’s slender lead at the Estádio da Luz this Wednesday with the home side hoping they’ll raise their game to a new level as the 65,000 capacity Lisbon crowd cheer their team on.

However, any potential defeat is bound to have the Benfica faithful damning a curse laid upon them nearly fifty-four years ago.

Béla Guttmann, born in Budapest at the end of the 19th century, was a Hungarian footballer who went into management following retirement and managed over 20 football clubs throughout his career.

Having played for MTK Budapest in his homeland, he was then forced to leave Hungary when Miklos Hórthy’s regime took power. He moved onto spend time playing in Austria and the USA before taking up a number of coaching roles across Europe.

Having had success with Porto in 1959, he left and took charge of their rivals Benfica. Here, he went onto win consecutive Primeira Liga titles, the Taça de Portugal and two European Cups during his first three years at the club.

It was at this point that Guttmann thought it was the right time to go and ask the Benfica board for an improved contract. When he asked for a raise, the board didn’t just say no, they gave him the sack and told him he was no longer welcome at Benfica.

Béla Guttmann was so furious, he allegedly cursed the club, declaring that:

“Benfica will not win a single European trophy in the next one hundred years!”

Benfica have since participated and lost in five European Cup finals (1963, 1965, 1968, 1988 and 1990), and in three UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League finals (1983, 2013 and 2014).

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Béla Guttmann in 1966.

On August 28th 1981, Béla Guttmann died at the age of 82 and is buried in Vienna.

Jose Ferreira Queimado, Benfica’s President at that time, is known to have visited Béla Guttmann’s grave begging for him to lift the curse. But even after begging for mercy, Benfica lost 4 major European finals and 3 major semi-finals [1981, 1994 and 2011].

The late-great Eusébio is also known to have begged at his great mentor’s grave to lift the curse – but to no avail.

The Béla Guttmann curse lives on.

 

Benfica’s timeline since Béla Guttmann’s curse
22nd May 1963

The Wembley Stadium was the location for this European Cup final as Benfica faced AC Milan. Benfica had a full Portuguese eleven with Fernando Riera as the manager and they took the lead when Eusebio scored in the 19th minute. The Italians turned the game around in the second-half as Jose Altafini scored 2 goals in eleven minutes to win AC Milan’s first ever European Cup.

 

 

 

 

 

27th May 1965

Two years later Benfica travelled to Milan, to play against Internazionale at the San Siro in front of 77,000 people.  With two minutes left on the clock before half-time, Jair da Costa scored, the goal proved to be the only one that night.

 

 

 

 

29th May 1968

Benfica returned to Wembley to face Manchester United with over 92,000 people at the stadium. The first goal of the game came in the 53rd minute, when Bobby Charlton scored a great header. Just over 20 minutes later Jamie Graca scored the equalizer, and since the two teams couldn’t be separated in regular time, extra-time was next.

Within nine minutes, George Best, Brian Kidd and another goal from Bobby Charlton made the score Manchester United 4-1 Benfica. Benfica wouldn’t participate in a European final for the next 20 years. This was the last time Benfica played with a full 11 of Portuguese

 

 

 

 

 

 

25th May 1988

64,000 spectators gathered in Stuttgart at the Neckarstadion to watch PSV Eindhoven face Benfica in yet another European Cup Final. Regular time couldn’t separate the two teams, nor could the extra-time, so the game went on to penalties. PSV Eindhoven won the penalty shoot-out 6-5 after Antonio Vesolo’s penalty was saved by Hans van Breukelen.

 

23rd May 1990

27 years had passed since these two clubs last faced each other in a European Cup final. Milan and Benfica travelled to Vienna, Austria to play at the Praterstadion. The first-half finished 0-0 but Frank Rijkaard scored the only goal in the second half which was enough to give AC Milan another European trophy.

 

 

 

14th May 2014

Benfica failed to win in a major European final for a record eighth time as Sevilla’s Kevin Gameiro stepped up to score his side’s winning penalty and condemn Benfica to a 52nd year without European glory.

 

 

 

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