Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Juntas

Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Juntas

Sporting Lisbon manager Leonardo Jardim seldom shows much emotion when he speaks but even he could not hold back after his club’s latest victory on Sunday against Olhanense.

The notoriously serious 39-year old manager praised his player’s effort, saying that they deserved to win because they were the best team on the field.

“Sporting proved to be a team that likes to play good football, pressing hard, offensive-oriented and supportive. I believe that this club will continue to grow,“ Jardim added after Sporting’s 2-0 win.

Sporting’s new signing Colombian striker Fredy Montero scored shortly after the second half began. Portuguese midfielder Andre Martins scored a second at the hour mark to give Sporting the victory over the Algarve club.

The victory was the club’s third in four matches to start the season. The only blemish was a 1-1 draw against city-rivals Benfica. Os Leões sit second in the league behind FC Porto, having outscored their opposition 12-2 so far this campaign.

Just 4 competitive matches into his career with one of Portugal’s ‘Big three,’ Jardim already appears to be winning over many of the club’s faithful who have suffered through some terrible seasons.

What a difference a few matches could make. Sporting dominated Olhanense in the first half of Sunday’s match and were unlikely to be leading at the half. In recent seasons, the club would become visibly frustrated when faced with any kind of adversity.

But this year’s Sporting appears to be different.

Breaking With The Past

The club’ improving performances on the field are the result of a dramatic change of attitude at the club that has permeated down to the players. It has surely taken a long time for this to happen.

Current Portugal manager Paulo Bento was the last to achieve any kind of success with the club. Since he was fired in 2009, Sporting have had eight managers. None of which has achieved any consistent results.

Boasting 18 Portuguese League title, along with 15 Portuguese Cup, the club has not won a single trophy since the 2007-08 campaign. At the same time they have been burdened with mounting debt and disciplinary issues.

In 2011, after two poor seasons, its supporters elected Luiz Godinho Lopes as the club’s new president with the promise that he would attract new investment.

Sporting’s Alcochete academy is one of the most exceptional in Europe, having produced two Ballon D’or winners in Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo. The club has historically relied on developing young talent, many of which have gone one to play for Portugal.

Godinho Lopes decided to break with this tradition and purchased expensive foreign imports who, for the most part never managed to improve the club’s performances.

Elias, Danijel Pranjić, Oguchi Onyewu, Gelson Fernandes and others never adapted well to Portuguese football and were loaned out. Others like Stijn Schaars and Khalid Boulahrouz were often injured in their time at Alvalade.

At the same time academy players like Andre Santos, Wilson Eduardo, Adrien Silva and Andre Martins were either benched or loaned to other clubs.

With continuously poor results the club frequently showed signs of having discipline issues. In a January 2012 league cup match against Moreirense F.C, Sporting was given a penalty in the late stages with the score tied.

Bulgarian forward Valeri Bojinov shoved regular penalty taker Matias Fernandez away and took the penalty himself, which he missed. Bojinov never played for the club again and then manager Domingos Paciência was fired soon after.

Paciência’s replacement, Ricardo Sá Pinto was fired after a poor start to the 2012-13 campaign and replaced by Belgian Franky Vercauteren who lasted less than 3 months.

Veteran manager Jesualdo Ferreira was appointed in January 2013 and injected some new players into the club’s formations including central defender Tiago Ilori and über-talented winger Bruma. The club’s performances improved but but not enough to qualify for the Europa League.

A New Hope?

In March, the supporters elected life-long Sportinguista Bruno de Carvalho as the new president. He immediately set out to repair the club’s fledgling reputation. With the club not able to agree on a permanent contract with Jesualdo Ferreira, De Carvalho appointed Leonardo Jardim manager in May.

At the news conference announcing his hiring, Jardim spoke directly to fans and promised that things would be different from now on.

“I want to completely rebuild the club, with the unity and support of all sportinguistas, as well as through hard work. It is in our nature to believe and I know we will give our best to improve. I will not set targets, long or short-term. But we will build on what we have; with enough ambition it is possible to win every match. That is why I am here,” Jardim said.

“I want the unity of everyone at the club, with the objective to return it to its rightful place. In football, it is not only about the manager but also about the strong foundation around them,” he added.

What has emerged is a Sporting Lisbon under an austerity regime that looks re-energized and ambitious for the first time in years.

The club terminated its contracts with Onyewu, Pranjic, Boulahrouz and Bojinov. Schaars moved to PSV, while budding star Bruma demanded a major raise which the club was not able to meet and was sold off to Galatasaray.

The makeup of this year’s Sporting will look very familiar to long suffering fans. 7 of the 11 players in Jardim’s starting XI against Olhanense were academy players.

Wilson Eduardo and William Carvalho have returned from loan spells and have played well for the club. While midfielders Andre Martins and Adrien Silva have received call-ups for the Seleção.

This combined with the addition of Colombian striker Fredy Montero and the resurgence of Peruvian winger Andre Carrillo, Sporting appears destined for a top 3 finish this year.

Speaking to reporters this week, Bruno de Carvalho reaffirmed his belief that the new Sporting has the quality and resolve to win again.

“Leonardo Jardim and I are fulfilling a life-long dream. Our hard work has begun to pay off and with the support of sportinguistas, this could continue for many years. There is a sense with this Sporting squad that when the first negative result arises we could pick ourselves up again.”

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