Sporting Lisbon's youth program failed to meet the club's need for league titles and not even the millions earned in transfer fees allowed for the success of a business model that must now be questioned throughout the world of soccer
The most celebrated youth football program in Europe is struggling and clubs throughout the world should take notice in what can be a huge wake up call for those who followed the same business model. Sporting Clube de Portugal (www.sporting.pt), one of the three major clubs in the country, was responsible for developing some of the sport’s most shinning superstars, such as Paulo Futre (played for Sporting, FC Porto, Atlético Madrid, Benfica, Marseille and AC Milan), Luís Figo (Sporting, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Internazionale) and Cristiano Ronaldo (now in Real Madrid’s squad, after spells with Sporting and Manchester United), but failed to achieve financial stability and a winning formula and is on the verge of collapse.
Without the income sources that are only available in bigger markets (England, Spain, Italy and Germany), clubs from smaller leagues, such as Portugal’s, France’s and the Netherlands, turned to the youth programs as a way to build stronger squads and alternative revenues – trough player transfer fees – with Sporting and Ajax, from Amsterdam, being the “role models” for dozens that follow the same path, but recent events are showing that this reasonable approach is no match for the need for immediate success the emotional football fans always demand.
Held by the football international association (FIFA) as one of the world’s top youth program’s, Sporting’s ‘Academia’, as it is known to fans, proved its worth by spawning generation after generation of top players that ended up joining the biggest clubs in Europe, in exchange for millions in transfer fees. Since 2002, the club earned close to 100 million dollars ($100,000,000) by selling the rights to such stars as Hugo Viana ($15,200,000), Ricardo Quaresma ($7,600,000), Cristiano Ronaldo ($19,000,000), or Nani ($31,100,000), but never won the league again and is now struggling in the beginning of a new season. This summer, the club’s officials decided to rebuild, selling two of their biggest stars, Miguel Veloso and the team captain, João Moutinho, for no more than $25,500,000, while facing a debt of $343,000,000.
In a desperate attempt to reach immediate success, they traded the talents of the two 23 year-old Portuguese internationals for the aging skills of players like Jaime Valdés - 29 year-old Chilean midfielder signed from Atalanta – or Maniche – 32 year-old Portuguese midfielder on a free transfer – but the new season started on the same note: the loss to Bronby, from Denmark, in last Thursday’s Europa League’s play-off match, drove the fans into a near-riot mood that can spark drastic measures in club management,
The future of club president, José Eduardo Bettencourt, hangs in the balance, but what is happening to Sporting should be approached as part of a broader picture.
The big money provided by the millionaires that are acquiring football clubs all over the planet while the industry faces, as the rest of the world, the consequences of a global financial crises, changed the management game and the old rules don’t seem to apply any more. The millions flowing in the transfer market are feeding player’s agents and club officials, which would rather keep their assets on the move, piling up the big bucks for themselves.
The failure in Sporting’s quest for a financially sound and effective business model may come as the beginning of the end for dozens of clubs that aspired for more than the boundaries of their smaller markets, unless FIFA acts quickly, by enforcing the need to include more local based players in every team’s roster. The clock is ticking.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com