Incomings: 4 (€54m)
Outgoings: 16 (€123.5m)
Net Spend: +€69.5m
Key Areas Addressed: ST, DM, RWB
Positions Not Addressed: GK, LW depth
Bargain Signing: Iván Fresneda (€9m)
Biggest Coup: Viktor Gyökeres (€20m)
It has been a rollercoaster few years for Sporting Clube de Portugal. After ending a 19-year title drought in 2021, Sporting followed that up with a second-straight Taça da Liga win and a second-straight 85-point haul, only to narrowly lose the title to Porto. The 2022/23 season, however, would see them fall by the wayside and endure a trophyless campaign, finishing fourth behind Benfica, Porto and Braga and missing out on Champions League qualification.
After a disappointing campaign, Sporting have given their fans plenty to smile about with the club beating Vizela 3-2 in their season opener via a 99th-minute winner from Paulinho, before edging Casa Pia 2-1 and eking out a 1-0 win against Famalicão. They would begin September with a 1-1 draw at Braga, before returning from the international break with a 3-0 win against newly promoted Moreirense.
Their win against Moreirense would see two new signings get on the score sheet with Viktor Gyökeres and Morten Hjulmand scoring in quick succession after the break, whilst a signing from January — Ousmane Diomande — added to their lead in extra time. They fell behind in the 49th minute of the following match, only to pull off a comeback 2-1 win in Austria via goals from Gyökeres and Diomande, with the Lions opening their Europa League campaign with a victory at Sturm Graz.
Paulinho broke the deadlock in the 10th minute whilst Marcus Edwards, making his third start of the season, doubled their advantage within a half-hour as Sporting pulled off a 2-0 win against Rio Ave. The Leões are the last remaining unbeaten team in Portugal alongside Porto, and they sit level on 16 points with Porto, one above Benfica and three above Boavista. They have a +8 goal differential in contrast to Porto’s +5, and whilst Sérgio Conceição’s side will be traveling to Benfica on Friday for the first Clássico of the season, Sporting will travel to Farense before hosting Atalanta.
Rúben Amorim’s side are clicking on all cylinders and one of the biggest reasons has been their summer 2023 window, a period that would see Sporting maximise profit from player sales, sign valuable profiles for low fees, extend the contracts of key players and retain the services of Amorim and several key players.
Iván Fresneda | RB | 19 | Real Valladolid | €9m
It was clear that Sporting needed to prioritize a right wing-back following Pedro Porro’s January departure to Tottenham, with Ricardo Esgaio struggling to convince and Héctor Bellerín barely featuring before returning to Real Betis. They got their Porro replacement in Iván Fresneda, who, like Porro, is a Spaniard who has played for Real Valladolid. A physically imposing player who is skilled at whipping in crosses, taking on his man, drifting into inverted positions and maneuvering out of pressure, Fresneda has what it takes to be a revelation in Lisbon.
Viktor Gyökeres | ST | 25 | Coventry City | €20m
After a two-year spell at Coventry City that would see him score 43 goals and 17 assists in 116 appearances and lead the Bluebirds to the verge of promotion to the Premier League, Viktor Gyökeres has made the move to Lisbon for a club-record fee of €20 million plus €4 million in bonuses. Whilst center forward has been Sporting’s Achilles heel in recent years, the Swedish striker has everything it takes to emerge as one of the best in his position in Portugal, a clinical finisher who is strong in physical duels and who loves to make runs in behind.
Capable of beating the goalkeeper with either foot, Gyökeres is an imperious presence in the air and offers a target man profile that has not only proven compatible with Paulinho, but forced Paulinho to raise his level in order to handle the competition. The Portuguese veteran has five goals this season and sits level atop the scoring charts, and whilst he started against Rio Ave at the expense of Gyökeres, an unused substitute, expect these two to be involved as Sporting look to continue their impressive start.
Morten Hjulmand | DM | 24 | Lecce | €18m
Another Scandinavian player who has made the move to Sporting, Morten Hjulmand has become the first Danish player to play for the Lions since a certain Peter Schmeichel over two decades ago. Hjulmand captained Lecce as they narrowly avoided relegation in their return to Serie A, and he has already made an instant impact at the Estádio José Alvalade, providing intelligence, positional awareness and a lethal shot from distance, capable of sweeping up danger and reacting first to loose balls.
Having sold Manuel Ugarte to PSG for €60m, Sporting found a perfect replacement for less than a third of what they earned from the Uruguayan’s departure. With a contract until 2028 and a release clause of €80m, it seems a near-certainty that Sporting will make a mouth-watering profit on the 24-year-old, who made his Denmark debut on September 7, but for now, he’s going to be absolutely vital in the center of the pitch for Sporting.
Francisco Trincão | RW | 23 | Barcelona | €7m
Francisco Trincão burst onto the scene for Braga a mere four years ago under the management of Amorim, earning a €31m move to Barcelona, where he would struggle to make an impact. After a futile loan spell at Wolves, Trincão returned to Portugal and signed a one-year loan deal with Sporting for €3m, with a €7m obligation to buy 50% of his economic rights, whilst Barcelona retained a buyback clause in the region of €25m.
Despite calls for him to be removed from the line-up due to declining performances, Amorim stuck by Trincão as he gradually found confidence, netting a hat-trick in a 4-3 win against Casa Pia in April and racking up a total of 13 goals and four assists in 52 appearances. So far, he has failed to make a goal contribution in any of his seven appearances this season, lasting just over an hour against Vizela and Sturm Graz and making brief cameos off the bench in the other matches.
Pedro Porro | RB | 24 | Tottenham | €40m
Pedro Porro played a key role in Sporting’s title win and emerged as the best right wing-back in Portugal, prompting Sporting to make his loan permanent for €8.5 million in May 2022 after two seasons at the club. The Spaniard would depart for London in January, making the move to Tottenham for an initial loan fee of €5m plus a €40m obligation to buy in the summer.
Manuel Ugarte | DM | 22 | PSG | €60m
Two years after making the move from Famalicão for €6.5 million (eventually amounting to €12.5 million), Manuel Ugarte would emerge as a destroyer in midfield and seamlessly replace João Palhinha in midfield, proving instrumental in the center of the pitch after a summer that saw Palhinha and Matheus Nunes move to England. Whilst Ugarte looked set to follow their footsteps and join Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain ended up beating them to the signing, triggering his €60m release clause.
Youssef Chermiti | ST | 19 | Everton | €12.5m
Seven months after making his first-team debut, Youssef Chermiti was sold to Everton for €12.5 million plus €2.5 million in bonuses, a raw striker with promising attributes, but who has nevertheless been upgraded on by the arrival of Gyökeres, who has joined for a similar fee. Sporting have also sold Tiago Tomás (€8m) and Arthur Gomes (€3m) and loaned out various youngsters in need of minutes such as Issahaku Fatawu (Leicester City), Mateus Fernandes (Estoril), Mateo Tanlongo (Copenhagen) and Sotiris Alexandropoulos (Olympiakos), reducing their wage bill and squad size in the process.
Nuno Santos | LWB/LW | 28 | Extended to 2027
Having previously spent time at Porto and Benfica, Nuno Santos has emerged as a reliable performer at left winger and left wingback, grabbing seven league goals in their title-winning campaign and impressing in a more defensive role following Nuno Mendes’ departure to PSG in 2021. A tireless warrior who covers every blade of grass and has chipped in his fair share of wonder goals, Santos’ extension is a testament to his increasing importance under Rúben Amorim.
Gonçalo Inácio | CB | 22 | Extended to 2027
Alongside Nuno Santos, Sebastián Coates, Pedro Gonçalves and Antonio Adán, Gonçalo Inácio is one of the last remaining key players from Sporting’s title-winning campaign in 2020/21, having grown into a vital leader in central defense and a regular for the Portugal national team. A ball-playing center back, Inácio thrives at maneuvering his way out of pressure and breaking the lines with his passing, and Sporting have done well to protect their asset by increasing his release clause from €45m to €60m.
Ousmane Diomande | CB | 19 | Contract until 2027
Eyebrows were raised when Sporting paid €7.5 million to sign teenage defender Ousmane Diomande from Danish club Midtjylland in January, with his loan being cut short halfway into a promising season at Portuguese second-tier side Mafra, but he has quickly proven a shrewd bargain for the Leões and emerged as a starter on the right side of defense alongside Coates and Inácio. With an €80 million release clause, it’s only a matter of time before Sporting cash in on the Ivorian teenager for a massive profit.
Pedro Gonçalves | LW/RW/AM | 25 | Extended to 2027
Having finished as the league’s top scorer in their title-winning campaign, Pedro Gonçalves has emerged as one of the first names on the team sheet under Amorim, operating as a central midfielder at times last season alongside Ugarte or Hidemasa Morita but nevertehless racking up 15 goals and 11 assists, the only player in Portugal to reach double figures in assists last season. He has not only proven a consistent goal threat but a reliable figure in terms of winning duels and carving out chances, and he looks set to play a fundamental role for the Lions this season.
Marcus Edwards | RW | 24 | Contract until 2026
Once likened to a young Lionel Messi by Mauricio Pochettino, Marcus Edwards was never able to make the grade at Tottenham, but after spells at Norwich City, Excelsior and Vitória, he has finally found some stability after making the move to Sporting in January 2022. A stellar finisher and a creative outlet, Edwards is capable of creating magic on his day, and if he can find some consistency this season, it’ll only be a matter of time before a Premier League club comes calling for his services.
Rúben Amorim | Manager | Contract until 2026
At 38 years old, Rúben Amorim has emerged as one of the brightest young managers in Europe, ending Sporting’s 19-year title drought and establishing them as a force to be reckoned with in domestic and international competition. Having been in charge since March 2020, Amorim is the club’s longest serving manager since Paulo Bento (2005-2009), and it doesn’t seem like he’s leaving anytime soon.
Positions Not Addressed
GK: Whilst Porto and Braga boast two of the league’s finest goalkeepers in Diogo Costa and Matheus Magalhães, Antonio Adán has shown signs of decline at 36 and looks far more error-prone than the player who excelled in between the sticks in their championship-winning season in 2020/21. They signed Franco Israel (23) from Juventus last year to serve as his backup, but it may be time to look for a genuine replacement soon if the Spaniard’s struggles continue. Whether domestically (Andrew Ventura or Ignacio de Arruabarrena) or in South America (Bento, Kevin Mier, Lucas Perri, Moisés Ramírez), they aren’t short of options.
LW depth: Whilst Sporting have various options at left winger including Pedro Gonçalves, Francisco Trincão and Marcus Edwards, they are all left-footed. A right-footed left winger like Iván Jaime — now at Porto — would be better suited for their attack, and there are plenty of names that are worth considering such as Heerenveen’s Osame Sahraoui, Boca Juniors’ Exequiel Zeballos or Cruzeiro’s Wesley who would be fitting, low-cost options.
Player to Watch This Season?
Dário Essugo | DM | 18
In 2021, he became the youngest player to debut for Sporting and the youngest Portuguese player to play in the UEFA Champions League. In 2022, he surpassed Luís Figo as the youngest player to start for Sporting. Dário Essugo, who doesn”t turn 19 until March, is a physically dominant midfielder who excels in ground duels, but he has struggled for minutes under Amorim, failing to make a single appearance this season. Nevertheless, with Sporting involved in various different competitions, Essugo should be able to get more minutes and stake out a case as the backup to Morten Hjulmand in the defensive midfielder role.
By: Ben Mattinson / @Ben_Mattinson_
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Octavio Passos / Getty Images