Last night at the Estádio José Alvalade, Rúben Amorim fielded a team which featured eight players aged 22 or under. Luís Maximiano (21), Eduardo Quaresma (18), Rafael Camacho (20), Matheus Nunes (21), Wendel (22), Nuno Mendes (18), Gonzalo Plata (19), Jovane Cabral (22). On the bench, another three players 22 or under, Joelson Fernandes (17), Pedro Mendes (22) and Idrissa Doumbia (22).
Sporting CP delivered a solid performance, securing a 2-0 win courtesy of a free-kick from Jovane Cabral and an Andraž Šporar penalty and currently sit 3rd in the Primeira Liga on 49 points, three more than Braga who play tonight. After the match, the result and the three points were not the only talking point, instead, much of the post-match reaction was dedicated to discussion regarding Amorim’s recent youthful team selections. His willingness to put faith in the younger, less experienced members of his squad has been a breath of fresh air since his arrival and the team appear to be working and playing better on the pitch as a result of this.
The obvious rebuttal with regard to Benfica and Porto’s more experienced team selections is that Amorim is in a more privileged position, he is being able to experiment more freely with youth because his club is not directly fighting for the Primeira Liga title, therefore there is less pressure on his shoulders. Now, this is a fair point, both Bruno Lage and Sérgio Coneição both probably feel that they are in such a constrained position, especially given both teams recent forms, where they can’t afford to throw in a young player in case they are shown to be not ready or make a mistake and the repercussions end up being catastrophic. However, that doesn’t make what Amorim is doing any less impressive, whilst Sporting are not fighting for the title currently, they also weren’t whilst under Sporting’s previous managers in recent seasons, so what was their excuse?
Since his time in Liga NOS at both SC Braga and Sporting CP, he has presided over 14 matches and gave 6 debuts during that time. Nuno Mendes, Eduardo Quaresma and Matheus Nunes all receiving their first league outing under him for the Leão’s, as well as Abel Ruiz, David Carmo and Pedro Amador at SC Braga. Now, how does that rank against Sporting’s previous coaches? Silas, Rúben’s predecessor was at the helm for 17 Liga NOS matches yet gave the same amount of league debuts to U23 players as Amorim (3), despite managing over 3x as many matches. Then if we go back before Silas to Marcel Keizer, the Dutchman was the manager for 28 league matches, 11 more than Silas and 24 more than Amorim yet he also only gave out three league debuts to players 23-and- under, the same amount as Amorim has in just four matches.
Amorim was asked after the match last night about whether he would be able to put out such youthful sides if Sporting were involved in the Primeira title race and he gave a very hopeful and inspiring answer both for his players and for the Sporting fan-base,
“They have to be prepared to be in that fight one day…we put pressure on them to be prepared soon, that is the life of Sporting. Prepared to be fighting for the title.”
The last line of the interview will be one that captivates a fanbase that for so long have had to suffer from mediocrity. Whilst it’s true that even the most naïve Sporting fan will not be getting overly carried away, the problems behind the scenes and directly above Mister Amorim are still very much present and that is still a grave concern, but at least as far as what is happening on the pitch is concerned, Sporting supporters can take pride in what Amorim is trying to build.
By Aaron Barton (@AaronBartonUK)