Fabio Paim

Paim with his previous club Sintra Football

Former football prodigy Fábio Paim gave a very revealing interview to Brazilian website Globoesporte and it reads like a cautionary tale for young footballers. Paim, now 29, recently signed with Paraíba do Sul, a team from the lowest depths of Rio de Janeiro’s state league.

Just to put in perspective how far Paim has fallen, a match that would have been his debut with his new club was cancelled after both clubs failed to meet the minimum number of players. This is his 19th club of his journeyman career, which has taken him across the globe from Portugal to England, Greece, Angola, Qatar, Malta, Lithuania, Luxembourg and now Brazil.

I translated some of the highlights.

Cristiano Ronaldo said in 2003, after arriving at Manchester United: “If you think I am good, just wait until you see Fábio Paim.” But since then, the two have gone on different paths.

If I was better than him [Cristiano Ronaldo], I would be where he is now. It is a matter of hard work, character, humility and great determination. There was a time where I did not have that. I did not have the strength and humility to get where I wanted to go. But, life is like that, I can’t look back now.

Paim insists he could have reached the level of the Portugal captain, even surpassed it, if he had taken a different route.

He is out of this world. There is no comparison today. In the past, yes. At one point, I could do more than him but I did not have what he had, which is the strength and desire to be what I wanted to be. He had a great work ethic and I didn’t have that. I had the quality, at least as much as him, but I did not have the rest. I would have preferred to have less quality if I had more of the other part. I would have been one of the best in the world. But, no one is born perfect. I thought having talent was enough but it’s not.

In 2008, he went on loan to Premier League club Chelsea, then managed by ex-Portugal manager Luiz Felipe Scolari. At that point, he had endured three different loan spells in Portugal with little success. However, he believes it really started to go wrong in West London.

It was there [Chelsea] where I stopped training and doing my work. I started drinking. I had money and I started doing a lot of things I didn’t do before. The doors were open for me to do what I felt like.

Paim would never play for the main squad and eventually returned to Sporting CP. He admits the lifestyle of a professional athlete got the better of him.

When a player turns professional, it is very different. You need to be more regimented. You can’t do what you did before.

Having a father is very important. You need rules and discipline. But, that is not why I failed. It was my fault. I did not have the strength, attitude and respect for the important things in the world of football.

Paim signed his first professional contract at Sporting CP at age 13 and three years later was earning a handsome salary of €150,000 a season while still in the youth academy.

I was not used to having money. When I started playing, I didn’t even have proper boots. I wasn’t ready for it. I didn’t have what young players have now which is an example to follow. You need role models. I feel proud and a little ashamed to pass along this message to them.

Automobiles were his vice of choice.

I spent a lot of money on cars. I love cars. I spent lavishly on the ones I wanted. All of them. Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, Maserati and even a Punto [laughs]. Every car you could imagine.

When you have a lot of money, you need a support system around you. I would have done it differently, if I could.

And in the end, he did not have people that looked after his interests.

I knew what I was doing. I believed I had more talent than everyone else. Like everyone, I wanted to feel good, wear nice clothing, drive a nice car and behave with no humility. But, it’s normal, that’s what people work for, to be satisfied. On the field, I did what I had to, in order to retreat to my place. I spent time with people I wanted to and did what I wanted.

At the time, no one criticized me when things were going well. But, when I stopped playing, they started pointing the finger. I just wanted to be with my cars.

His regrets are numerous but insists that he now has a positive outlook on life.

Now, I want to look after my own and give my children a stable life. That part of my life has passed. Now, I need to work hard because I am now 29-years-old. Time has passed very quickly. But, I always like to have a smile on my face. What has happened, happened.

And he insists that he is taking this opportunity at Paraíba do Sul, which plays its football in the fourth division of Campeonato Carioca, very seriously.

I have passed through many clubs and I am very grateful for this opportunity. [Paraíba do Sul] is not the best club in Brazil or the worst, but they are giving me an opportunity to play.

I could help the young players on the squad given my experience. I don’t want it to be me and the other 10 players. I am the same as them and I do not want to be treated differently. I am here to help and be helped. If that works, it will be good for everyone. I want to earn promotion and make everyone happy. These kids have a lot to give.

All quotes were translated from Portuguese by Rui Miguel Martins.

Portugal U19 Euro

Portugal were beaten 2-1 by England in the final of the UEFA U19 European Championships in Gori, Georgia on Saturday. It was the youth division’s third tournament of the summer and the closest any of which came to claiming a title.

Despite the loss, many decided to concentrate on the positive performances by several promising players, most notably right-back Diogo Dalot and striker Rui Pedro Sousa, who both belong to FC Porto. It was Portugal’s fifth final at youth level since 2011. However, they have only won once, at the 2016 U17 European Championships.

An optimist would say that just getting to a final is a sign of the program’s growing strength, especially considering that Portugal made no finals in youth level between 2004 and 2010, but Portugal has more often fallen at the final hurdle as of late.

After arriving in Lisbon on Sunday, Portugal U19 manager Helio Sousa reiterated the words of U20 manager Emilio Peixe and U21 manager Rui Jorge, that Portugal have a very healthy youth development system.

I am enormously proud of the hard work put in by these group of footballers, not just the 18 that made it to this tournament, but the more than 30 that played for the U19 squad this year. The three finals in four years shows the quality we have at the clubs and federation particularly in our U15 to U20 levels.

The senior team’s manager Fernando Santos recently said that Portugal needs to improve its recruitment system which continues to lag behind other countries. Still, it does seem like Portugal is getting tangible results despite whatever shortcomings, especially when compared to the mid-to-late 2000s. And this has obviously helped improve the senior squad.

But, development does not end at youth level. It goes beyond that. Winning titles is always a good thing but much depends on what happens to these players after the tournaments end, particularly at club level.

Overall, Portugal have won 11 times in 23 finals at youth level.

Year Opponent Tournament Result
1961 Poland U18 Euro Won 4-0
1971 England U18 Euro Loss 0-3
1988 Soviet Union U18 Euro Loss 1-3 extra time
1988 Spain U16 Euro Loss 0-0, 2-4 on penalties
1989 Nigeria U20 World Cup Won 2-0
1989 East Germany U16 Euro Won 4-1
1990 Soviet Union U18 Euro Loss 0-0, 2-4 on penalties
1991 Brazil U20 World Cup Won 0-0, 4-2 on penalties
1992 Turkey U18 Euro Loss 1-2 in extra time
1994 Italy U21 Euro Loss 0-1 in extra time
1994 Germany U18 Euro Won 1-1, 4-1 on penalties
1995 Spain U16 Euro Won 2-0
1996 France U16 Euro Won 1-0
1997 France U18 Euro Loss 0-1 in extra time
1999 Italy U18 Euro Won 1-0
2000 Czech Republic U16 Euro Won 2-1 in extra time
2003 Italy U19 Euro Loss 0-2 in extra time
2003 Spain U16 Euro Won 2-1
2011 Brazil U20 World Cup Loss 2-3 in extra time
2014 Germany U19 Euro Loss 0-1
2015 Sweden U21 Euro Loss 0-0, 3-4 on penalties
2016 Spain U17 Euro Won 1-1, 5-4 in extra time
2017 England U19 Euro Loss 1-2

Santos Euro 2016

A day after Portugal marked the one-year anniversary of its Euro 2016 victory, the man who led them to that feat spoke to a group of journalists at the Cidade do Futebol facility in Oeiras. Fernando Santos says the country’s first title at senior level could set the stage for more success in the future.

The standard has been raised. Portugal should expect to be a contender in every competition. We have that obligation now. We have found a new path. We now know what it takes to win. The best teams know this. If we know what we have to do to win, than the road to get there is a little easier. Still, we can’t expect to win every tournament we enter.

Santos also credited the team’s work ethic and spirit of togetherness for the victory.

The players deserved it because of all the work they put in and for always believing in themselves. I can’t say it all went the way we would have liked but we always believed we could do better.

We created a family there [at the training camp in Marcoussis]. It is always important for a squad to be united. I was the mentor in a way. I can’t say I did not have something to do with it (laughs). We cultivated a strong spirit. When we got to Marcoussis, I told the players that they would have free time for their families and for themselves, regardless of the results. We were together for 50 days and I think that was very fundamental. It made a difference.

The final group stage match against Hungary (a 3-3 draw in which they fell behind on three occasions) showed the team’s character, according to Santos.

The match against Hungary was an important moment. At several times in that match, many players would have experienced doubt, but my players always believed they could win.

Portugal received criticism for its style of play, which was characterized as more pragmatic than many Portuguese teams from the past but Santos was making no apologies on Tuesday.

Controversies won’t obscure the fact that Portugal are champions of Europe. It wasn’t luck, it was merit. It wasn’t spectacular but even Germany have won few things in that way. We need to continue to improve our recruitment so that it is up to par with other countries.

He also found time to praise Portugal’s captain Cristiano Ronaldo. Often portrayed as single-minded and arrogant by the media, O Engenheiro offered a very different take on the four-time World Footballer of the Year.

Cristiano, our captain, has been a point of reference on this squad. He demonstrates leadership in his demeanor, attitude and dedication to the Seleção Nacional. Many of the young players today were 7 or 8 when he started playing in 2003 and became used to seeing him as an idol. But, they soon realize that he is just another teammate. He sacrifices everything, gives everything. And not just at Euro 2016 but in every match he plays.

Santos spoke about the moment in the final when the players realized that they would have to win without their captain.

It really struck us. We had a strategy and it was working very well. [Ronaldo] was very involved until that point. But, I continued to believe my players could win. Everyone was impacted [by Ronaldo’s injury]. We were all anxious at halftime.

Finally, he took time to update the fans on Éder who scored the most meaningful goal in Portugal’s history but finds himself on the outside looking in as far as the national team is concerned.

I care a lot about my players. When we have a situation like the one Éder is in now [at Lille] where he is out of the squad, it makes me sad. I hope that this situation changes and I told him that.

Santos and the players, fresh off a third-place finish at the Confederations Cup in Russia, will take time to recharge before the club season begins in a matter of weeks.

And Portugal still have plenty of work to do to qualify for next year’s World Cup. They currently sit in second in Group B, three points behind Switzerland. They will face Faroe Islands at the Estádio do Bessa in Porto on 31 August, followed by Hungary in Budapest three days later.

All quotes were translated from Portuguese by Rui Miguel Martins.

Andre Silva

The editors of PortugalFutbol.net and FutebolFactory.com are proud to announce our annual list of 10 players to watch this season. After much deliberation, we whittled down the pool of talented players to ten, but couldn’t help but add some honorable mentions. These are players who we believe have a realistic shot at making it to the senior Portuguese National Team by the end of the season.

Miguel Silva, Vitória Guimarães, Goalkeeper

The 21-year-old goalkeeper was outstanding at times last season. The highlight was a probably scoreless draw against Sporting CP in February. He has good size for a goalkeeper but is also blessed with good aerial ability. Pedro Martins replaced Sérgio Conceição this summer at Vitória Guimarães, which could mean Silva is relegated to the bench. But, there is little doubt the young keeper will one day be first choice.

Nélson Semedo, Benfica, Right-Back

Last season, he earned a spot in Rui Vitória’s squad for the Super Cup against Sporting CP after an excellent pre-season. He scored his first senior goal a week later against Estoril. In October, Fernando Santos handed him a start in a Euro 2016 qualifier against Serbia. But his meteoric rise came to an end after he suffered a major knee injury with the national team. He would miss several months and played sparingly after returning when Benfica was in a title race. If he stays healthy, Semedo should be a key part of Benfica’s squad this season.

Rúben Semedo, Sporting, Centre-Back

After a successful half-season on loan at Vitória Setúbal last season, Semedo was recalled to Sporting in January, where he played a huge role in the team’s excellent defensive record. In the 14 matches Semedo featured in, Sporting only conceded eight goals. This season, it remains unclear how prominent of a role Rúben Semedo will play in Sporting’s backline. But if last season was anything to go on, this Sporting team will find success through rotation, meaning that Semedo will get a chance to show his worth.

Rúben Neves, FC Porto, Central Midfielder

Already Porto’s youngest scorer in the league, the youngest Portuguese player to play in the Champions League, and the youngest player ever to captain a team in the Champions League, Neves has a bright future ahead of him. His quality is evident, and if he is used similarly to the past two seasons, Neves will mainly play a rotation role, ready to fill in should Danilo get injured. But as Neves continues to develop, Porto coach Nuno Espírito Santo may be forced to give him a more prominent role on the team.

João Carlos Teixeira, FC Porto, Attacking Midfielder

He could prove to be an excellent steal for Porto. Teixeira left Sporting CP for Liverpool at the tender age of 20 but never settled at the club, despite a positive loan spell at Brighton and Hove Albion in 2014-15. After Jurgen Klopp replaced Brendan Rodgers, Teixeira was used in cup matches. Still, he did not factor in the German’s plans for this season. He will have to compete for playing time this year at Cidade Invicta, but Teixeira has talent in abundance and is at the age where many players take a major step forward.

André Horta, Benfica, Attacking Midfielder

After a handful of appearances for Vitória Setúbal in the 2014/2015 season, Horta was given a starting spot last season, and did not disappoint. Renato Sanches’s departure to Bayern Munich opened up a spot in Benfica’s midfield. Rui Vitória, always looking to youth, has turned to Horta as the next heir to the throne. If his pre-season performances are any reflection, Horta looks to have secured a spot in the team’s midfield. And should he continue his form throughout the season, Fernando Santos just may have another quality midfielder to add to his growing list.

Iuri Medeiros, Sporting CP, Winger

The Azorean attacker was terrific last season at Moreirense, on loan from Sporting CP. And before that, with Arouca. João Mário’s move to Serie A looking increasingly imminent, which will leave a major gap in the team’s attack. Medeiros feels comfortable in midfield and on the wings, but was primarily used on the right side at Moreirense, and looks a good candidate for Mário’s spot. His best attributes are his close-control, dribbling, vision and goal-scoring ability. The 22-year-old has already scored goals against FC Porto and Benfica.

Ricardo Horta, SC Braga, Winger

The 21-year-old spent two lacklustre seasons at Málaga, in which he was in and out of the squad. But he has remained a key part of Portugal’s youth squads. He has been loaned to Braga for this season, as a suitable replacement for Rafa Silva who is likely to leave this month. He should get a chance to play at A Pedreira this season. José Peseiro’s focus on attacking football should favour a player like Horta. And it should be a real pleasure to watch him play against his brother André, who joined Benfica in the summer.

Gonçalo Guedes, Benfica, Winger

Benfica coach Rui Vitória was busy signing players this summer and Guedes’s place could be under threat. New arrivals such as Franco Cervi, Andrija Živković, and André Carrillo, coupled with Salvio’s return to fitness, mean Guedes will have to convince Rui Vitória he belongs in the starting XI. But with recent news of Jonas’s injury and subsequent surgery, perhaps Guedes could find a spot in Benfica’s team outside of his usual position. Already capped twice at senior level, a solid season could see Guedes factor into Fernando Santos’s plans.

André Silva, FC Porto, Striker

Portugal’s woes in the striking department have been evident since the retirement of Seleção legend Pauleta in 2006, but the road ahead looks bright with André Silva. In last season’s Taça de Portugal final, Silva’s scored twice, the second of which an excellent last-minute overhead kick. With former first-choice striker Vincent Aboubakar faltering and many of Porto’s striking reinforcements from last season primed to leave, all signs point toward this season being Silva’s for the taking.

Honorable Mentions

Daniel Podence, Sporting, Winger
Ivo Rodrigues, Paços Ferreira, Winger
Paulo Henrique, Paços Ferreira, Left-Back
Andrezinho, Paços Ferreira, Attacking Midfielder
Gil Dias, Rio Ave, Winger
Xande Silva, Vitória Guimarães, Forward
Fabinho, Feirense, Attacking Midfielder
Ricardo Ferreira, Braga, Center Back

This article was a collaboration between Rui Miguel Martins of FutebolFactory.com and Sam Biggers of PortugalFutbol.net.

CnKEAjDXEAAkm7A.jpg large

Portugal’s uncompromising style of play did not win them much admiration among neutral fans or the media but it was undoubtedly effective. Much credit should go to manager Fernando Santos who engineered a victory by utilizing the full strength of his squad. Football Factory rated each player on their performance over the entire tournament.

Goalkeepers

Rui Patricio He was not always busy but proved to be solid when called upon. He made a crucial stop in the penalty shootout against Poland. And he made several quality stops against France in the final. Named Best Goalkeeper at the tournament. Patricio is currently enjoying the best period of his career. 9

Eduardo Did not play.

Anthony Lopes Did not play.

 

Defenders

Raphael Guerreiro He was probably Portugal’s most consistent outfield player. The French-born Guerreiro provided the cross for Cristiano Ronaldo’s header against Wales. He was deservedly named to the team of the tournament. 8

Eliseu He filled in for Guerreiro against Hungary and Poland. The Benfica left-back looked much improved in his defensive duties, although he did not offer much in attack. 6

Pepe The Real Madrid man began the tournament with a poor display against Iceland and Hungary in the group stage. However, he was near flawless in the knockout stages.  A thigh injury kept him out of the semi-finals. But he returned in time to face France and put in a Man-of-the-Match performance for his country. Named to the Team of the Tournament. 8

Ricardo Carvalho The 38-year-old has been a solid contributor since returning to the international scene following Fernando Santos’ appointment. He looked slightly out of step especially in the 3-3 draw against Hungary. He was dropped in favour of Jose Fonte for the knockout stages. 6

Jose Fonte One of the great stories in this squad. The former Sporting CP academy graduate only made his international debut less than two years ago at the age of 30. He replaced Ricardo Carvalho against Croatia and was solid the rest of the way. 7

Bruno Alves He filled in admirably for the injured Pepe in the semi-final against Wales. 6

Cedric Soares Took over for Vieirinha against Croatia. His crucial mistake in the early stages against Poland led to the Robert Lewandowski goal. However, the Southampton right-back did not hang his head. Instead, he would be one of Portugal’s best performers the rest of the way. 7

Vieirinha The biggest disillusionment of this tournament for Portugal. He failed to provide sufficient cover on the Iceland goal in the first match. He was ineffective in attack and at times, a liability on defense. Santos rightly dropped him in favour of Cedric. 5

 

Midfielders

William Carvalho The holding midfielder replaced Danilo against Austria and put in an outstanding performance helping to drive the attack while supporting the Portuguese backline. Although he made less of an impact from then on, he still provided the stability the team needed. 7

Danilo Pereira The FC Porto midfielder suffered a back injury in the match against Iceland and lost his position in the starting XI to William.  Although, he would make a valuable contribution as a substitute. He filled in for the Sporting midfielder as a starter in the semi-final against Wales and even came close to scoring on one occasion. 6

Renato Sanches Named Best Young Player in the tournament. His long run in extra time against Croatia led to Quaresma’s goal. He scored the tying goal against Poland. Although, he was less of a factor against Wales and in the final. Still, he only added to his burgeoning reputation. It will be almost impossible to top the year he has had. 7

Andre Gomes He earned a starting spot against Iceland and put in an excellent display, creating the goal scored by Nani. But, his injury against Croatia would greatly limit him. He made a positive substitute appearance against Wales but did not appear in the final. 6

Adrien Silva The Sporting captain made his debut in the tournament against Croatia. He earned Fernando Santos’ confidence with some impressive performances on the way to the final. Unselfish, hardworking and tough, he embodies Portugal’s championship-winning side more than anyone. 7

João Moutinho A starter at the beginning of the tournament, the Monaco midfielder was not at his best in the group stage. He was forced to withdraw at half-time against Hungary due to an injury. However, he came in as a late substitute against Poland and provided a dangerous through-ball to Ronaldo, who could not capitalize. He made a major impact as a substitute in the final, helping to create the winning goal. 7

João Mário Much was expected of the Sporting midfielder at the beginning of the tournament. He was noticeably quiet against Iceland and was dropped in favour of Quaresma in the second match. Back as a starter against Hungary he provided an assist on Cristiano Ronaldo’s back-heel goal. His decision-making left much to be desired at times in the knockout stages but he was much better in the final. 7

 

Forwards

Cristiano Ronaldo The Portuguese captain was not always at his best in this tournament. He was a frustrated figure against Iceland and Austria but silenced his critics with a brace against Hungary. He was decisive again in the semi-final against Wales. His tournament seemed destined to end once again in tears when he was forced to withdraw in the final because of a knee injury. But, his teammates rallied around his absence and handed him that elusive championship at international level.  8

Nani The 29-year-old rebuilt his damaged reputation. He finished tied with the team-lead in goals with three and added an assist on Sanches’ goal against Poland. He did all that while playing out of position. His move to Spanish club Valencia was finalized during the tournament.  8

Ricardo Quaresma At 32, the journeyman winger looks to have finally come into his own on the international scene. He was generally ineffective in his only start of the tournament against Austria. However, he proved to be a valuable option off the bench, scoring a late goal against Croatia and then putting away the winning penalty in the shoot-out against Poland. 7

Rafa Silva He was originally expected to play a more prominent role. However, the Braga winger was limited to a short cameo in the late stages of the draw against Austria. He looked dangerous but was not able to break the deadlock. He is one for the future.  Incomplete

Éder Just weeks ago at pre-tournament friendlies the striker was whistled at by Portuguese fans every time he touched the ball. He made short substitute appearances against Iceland and Austria before the final. In a tournament of ample drama and great storylines for Portugal, it seems almost fitting that ‘the ugly duckling’ would score the most famous goal in the country’s history. 7

 

Manager

Fernando Santos He will never earn style points from the mainstream media but the 61-year-old found a way to win. By preaching unity and sacrifice above all, Santos got the most out of his players. He seemed to know how to make changes at the right time. Bringing on Sanches early in the second-half against Croatia and Éder in the final, seemed insane at the time but paid off enormously. 10

soccer-field1

2015-16 Team of the Season

Goalkeepers

It was an excellent year for goalkeepers. The nod in goal should go to Sporting and Portugal number one Rui Patricio who had his best season as a professional. Ederson (Benfica) and Gottardi (Arouca) certainly deserve some recognition in this category as well. A special acknowledgement should also go to youngsters Miguel Silva (Vitória Guimarães) and André Moreira (União da Madeira).

Defenders

At the centre-back position, Jardel and Victor Lindelöf helped propel Benfica to the title. It is an unlikely story. Jardel has never been the quickest or most technically-gifted, but has still managed to put together a solid career. Lindelöf began the season with the B squad. Injuries to Luisão and Lisandro Lopez allowed the Swede to establish himself. Together, they were the backbone of the championship-winning side. It is an obvious choice in the end.

At the full-back positions, Porto pair Miguel Layún and Maxi Pereira are the most deserving. Layún finished joint-leader in assists with 15. An amazing total especially for a full-back. He also pitched in five goals. While, Maxi did not miss a beat after making the sensational move to the Dragões. Ruben Semedo was also excellent for Vitoria de Setubal and parent-club Sporting. Marvin Zeegelaar was terrific for Rio Ave in the first-half of the season. And Benfica’s Nelson Semedo was excellent prior to his injury.

Midfielders

There are many good choices in midfield. Danilo Pereira seems like an obvious choice in the role of anchor. The Portuguese international was Porto’s most consistent performer this season. Portugal will have two excellent options in the ‘number 6’ position in France. William Carvalho missed the first several weeks due to a leg injury but eventually found his rhythm.

It would be a crime to overlook Renato Sanches. He only made his debut in late October but there is no denying that Benfica really began to hit their stride with the 18-year-old in his line-up. Despite suffering through injuries, Nicolas Gaitan still managed to lead the league in assists (alongside Layún). João Mário gets the slightest edge over Braga’s Rafa Silva. The Sporting midfielder took a major step forward in his career this season. His Sporting teammate Adrien was consistently good this season. Iuri Medeiros (Moreirense) and Diogo Jota (Paços de Ferreira) established themselves as players to watch.

Forwards

The obvious choices are Jonas and Islam Slimani. Jonas was dominant again this season leading the league in goals again with 32. He also added 14 assists. While Slimani managed to come second in goal with 27. Despite a relatively slow start, Kostas Mitroglou notched 20 goals for Benfica. Outside the “Big Three” Estoril’s Brazilian striker Leo Bonatini is one to watch scoring 17 goals this season. He should move on to a bigger club in the summer.

Bench

Ederson, Ruben Semedo, William, Adrien, Diogo Jota, Iuri Medeiros and Mitroglou.

SportsChat

This week I was interview by Sports Chat, a column that is part of the BettingRunner website. Among the topics discussed is the current title race in Portugal, my reasons for launching Futebol Factory, and why I feel Cristiano Ronaldo is the best Portuguese player of all-time. Full Interview

Calcio John Foot

Calcio: A History of Italian Football

Calcio: A History of Italian Football by John Foot

A comprehensive look at football in Italy by an English academic. In this dense look at football culture, Foot looks at how the game has been influenced by but also helped shape Italian society over time. And for those less inclined to the Italian football tradition, this book is so abundantly rich in storytelling that it reads almost like a novel at times.

What enriches Foot’s book the most is the excellent profiles of many of Italy’s most famous personalities, including Helenio Herrera, Giuseppe Meazza, Gigi Meroni and others. It also has a chapter on virtually every aspect of football down to match-fixing, doping and refereeing. It is one of my favourite non-fiction books.

When Beckham Went to Spain: Power, Stardom, and Real Madrid by Jimmy Burns

An excellent look at the history of Real Madrid written interestingly enough by an Barcelona fan. Burns tracks the evolution of the club as a global brand, using the 2003 transfer of David Beckham as a defining moment in the it’s history. At the same time it still is a profile of the English superstar, although his name does go unmentioned for long periods.

Burns’ book attempts to decipher exactly what Beckham’s move to Spain meant for the club and the country. At the time, Beckham’s move was largely seen as less a footballing decision than a commercial one. Although we have the benefit of hindsight, Beckham’s arrival meant a lot for the stature of Spain, La Liga and Real Madrid at the time.

La Roja: How Soccer Conquered Spain and How Spanish Soccer Conquered the World by Jimmy Burns

Another book by Anglo-Spanish journalist Jimmy Burns. ‘La Roja’ is a conventional history of football in Spain. Burns takes us from the first organized matches by English industrialists in Rio Tinto to Andrés Iniesta’s winning goal at the 2010 World Cup.

The book does an excellent job of highlighting the importance of football to Spain’s society in the 20th century. The less documented stories like the Athletic Bilbao squads of the 1930s is what makes this book fascinating. But of course, there is some rich detail about the origins of the Real Madrid and FC Barcelona rivalry that still dominates the narrative of La Liga today.

Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics by Jonathan Wilson

An interesting book about the evolution of formations and tactics in the game of football. The book is sometimes complicated, so it is not recommended for those who have only a modest interest in tactics. For those that love to discuss the merits of 4-3-3 over 4-4-2 this book is essential reading.

Wilson discusses in great detail the evolving game of football, from the frustrating but effective Italian Catenaccio, to the Total Football of the 1970s, and good old fashion counter-attack. The book even considers the more controversial subjects including the natural playmaker and the sweeper. It also has some great information about some of the tactical geniuses in history like Helenio Herrera, Rinus Michels and Nereo Rocco.

Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football by David Winner

One of the most original books written on the subject of football. Ironically it has less to do with the global game and more to do with how Holland’s cultural and history has influenced the Dutch style of football, particularly the Total football era of the 1970s.

The distinct Dutch style of shifting positions on the field has everything to do with finding and exploiting space. Is this not also the primary obsession of the nation of Holland that has fought to reclaim land from the sea for almost its entire modern history. Winner illuminates his theory with brilliant examples from architecture, literature and society to create an absorbing book.

Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey–and Even Iraq–Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World’s Most Popular Sport
by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski

Does for football what Michael Lewis’ Moneyball did for baseball. This book tries to understand the global game using hard statistics. Although some of their findings will cause some to scratch their heads, the point of the book is to get people to look at football a different way. And it succeeds admirably.

In one particularly fascinating section, the authors look at why exactly the vast majority of footballers come from disadvantaged backgrounds. In another, it considers whether hosting football tournaments like the World Cup actually generates real benefits to taxpayers. In its final chapter, Soccernomics looks at penalties in a purely statistical way.

Jogo Bonito: Pele, Neymar and Brazil’s Beautiful Game by Henrik Brandão Jönsson

Jönsson tells eight different stories. The sections on the Maracanazo, Garrincha and Corinthian Democracy are the most illuminating. The author explains how football has become such an integral part of the socio-political fabric of modern Brazil. And the consequences of all that.

This book is not the definitive history of football in Brazil. Those interested in a more comprehensive history of football in the South American giant should read David Goldblatt’s Futebol Nation: The Story of Brazil through Soccer and/or Alex Bellos’ Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life.

I am Zlatan by Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Zlatan Ibrahimovic chronicles his journey from a troubled childhood to his days at AC Milan in his own words. What makes the Swedish striker’s autobiography worth reading over players like Pele and Maradona, is that he cares little about what people think of him.

It is full of interesting stories, humour and a surprising amount of heart. His experiences under some of the game’s biggest personalities like Jose Mourinho, Fabio Capello and especially Pep Guardiola is well worth reading. It is an thoroughly absorbing read.

Fear and Loathing in La Liga: Barcelona, Real Madrid, and the World’s Greatest Sports Rivalry by Sid Lowe

Fans of both clubs and football in general will be drawn to the unique way these two giants have been connected over the years. Lowe tells the story in an impartial, detailed and interesting way.

He is also not afraid to break down many of the myths surrounding the rivalry, including the perception that Real Madrid was Franco’s team and that Barcelona was persecuted because of it.  It also captures how the rivalry reflects many of the deep divisions in Spanish society today.

Renato Sanches - Benfica

The first half of the Primeira Liga (Liga NOS) season officially came to an end this past weekend, making it an ideal time to reflect on some of the best home-grown Revelações. Portugal is in the middle of an exciting emerging generation. And the talent is no longer primarily concentrated among the country’s “Big Three.” Here are just some of the top revelations this season from Portugal.

Rui Silva, Nacional, Goalkeeper

The 21-year-old back-stopper has been one of the most consistent performers this season in the Primeira Liga. Silva replaced the injured Gottardi at half-time in a September match against Academica and has not looked back. Since then, he has conceded only 18 goals in 13 matches, and kept his club in matches against Sporting CP and FC Porto.

Rúben Neves, FC Porto, Defensive Midfielder

No list of promising Portuguese players is complete without the FC Porto midfield prodigy. Neves burst on to the scene last season with some impressive performances at the tender age of 17. He has continued to grow this season. In October, he became the youngest captain in the history of the Champions League. And he recently became the youngest player in club history to amass 50 senior matches for the Dragons.

João Palhinha, Moreirense FC, Defensive Midfielder

Portugal has never had a better crop of young defensive midfielders. Palhinha, who is on loan from Sporting, has been terrific this season for Miguel Leal’s club. The 20-year-old possesses a good combination of size, positioning and defensive instincts, making him ideal for the position. Palhinha and fellow Sporting loanee Iuri Medeiros have been fundamental to Moreirense’s turnaround from a poor start.

Renato Sanches, SL Benfica, Central Midfielder

The 18-year-old began the season with Benfica’s B squad but has since solidified his position in Rui Vitoria’s midfield. His individual highlight was a brilliant 40-yard strike against Academica in December. He has also not looked out of place against tougher competition in the Champions League. And the most telling statistic, Benfica has won nine of the ten league matches Sanches has played this season. The only blemish was a scoreless draw against União da Madeira.

Diogo Jota, Paços de Ferreira, Winger

The talented teenager has made a major impact for Paços since his debut in the second-half of last season. Jota has scored five goals and created another six, in 16 matches this season. He has formed a good partnership with Bruno Moreira. And together, they have propelled the club to fifth-place. It seems like Jota is destined to move on to a bigger club this summer. Benfica are said to be very interested.

Honorable Mention

Miguel Silva, Vitória de Guimarães, Goalkeeper
Nélson Semedo, SL Benfica, Right-Back
Rúben Semedo, Vitória Setúbal, Centre Back/Midfielder
André Horta, Vitória Setúbal, Attacking Midfielder
Iuri Medeiros, Moreirense FC, Midfielder/Winger
Gonçalo Guedes, SL Benfica, Winger
Gelson Martins, Sporting CP, Winger

Sporting-Benfica

Lisbon derbys always draw up a lot of excitement in the Portuguese capital. Jorge Jesus’ sensational move from Benfica to Sporting in the summer just added fuel to the already tense rivalry between the two sides. When the final whistle was heard at the Estádio da Luz on Sunday, Jesus had earned the last laugh with a 3-0 victory against his former club.

Despite a positive start for the home side, Sporting managed to grab an early lead when Colombian striker Teo Gutiérrez was able to get on the end of a long pass by Adrien. In the 21st minute, Islam Slimani scored with a thunderous header from a Jefferson cross. And later in the 1st half, Bryan Ruiz pounced on a rebound to put Sporting up 3-0.

Jorge Jesus’ return to the Estádio da Luz could not have gone more to plan. The loss will no doubt sting Benfiquistas supporters as much as it enthralls Sportinguistas.

It was Benfica’s first loss at home in a league match since a 3-2 defeat to FC Porto on 2 March, 2012, ending a run of 55 matches unbeaten. The result also had a far-reaching impact when it comes to the title race. Sporting now sit alone at the top of the table with 20 points after eight matchdays. Benfica remain eight points back, but have played one fewer match than their rivals.

Last year’s champions have now lost the first three matches of the season against the other two members of the ‘Big Three.’ But Benfica will get an opportunity to avenge this loss when they face Sporting again in Portuguese Cup action on 21 November.

What the managers said

Sporting manager Jorge Jesus:

“I did not expect to win 3-0. Did I believe Sporting would win. Yes. But not 3-0.”

“I am very happy to earn three points at the Estádio da Luz, especially considering the environment surrounding this match. I have a lot of respect for our opponents and Benfica. But, I want to give Sporting a lot of credit for the way they played. It is not easy to win 3-0 here.”

“There is a lot of pride in this victory. I spent six years at Benfica and played Sporting 14 times. Sporting only won once. Since I arrived here, we have played Benfica twice and won twice.”

“It was a brilliant victory at a place where I had some brilliant games and brilliant years…I am used to having great moments here [at the Luz]. Sporting played a great match.”

Benfica manager Rui Vitoria:

“It was a very unusual match. We created pressure in the Sporting zone to start, but after a fortunate bounce, they scored. That got into our player’s heads. Afterwards, we raised our game again, but Sporting scored a second and a third. It was a very unjust match because we thought that we were playing well. Sporting really took their opportunities.”

“I have gone through much worse professionally and personally. We do not want to go through moments like this but it is part of the growing process. We need to remember that we are Benfica and at this club we fight until the very end.”

“It is important to know that when we lose we need to be able to analyze. I have gone through a lot but this is one of the worst results I have been a part of.”

FC Porto held by Braga

FC Porto missed their chance to catch Sporting in the late match on Sunday. Julen Lopetegui’s side were unable to solve Braga and had to settle for a scoreless draw. They now sit in 2nd spot, two points behind Sporting. After the match, Lopetegui downplayed the significance.

“We are going into the 9th matchday. There is still a lot of time left. We are on a positive path and if we continue, we will be champions in the end.”

“We put a lot of players forward [against Braga]. We finished the match with three defenders and only one midfielder. We were in control throughout the match. But if we do not score, football will punish you.”

It was another positive result for Paulo Fonseca’s Braga club. Os Arsenalistas beat French giants Olympique Marseille in the Europa League on Thursday to bring their group stage record to three wins from three. The draw at the Estádio do Dragão means they sit in 4th position in the Primeira Liga.

In other action, Rio Ave gave up a late lead to Estoril and drew 2-2. Both clubs finished the match with ten men. Pedro Martins’ side remain in third place. Belenenses’ moved up to 10th in the table after a 1-0 victory against União da Madeira in the Monday night match. Second half substitute Tiago Caeiro scored in the 90th minute to give his team the victory.