Rarely, if ever, has one club provided a tournament winning national team with so many of its star players as Sporting CP did to Portugal’s Euro 2016 team.
Of the 14 players involved in Portugal’s historic 1-0 win over France, no fewer than ten progressed through Academia Sporting in Alcochete, the prolific talent factory situated in the Setúbal District.
That number could have been even higher, too, as Portugal’s Man of the Match on the night, Pepe, also spent a two-week trial period with Sporting while he was contracted to C.S. Maritimo.
Portugal’s most-capped player and record goalscorer Cristiano Ronaldo is the most famous footballer to have passed through Sporting’s youth ranks and plenty of other top-class players have preceded and indeed followed him over the years.
Sporting are not solely prolific nurturers of talent, though. Like Portugal’s other big two (Benfica and Porto) they rely upon a broad scouting network that enables them to uncover hidden gems who they can acquire for relatively little and sell on for a fortune.
Hanging on to the top talents beyond a season or two is usually impossible for Sporting but if they had managed to retain their best youth products and bargain acquisitions, they might not currently be looking at a two-decade stretch without winning Portugal’s Primeira Liga.
Need a clear mental image to really wrap your head around just how long that barren stretch is? Feast your eyes on the above shot of Phil Babb, who played 27 times as the Lions won a league and cup double in 2002.
Anyway, check out how they could have lined up below. Champions League contenders?
Goalkeeper: Rui Patricio
- Age: 32
- Current Club: Wolves
- Sporting Apps: 464
- Major Honours: European Championship, UEFA Nations League, Taça de Portugal (x3), Taça da Liga, Supertaça Cândido de Oliveira (x3)
Young goalkeepers often find it difficult to establish themselves at a big club because it’s a position that historically values experience over youth.
It says plenty about Rui Patricio’s ability and temperament, therefore, that he was guarding Sporting’s net regularly from the age of just 19 and nearly a decade later, he was closing in on the club’s all-time appearance record held by Hilário.
He wouldn’t be able to usurp the legendary left-back, however. Patricio forced a move to Wolves following a 2018 incident where dozens of intruders (purporting to be disgruntled supporters of the club) stormed Sporting’s training complex and assaulted several players.
He has helped Wolves secure Europa League qualification twice, and they have a shot at winning the competition outright when it resumes next month.
Right Back: Cedric Soares
- Age: 28
- Current Club: Arsenal
- Sporting Apps: 89
- Major Honours: European Championship, Taça de Portugal (x2)
Germany-born Cedric Soares joined Sporting’s academy aged eight in 1999 and just under 12 years later he pulled on the famous green and white stripes for the first time.
A loan move to Academica in 2011-12 helped…