Primeira Liga: Portugal’s Big Three
With the nation still riding high on the crest of their EURO 2016 success, the Kitbag.com blog sets its sights on the sunnier climes of Portugal; a country where the continuing and near-unbroken success of three leading clubs continues to define its top domestic division. With only Belenenses (1946) and Boavista (2001) disrupting their decades of dominance, Kitbag takes a snapshot of Portugal’s ‘Big Three’: FC Porto, Benfica and Sporting Lisbon.
An apparent engine room of success, no fewer than ten of the Portugal players that featured in their EURO 2016 final win against France were products of the Sporting Lisbon academy. Despite this laudable feat, today’s Lions are currently in the midst of a 15-season championship drought, having last lifted Portugal’s Primeira Liga trophy in 2001-02, when Brazilian striker Mário Jardel fired home a formidable 42 league goals to bolster their cause. Winners of the Taça de Portugal cup competition in 2015, Sporting were league runners-up last time out and the Estádio José Alvalade outfit will hoping to go one better this time, encouraged by the early season form of their latest crop of talent.
Winning admirers through his display in the UEFA Champions League defeat to Real Madrid, Cape Verde native Gelson Martins recently secured his first call-up to the full Portuguese national squad, after previously representing the country at a variety of youth development levels. Currently on the radar of La Liga giants Barcelona, with rivals Real and Manchester United also rumoured to be in the hunt, the 21-year old winger, who scored the winner against Porto on 28 August, is said to command a release clause in the region of £50 million.
With tradition at its core, Macron’s latest Sporting Lisbon home jersey retains the club’s green and white horizontal hoops, with dark accents and effective mesh inserts at the shoulders and sides alike. An attractive black effort with fluorescent green details, the all-new Sporting away shirt meanwhile draws attention to the club’s lion’s head symbol, which is replicated in a large, bold motif, sublimation-printed on the front. With fluo detailing, this charge top reflects the style recently adopted by a number of Europe’s leading clubs, while the home shirt’s heritage connotations, coupled with its almost rugby-like characteristics, ensures kit-conscious Sporting fans will not be without their options this season.
The second of the Big Three to represent the city of Lisbon, two-time European Cup winners Benfica are the most successful club in Portuguese history, with a record 35 Primeira Liga championships and 25 Taça de Portugals in their swelled trophy cabinet. Playing their football out of Portugal’s largest ground, the impressive Estádio da Luz, Benfica are able to welcome 15,000 more supporters than their closest rivals each and every matchday, with the stadium itself known for playing host to the finals of EURO 2004 and the 2014 UEFA Champions League tournament. Starting their 2016-17 Primeira Liga challenge with six wins and a draw from their opening seven games, defending champions Benfica are now in pole position to extend their success, having already won the Portuguese title for each the last three years.
Despite a mere cameo role at the EUROs, Benfica newcomer Rafa Silva has made waves this year, helping previous club Braga to their second all-time Taca de Portugal, 50 years (to the day!) from their first. The 23-year old, already cast as ‘the Portuguese Eden Hazard’, commanded a £13.8m transfer fee on his summer move to Estádio da Luz, establishing a new record deal between two Portuguese clubs, in spite of interest from both Tottenham and Premier League champions Leicester. Sidelined with injury in the short-term, this exciting midfielder from Forte da Casa will be one to watch on his imminent return.
Anchored by Benfica red and white, the newest Eagles home jersey carries the same adidas 3 Stripe side placement popularised across the summer, with its subtle horizontal striping adding a further layer of character to a jersey that maintains a number of visual traditions. With white sleeve trim ensuring a pleasing stylistic consistency, a throwback V-neck finish is accompanied by ‘SOU DO BENFICA’ inner neck taping, with its club crest intact at the breast. The alternate jersey provides a logical inversion; primarily black in colour, while adopting on-trend monochromatic elements and a differing crew neck collar construction.
Seemingly-regular visitors to the British isles in Champions League and Europa League play, FC Porto are perhaps best known for launching managerial maverick/mastermind Jose Mourinho into the continental spotlight, yet the two-time champions of Europe have left an enviable trophy trail of their own over the years, winning a total 27 Primeira Liga crowns, as well as a sweet 16 Taça de Portugal trophies. With ten league titles since the turn of the millennium, the Dragons have enjoyed something of a golden era in recent times, wrapped around the opening of their swish Estádio do Dragão home in 2003. However, the boys in blue and white have been left trophy-less these last three seasons, something former player Nuno Espírito Santo (the Oporto club’s latest manager) will seek to correct as a priority.
Arriving in Oporto from Liga MX’s Pachuca for a princely sum of €8 million, midfielder Héctor Herrera is currently circling his 50th cap for the Mexican national team, in addition to his exploits on the Portuguese football circuit. An 2012 Olympic Gold medalist in London, the 26-year old from Tijuana is the Dragons’ current captain and has delivering a number of important goals across his Porto stint to date. Sitting alongside his efforts in the Champions League, a pivotal equaliser against bitter rivals Benfica helped Porto claim a 2-1 victory in February over the would-be champions. Herrera recently set out his stall for 2016-17 with a delicious long-range strike, helping his team to a 3-1 opening day victory at Rio Ave.
New Balance’s newest Porto home jersey reinterprets the club’s famed blue and white combination; its familiar striped body embellished by fresh gradient elements and a smart traditional collar. The away shirt meanwhile trades the Oporto club’s iconic uniform for an inventive night sky image, embellished by intergalactic Dragão star-styled constellation graphics. Taking the team’s ‘Dragons’ moniker to entirely new level (in line with New Balance’s 2016-17 ‘Outro Nível’ initiative), the recognisable FCP crest appears in one-colour celestial blue, enhancing a design made for Porto and their out of this world support. On each of these jerseys meanwhile, the fans’ rallying cry of ‘Porto! Porto! Porto!’ appears on the internal hem; ensuring an added lift for the fans as they cheer their team to new heights. AC