Lisbon enjoys Europe. Benfica and Sporting are two corporate masterpieces
They will face Inter and Juventus, in the quarter-finals of the Champions League and Europa League. They got there by buying well and selling better, year after year: if three clues prove it, three Portuguese are among the top eight teams in this special ranking. And Benfica leads it
Lisbon hopes. It hasn't happened for more than a decade, 2011/12, that Benfica and Sporting were both in the quarter-finals of the main UEFA competitions. One in the Champions League, the other in the Europa League. One as a dominatrix, the other as a lucid sufferer. It took this and that to bring about an astral conjuncture prepared from afar. Because the two teams from the Portuguese capital, in the same period, are also among the best eight in the balance sheet – Benfica first, Sporting seventh – between expenses and purchases on the transfer market.
The tip of the iceberg is the game of Gonçalo Ramos and his companions at the Estadio da Luz, where with the 5-0 victory over Bruges they sealed off the next round by adjusting astounding numbers: Benfica have the best attack in the Champions League (35 goals, preliminaries inclusive), second of all the top five European leagues (107, only Bayern Munich did better). On the opposite spectrum is the turbulent rise of Sporting, which makes, unmakes and makes again: Ruben Amorim's men have squandered a lead of two victories in the first two in the Champions League group stage, but a tournament below they have just eliminated the Premier League leaders Arsenal. A duel decided by the midfield goal of the promising playmaker Pedro Gonçalves and by the saves of the veteran Antonio Adan, including penalties – even in projects that work, the c factor does not hurt.
Those of Águias and Leões resist the sirens of the transfer market as far as possible, draw extra-large transfers and with those proceeds they always know how to renew themselves. On the Benfica side, think of Joao Felix, Enzo Fernandez, Darwin Nunez, Ruben Dias: 400 million euros from them alone. Or Bruno Fernandes and Joao Mario (over 100 million), two key examples at Sporting: both misunderstood by Italian football, which dismissed them badly and quickly. Today the former is among the technical leaders of the national team and Manchester United, the latter, a long-missed Nerazzurri player, a driving force behind Benfica – already 21 goals this season. These are just a few stories of the virtuous cycles of the two teams. The data, from Transfermarkt: since 2011, Benfica has totaled 823 market operations for a profit of 741.47 million (595.43 of expenses and 1.34 billion of collections); Sporting instead 740 and 298.92 million in assets (327.63 spent, 626.55 collected). Porto should also be included, now outside Europe, where however they had lifted four trophies up to 2011: they are second in the ranking of capital gains in the last 25 years – the positions of the other two do not change. Together they make Os Três Grandes of Portuguese football. And not just for sporting merits.
The next target? Don't stop here, as happened in 2012 instead. Surprise in the double confrontation with our Serie A. And break the spell that has lasted since the 1960s, because Sporting and Benfica haven't lifted an international cup since then. The green-and-whites will face Juventus in the quarter-finals, again as great underdogs. Benfica, on the other hand, is preparing for the fascinating amarcord challenge against Inter. "We hope to honor Mazzola's stories," said vice president Zanetti recalling the 1965 European Cup. It was the second of eleven consecutive European finals lost by Benfica from '63 to 2020 – in Lisbon they call it the curse of Béla Guttman, the coach of the two continental triumphs who left the club slamming the door. Last year the U19 team dispelled the taboo, conquering the Youth League. And today, Benfica hadn't scored five goals in a single match in the cup since the legendary days of Eusebio. Maybe new ones are coming.