Whatever happened to Porto's unlikely likely lads?

Four months after winning the European Cup, a new Porto tonight face their old manager.
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Porto's supporters could be forgiven for wondering whether it was all worth it.

Porto's supporters could be forgiven for wondering whether it was all worth it. Four months after winning the European Cup, six of the Portuguese champions' triumphant squad and all the front-line coaching staff have left, only half of the income from transfer fees has been spent on replacements, and it took until the sixth competitive match of the season for the new-look team to register their first win.

Life after Jose Mourinho, who left in the summer to become Chelsea's new manager, was never going to be easy and the task facing Porto will be emphasised tonight when they come up against some familiar faces in the Champions' League at Stamford Bridge. Not only are Chelsea coached by the men who masterminded their European triumph, but the home team's defence also includes two of Porto's former heroes, Paulo Ferreira and Ricardo Carvalho.

At least Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa, the Porto president, has been able to cry all the way to the bank. The four players from the European Cup final starting line-up who left were sold for £45m. Roman Abramovich paid £33m for Ferreira and Carvalho, while Deco, the playmaker, and Pedro Mendes, another midfielder, were sold for comparative knockdown prices of £10m and £2m to Barcelona and Tottenham Hotspur respectively. The two other departures were both substitutes in Gelsenkirchen, Dmitri Alenichev, who has returned to Moscow, and Edgar Jankauskas, who has gone to Nice.

Although Porto appear to have bought well in the summer, it was only on Saturday that they recorded their first win, Costinha's late goal securing a 1-0 league victory at Vitoria Guimaraes. Having drawn their three other league matches, Porto are sixth in the table. In Europe they lost 2-1 to Valencia in the Super Cup and drew 0-0 at home to CSKA Moscow in the Champions' League.

While Porto were no novices before Mourinho's arrival - only Manchester United can match their 10 appearances in the Champions' League and they had reached one semi-final and two quarter-finals before last season, not to mention their European Cup success in 1987 - there was never any doubt that 2004 triumph would be a double-edged sword. Portuguese football has failed to keep pace financially with England, Spain, Italy and Germany and as soon as Porto proved that their Uefa Cup success last year was no flash in the pan it became obvious that their coach and best players would become targets for the Continent's biggest clubs.

By the time of the victory over Monaco, Mourinho's departure was inevitable. In the end, the parting was not on the best of terms. Many Porto fans did not like what they saw as the manager's arrogance when he did not join in the post-match celebrations, though Mourinho later said he was concerned for his safety after receiving a death threat before the final from a figure in the Portuguese underworld.

Mourinho was gone within days, taking four of his senior coaching staff with him. Porto replaced Mourinho with Luigi del Neri, who had masterminded the rise of Chievo in Serie A, but he was sacked before the start of the season. The club cited "private reasons", but the word in Porto was that the president was not happy with the Italian's time-keeping and was particularly upset when he missed a training session. There were also suggestions that the players did not appreciate Del Neri's traditional methods, having grown accustomed to Mourinho's more scientific approach.

Victor Fernandez, formerly with Real Zaragoza, Real Betis and Celta Vigo, replaced Del Neri, but the Spanish coach has had little chance to work with the squad. The only time when Porto have not been playing midweek matches was when most of their players were away on international duty. Two of the summer recruits, Diego and Pepe, arrived from Brazil without having had a break, while Derlei, Diego and Nuno Valente have been injured.

"When there are new coaches and new players, time is needed to create habits," Jorge Costa, the captain, said. "Unfortunately, we have not had the time to practise, just to play. We have great players, but we're not yet a team."

Nevertheless, confidence is high. Fernandez warned Chelsea that Porto are "not an easy team to beat", while Diego said spirits had been lifted by Saturday's victory. "We're improving all the time and we have a side that can beat Chelsea," the Brazilian said.

Although the rumour mill suggested that most of the Porto squad would leave in the summer, only four of those who started the final against Monaco actually went. Moreover, the size of the transfer fees, particularly those paid by Chelsea, enabled Porto to bring in nine new players for only half of their summer's income.

Pinto da Costa, president for 22 years, knows his way around the transfer market and had the benefit of Mourinho's advice for some of the summer recruits. Diego and his fellow Brazilian, Luis Fabiano, look particularly astute signings, while Quaresma has made a quick impression. The squad is young, with the best of them on long-term contracts. But resources will be tested in defence tonight as Giourkas Seitaridis and Nuno Valente, the first choice full-backs, are injured.

Mourinho has been quoted as saying that the new Porto could prove to be even better than his European champions, but the Chelsea manager gave a short response yesterday when asked about the strength of his opponents tonight. "I don't have to answer that," he said. "That's a matter for the people who manage the club."

While they have much to live up to on the pitch, there is no doubt that the summer's activity has left Porto stronger off it. The transfer surplus has been used to pay off debts and has left the club in a much healthier situation than all their Portuguese rivals. Attendances in the fabulous Dragao stadium - state and city money helped to pay for its construction in time for Euro 2004 - have held up well, with more than 37,000 watching the last home game against Leiria.

Although there was some booing at the end of that last home game, the signs are that the Porto public want to give Fernandez and his team a chance. While Del Neri appeared to want to distance himself from Porto's glorious recent past, his successor knows when not to look a gift horse in the mouth. "It would be silly to break with the past when the past was so good," Fernandez said. "We must reinforce what was good and add to it."

Champions for hire: the players who left

Paulo Ferreira: Mourinho's first target - the full-back joined Chelsea in the summer for £13.2m

Ricardo Carvalho: central defender, joined Chelsea for £20m.

Pedro Mendes: Versatile midfielder sold to Tottenham for bargain £2m in deal which saw Helder Postiga move in other direction.

Deco: Playmaker, sold to Barcelona for £10m.

Edgaras Jankauskas: The towering Lithuanian international striker almost switched to Tottenham in the summer but moved to Nice instead

Dmitri Alenichev: After six years in western Europe, the last four at Porto, the Russian rejoined Spartak Moscow

...and coaching staff

Jose Mourinho, manager

Baltemar Brito, assistant manager

Silvino Louro, goalkeeping coach

Rui Faria, fitness coach

Andrea Zilas-Boas, technical coach

(all joined Chelsea)

The new recruits

Pepe: Brazilian defender recommended by Jose Mourinho

Areias: Pacy left-back recommended by Mourinho

Giourkas Seitaridis: Outstanding for Greece in Euro 2004

Raul Meireles: Defensive midfielder who played for Portugal in Olympics

Diego: Signed from Santos for £5m Hugo Leal: Portuguese midfielder, free transfer from Paris St-Germain Helder Postiga: Striker recruited from Tottenham for £5m

Luis Fabiano: Ronaldo's understudy for Brazil, said to be a target for Jose Mourinho. Joined Porto from São Paulo and has started well

Quaresma: Portuguese winger signed from Barcelona for £4m

Comments