Sevilla ready to launch project Sampaoli

Just weeks after Sevilla clinched an unprecedented third consecutive Europa League triumph, the Andalusians seem set to undergo managerial change. With Unai Emery’s exit confirmed, Los Rojiblancos are closing in on 56-year-old Argentine Jorge Sampaoli. Meanwhile, the departing coach is to progress his own career by replacing Laurent Blanc at big-spending Paris Saint-Germain. The official statement announcing Emery’s decision to leave also mentioned that talks with the former Universidad de Chile trainer are underway, although some media outlets believe discussions are at a more advanced stage.

Sampaoli’s assistant, Juanma Lillo, whom he worked with during his time in charge of the Chilean national team has reportedly already arrived in Sevilla, further fuelling talk his signature is imminent. Sporting Director Monchi, who now looks likely to remain at the club for the foreseeable future, has designs on a post-Emery project and views Sampaoli as the ideal man to lead the club forward.

Jorge Sampaoli (1)

Sampaoli’s style of play earned rave reviews during his spell in charge of Chile.

The Santa Fe native garnered widespread acclaim due to his side’s proactive approach during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Since leaving his post in January after a dispute with the Chilean FA, he has been a highly sought-after coach across Europe. In addition to Sevilla, both Valencia and FC Porto have been linked with a move to secure his services. In truth, talk of moves to Granada or indeed Brazilian giants Flamengo never seemed probable at any point.

Despite the fact Sampaoli’s appointment is yet to be confirmed, rumours have inevitably led to talk of who could join him in terms of summer signings. Brazilian journalist Bruno Andrade reported via his Ora Bolas column that the club are interested in São Paulo duo; 22-year-old central defender Rodrigo Caio and 26-year-old attacking midfielder Paulo Henrique Ganso. Although such talk is premature, Caio’s impressive versatility means he is a player who would no doubt fit within Sampaoli’s coaching philosophy.

Estádio Deportivo have also speculated on some potential additions to the Sevilla squad, after Sampaoli puts pen to paper. Atlético Madrid midfielder Óliver Torres and Real Madrid central defender Nacho Fernández, who is also wanted by Italian giants Roma, are just two of the names mentioned as being on the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán club’s radar.

Marcelo Bielsa.jpg

Like many of his compatriots, Sampaoli takes inspiration from Marcelo Bielsa.

The two biggest influences on Sampaoli’s professional ideology – Marcelo Bielsa and Pep Guardiola – are era-defining coaches and so these are exciting times for Sevilla. Sampaoli’s recent track-record of high-intensity football makes him an ideal candidate to succeed Unai Emery. Given the profile of clubs he has garnered interest from, his arrival would represent a significant coup for one with the ambition of the Andalusians who are now surely looking to make their mark in the Champions League.

Former Seleção coach full of praise for Chinese football structure

Mano Menezes, prior to being relieved of his duties by Shandong Luneng, explained why Chinese football is now such an attractive proposition for foreign players and coaches.

As the only English-speaking account of the Chinese football revolution we tend to hear is that of Sven-Göran Eriksson, Futebol Planeta decided the time had come for a different version of events. Here is an adaptation of the now-ex-Shandong Luneng coach Mano Menezes’ recent interview with whereby he reflected upon how rapidly the game has developed in China lately.

Menezes began by speaking about how tough a decision it was for him to swap Belo Horizonte giants Cruzeiro for a new life in the Far East. After all, he would be heading somewhere which remained a relatively unknown quantity in terms of its footballing infrastructure.

The 53-year-old, who hails from Passo do Sobrado, Rio Grande do Sul, put pen-to-paper on a two-year deal with Super League side Shandong Luneng worth $2m per month. However, this lucrative sum now means very little in a football sense after Mano was fired (officially he resigned) after a streak of poor results left Shandong in 14th place. Ex-Fulham boss Felix Magath has since replaced him at the helm.

Mano Menezes (2)

Mano Menezes paid the ultimate price for his side’s inconsistent form

The former Brazilian national team coach insisted however that few clubs in the world can compete with what the Chinese can offer top players, both in terms of facilities as well as the much-publicised financial rewards.

‘I’ve never seen a structure like this in Brazil’, he commented. Coming from a man who has been in charge of Grêmio, Corinthians, Flamengo and Cruzeiro – four of his homeland’s most prestigious clubs – this is a sweeping remark. The boldness of this statement only just begins to convey the extent to which football is becoming one of China’s foremost industries of growth.

In addition to spending record sums of money on established South American stars, Mano also believes in the long-term philosophy Chinese football is beginning to adopt, with significant investment in localised academies taking effect.

Gil (1)

Former Corinthians central defender Gil joined Shandong Luneng in January

Shandong Luneng built a sports training complex worth R$300m, the construction of which was funded by a state-owned electricity firm. Five of the six largest transfer fees in January emanated from Chinese football. Huge industrial and retail corporations are investing billions in football, with the backing of China’s President himself – Xi Jinping.

Make no mistake, this is a nation which now aims to dominate the football market. Its leaders want China’s existing global financial muscle to be reflected by the success of not only hosting but ultimately winning a FIFA World Cup.

Despite this, Mano accepts Chinese football will inevitably suffer setbacks as its chief operators set their sights on world domination. A restructuring will be required in years to come. Leaders must also learn to have a degree of patience, which is unfortunately lacking in many quarters. Notably, it was not only Menezes who felt the full force of impetuous owners this week, as former Real Madrid coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo was sacked from his post at second tier side Tianjin Quanjian.

Shandong Luneng.jpg

Agenda: Striking the right balance between Chinese talent and foreign stars

As the priority is undoubtedly to build a strong and successful national team, there are inevitably limits on the number of foreigners teams are allowed to register.

Currently there are 80 players born in other countries – 22 of which are Brazilian – spread across the Super League’s 16 clubs. As the game continues to increase its profile in China, imperatively, there will come a time when the permitted number of foreign players is reduced further. Menezes insists “it will be a long process… however, those who plan efficiently and work well can achieve their objectives.”

Investment in Chinese Super League clubs is already bearing fruit. Attendances have increased dramatically since the league was first introduced 11 years ago. Initially, 11,000 was the average number of people going to the stadiums. Fast forward to 2016 and this has more than doubled to 22,000+ spectators attending matches. In fact, this is a higher average than what is seen in the Italian, French and Brazilian top flights.

However, the way in which Chinese football moves forwards looks to be of no immediate concern to Menezes. In all probability he will return to coach a major Brazilian side in the near future. Given the rate by which clubs fire coaches in the Brasileirão, it is likely he won’t have to wait too long before being afforded the opportunity to coach again.

Mano is still highly regarded by many in Brazil, who view him as a tactically modern coach with innovative ideas. However, in practice, it would seem he has fallen short of this billing. As a coach, his most important titles to date remain the Copa do Brasil and the Campeonato Brasileiro Série B. Despite this modest record, one feels it won’t be too long before we see Menezes back on familiar territory chasing a G4 place to secure Copa Libertadores qualification for his new side.

Fonseca sets himself for new challenge

Regardless of the outcome in Sunday evening’s Taça de Portugal final, Paulo Fonseca’s season-long reign as Braga coach already looked set to conclude.

Whichever way one chooses to look at things, Os Arsenalistas have put together a sublime campaign both in terms of style and success.

Fonseca arrived at “The Quarry” last summer with a great deal of work remaining in his quest to rebuild a once-glowing but shattered reputation.

Paulo Fonseca (1)

43-year-old Fonseca has had an eventful coaching career so far.

A comfortable fourth-place finish in Liga NOS and Taça de Portugal glory, in addition to a semi-final appearance in the Taça da Liga and captivating run to the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals, represented a masterful coaching display.

The final stages of Braga’s league campaign appeared to have been undermined somewhat by constant speculation with regard to their coach’s future. This is what makes the mental fortitude they showed in the cup final even more impressive.

Widespread reports across Portuguese media outlets have suggested Fonseca would seek pastures new at the season’s end, with his most likely destination being Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk.

Paulo Fonseca, Rui Vitória

His work in the past year with Braga has not gone unnoticed across Europe.

This particular pathway has been cleared for him already, as the long-serving Mircea Lucescu was confirmed earlier today as André Villas-Boas’ replacement at Zenit St. Petersburg. O Jogo believe the former Paços coach will complete his move to Ukraine by the end of the week, where he is set to earn a cool €2m per year.

Shakhtar represents a very different challenge for Fonseca, in that he will be expected to lead his team to a landslide of domestic honours. His previous experience of such a club left a bitter taste in the mouth as he was fired by FC Porto.

It speaks volumes for his brief tenure at Estádio do Dragão that he is best remembered for what turned out to be a rather foolish statement in one of his press conferences. He declared that his Porto side would win the title away to Benfica on the final match day. Of course, he was sacked in early March 2014 with his team a whole nine points behind their rivals. In any case, Benfica clinched the title with two games to spare. To say the way in which the 2013/14 season unfolded left Fonseca with egg on his face would be one mighty understatement.

This episode cast significant doubt over Fonseca’s credentials as one of the best up-and-coming coaches in European football, as he most certainly was regarded after leading the unfashionable Paços Ferreira to the brink of UEFA Champions League Group Stage qualification.

The following season he set about mending that damaged reputation by returning to Paços and putting together another solid season working with very limited resources. And so now it was the right time to begin climbing the coaching ladder once more. Braga – widely regarded as Portuguese football’s ‘fourth club’ – came calling and Fonseca seized the opportunity in an attempt to prove his many doubters wrong.

Having worked his way back to recognition, now seems the right moment for Fonseca to make a second attempt at leading a club whose main goal is to win trophies. A Bola believe it is his intention to take at least three members of his impressive Braga squad alongside him to Ukraine, namely; solid central defender Ricardo Ferreira, tidy defensive midfielder Mauro and tricky however inconsistent winger Josué.

Ricardo Ferreira.jpg

Ferreira has been hugely impressive under Fonseca’s guidance.

Ferreira, in particular, will have just one thought on his mind; what implications would such a move have on his chances of receiving a Seleção call-up? He has proved to be a physically strong and commanding presence under Fonseca, and is surely verging on national team recognition. At Shakhtar he will stand a greater chance of regularly competing for honours and playing in European competition with regularity. Only time will tell though how coach Fernando Santos regards the merit of Ukrainian domestic football.

Fonseca’s remit in Ukraine will continue to revolve largely around the development of young players, something at which he has proved reasonably adept thus far in his career. Shakhtar have begun placing greater emphasis on their own youth academy in recent seasons and the added value that comes with promoting from within. This approach has already started paying dividends as 20-year-old midfielder Viktor Kovalenko looks to be one of European football’s brightest prospects. Then there’s the fact Portuguese coaches are famous the world over for their ability to integrate young talents into pressurised first team environments.

Viktor Kovalenko

Fonseca will be working with a future star of the game in Kovalenko.

Theoretically, Fonseca and Shakhtar are the perfect match. The club is one with clear ideas on how to develop itself and, with a coach of Fonseca’s profile, is set for a prosperous future. The coach will bring balance to a side made up of some very fine domestic players as well as the usual sprinkling of Brazilian stardust. And, given recent reports, it would be surprising were a few stellar Portuguese names not to join Fonseca on his Ukrainian adventure.

Santos finalise deal to sign Copete and negotiate his arrival date

Santos have finalised a deal to sign striker Jonathan Copete from Atlético Nacional. A representative of the Brazilian club is in Colombia to agree the date on which the player will be released: immediately or only once his current club are eliminated from the Copa Libertadores.

The Colombians’ desire is to wait until after South America’s premier club competition, which will not resume until the Copa América is concluded. The issue here however is that, should Atlético Nacional reach the final, their participation will go beyond the closure date of the international transfer window.

This should not hinder Copete’s arrival to Vila Belmiro though. Santos and Atlético Nacional are working to define a way in which the Colombian striker can compete in the latter stages of the Libertadores and arrive in São Paulo. There is always the possibility of Reinaldo Rueda’s side being eliminated in the semi-finals, which would ultimately save any problems.

Copete has agreed a three-year-deal with O Alvinegro, who will pay $1.5m to Atlético Nacional.

The forward is 28-years-old, left-footed, and started his professional career with Venezuelan side Trujillanos. He has since played for Atlético Trujillo and Zamora, also Venezuelan, prior to signing for Santa Fé of Colombia and moving on to Argentine side Vélez Sarsfield. It was thereafter he moved back to Colombia in order to play for Atlético Nacional.

Santos attempt to replace Leandro Damião with Corinthians, who deny contact

Peixe want Marlone (attacking midfielder) or Luciano (striker) on loan. Timão board are looking for a new centre forward, but deny interest in the Santos player.

After defeating the Doyen Sports investment fund in court, Santos are looking to define the future of striker Leandro Damião. As they have no interest in having the player back at Vila Belmiro, the board are attempting to involve him in an exchange deal with Corinthians which would see either Marlone or Luciano make a loan switch to Santos. This information was first broke by journalist Jorge Nicola and confirmed on The Timão deny any contact and insist they have no interest in signing Damião.

Leandro Damião (1)

The ex-Cruzeiro loanee was once courted by the likes of Tottenham Hotspur.

After leaving Spanish club Real Betis, Damião has returned to fulfil his contract with O Peixe, valid until December 2018. An agreement in the Superior Labour Court, signed in January, authorised the player to sign with another club for a period of 18 months, and he only lasted six months at Betis. Therefore, he could be loaned out again, this time to Corinthians.

The Santos board envisage no circumstances under which Damião could feature again in Vila Belmiro, and fear the negative reaction from the club’s supporters. Also, the directors do not want to be responsible for paying his high salary which breaks through their stipulated wage ceiling. Meanwhile at Corinthians, only Elias receives comparable wages to Damião. Santos view the potential exchange deal as the perfect opportunity to relieve themselves of a player who has ultimately proved to be a flop, as well as strengthen coach Dorival Júnior’s squad.


It is unclear whether or not Marlone would be willing to link up with his former Vasco coach again.

The club’s interest in Marlone is nothing new, as the Alvinegro previously tried to sign him last year. The attacking midfielder previously worked with Dorival at Vasco da Gama, but has no intention to switch clubs right now. Corinthians have already rejected proposals from Sport and Grêmio for the 24-year-old, who has a contract until December 2019.

As is the case with Marlone, Luciano is training with Tite’s reserves whilst recovering from the anterior cruciate ligament injury he suffered in his right knee. He did not give up through these difficult moments however, though his future is clouded in uncertainty despite André’s consistently poor run of form. The 23-year-old striker has a contract until December 2017.


There are unconfirmed reports suggesting Portuguese giants Benfica are also considering a swoop for Luciano.

Leandro Damião is currently in Europe, waiting on a solution being found to decide his future. The ex-Internacional man’s agent, Vinicius Prates, has confirmed Corinthians’ interest as well as that of other Brazilian and foreign clubs.

Damião was signed by Santos for just over €11m at the end of 2013, with the help of Doyen Sports investment fund. Earlier this year O Peixe agreed to pay the player R$4.5m in 40 instalments. This amount equates to the salary, image rights and bonuses the club had previously failed to pay him.

São Paulo observe Nico López, but the priority is Marcelo Larrondo

The Uruguayan attacker who scored the goal which eliminated Corinthians from the Copa Libertadores is considered expensive. The Argentine Larrondo was a suggestion of Coach Edgardo Bauza.

Unsurprisingly, São Paulo intend to reinforce the squad as Bauza publicly requested new players ahead of the new Brasileirão season. Director Luiz Cunha responded to his coach’s words: “we’re going to reinforce, I don’t know if it’s how he expects, as it’s too early to say. We’re observing many names, some of which were indicated by him.”

One of the names on the tricolor’s list is Nico López, the 22-year-old Uruguayan forward, who also qualified for the Libertadores quarter-finals with his current side. In fact, he scored the first of Nacional’s two goals in Itaquera last week as the Uruguayans eliminated São Paulo’s rivals Corinthians from South American’s premier club competition.

Nico López.jpg

O Tricolor know they’re not alone in chasing the diminutive Uruguayan.

However, despite scouting him, São Paulo understand that the negotiations would be complicated. Other clubs on the continent, including Porto Alegre-based Internacional, are interested in signing López whilst the Morumbi side does not intend to enter a bidding war for the Udinese-owned man.

The club’s primary target to reinforce the attack remains the Argentine Marcelo Larrondo, a 27-year-old from Rosario Central, who are also in the next round of the Libertadores. His name was suggested to the São Paulo hierarchy by Bauza directly.

His playing style has earned him comparisons to a certain Zlatan Ibrahimović – from Rosario supporters at least. In any case, Larrondo required surgery in his left knee which resulted from a thigh injury in the same leg. He has been out of action for a month-and-a-half.

Marcelo Larrondo

Larrondo is seen as a more viable attacking option by the #SPFC hierarchy.

São Paulo’s technical committee are following the Argentine striker’s recovery, however Rosario are reluctant though to release the striker prior to the climax of their own Libertadores campaign.

The board will have to act swiftly, especially given the uncertainty around Jonathan Calleri’s future. It looks likely the former Boca hitman will move to Europe this summer and so a new striker is an absolute necessity if Bauza’s side are to compete for honours this season.

Adapted from a report by Globo Esporte.

Timão seeks to strengthen its selection

Corinthians have until April 20 to sign players from abroad, but things look complicated. Coach Tite still expects the club to sign an attacking midfielder and a striker before the window closes.

The Corinthians board face a race against time if they are to satisfy Tite’s demands in what is left of this transfer campaign. Less than a week remains if they are to sign players currently plying their trade outside Brazil. O Todo Poderoso are still scouting the market for a creative midfielder as well as a forward. However, there are difficulties in finding affordable options that would enhance Tite’s selection choices.


Tite is well aware of the fact his squad is not yet complete.

Currently, Corinthians are not in advanced negotiations with any foreign club due to the financial constraints in which they work. It will be difficult to find what Tite is looking for in what is left of the window.

Corinthians have reignited their interest in attacking midfielder Marquinhos Gabriel – currently playing for Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia – but a deal is a long way off becoming a reality. The Arabic club won’t sell for less than €2.7m and refuse to accept payment in instalments. This is in fact the main sticking point to the deal. State rivals Santos are also interested in the player.

With the help of CIFUT (Centro de Inteligência do Futebol) and scout Mauro da Silva, Timão are also looking at players currently excelling in this season’s Copa Libertadores. Atlético Nacional duo Davinson Sánchez (central defender) and Marlos Moreno (winger) have both caught the eye; however no formal negotiations have begun.

Marlos Moreno

European giants Liverpool, Porto and PSG all hold an interest in Marlos Moreno too.

Corinthians are also attentive to players performing in the state championships, but remain cautious in investing significant amounts with limited funds available. Management also wants to avoid a situation whereby the squad has too many players, considering that they will only have the Brasileirão to play for the most part of the second half of the season.

For example, the club holds an interest in Juventude striker Brenner who has been in great form throughout the Campeonato Gaúcho. However, President Roberto de Andrade has not agreed to release the funds to sign the 22-year-old and this has paved the way for him to close a deal with Internacional.

Roberto de Andrade.jpg

Roberto de Andrade is wary of overspending in Corinthians’ current financial situation.

William Pottker of Linense – another attacker who has been in terrific early-season form – is also in Corinthians’ sights. Despite this, opinion within the club is divided and it therefore looks unlikely that Timão will be signing him.

Corinthians may well strengthen before the transfer window comes to a close, but very few doors seem to be opening for them at the moment. Certainly, they look set to go with what they’ve got ahead of this Saturday’s Campeonato Paulista quarter final versus RB Brasil in Itaquera.

[Adapted from a report by Globo Esporte]

Calcio’s Greatest Forwards by George Rinaldi – Review

George Rinaldi – Calcio’s Greatest Forwards

Pitch Publishing – £9.99 – Published: 2016

Release Date: February 2016

“The fact is I live for scoring. Goals are a positive drug and I’ve never been able to get enough” – Legendary AC Milan striker Filippo ‘Pippo’ Inzaghi.

CHOOSING the most prolific forwards in the illustrious history of Italian football – calcio – is a difficult enough task in itself. However, to convey the depth of knowledge and wealth of background stories about such esteemed footballers is a significant challenge which newcomer George Rinaldi thrives upon.

With a tremendous supporting cast of fellow established Italian football writers, Calcio’s Greatest Forwards delves deep into the history of some of football’s most famous names. Corriere dello Sport’s London correspondent – iconic Italian football writer Gabriele Marcotti – endorsed the book detailing Serie A’s finest attackers, which proves just how highly thought of Rinaldi’s work is. He closes his foreword by saying: “Italian forwards are – fiori cresciuto sull’asfalto e sul cemento – flowers who grew up on asphalt and cement.” The poetic nature of this single sentence in many ways sets the tone, as the author captures the romantic history of Italian football to great effect.

The fine detail through which he explores the careers of the 21 best attackers to have graced Italian turf is hugely impressive. You name it; Calcio’s Greatest Forwards has it covered, whether it is Christian Vieri’s unusual love of cricket or the secret of Roberto Mancini’s success in Vujadin Boškov’s Sampdoria dream team of the early 90s.

Perhaps the most fascinating chapter however was that which focused on Cagliari legend Gigi Riva, who Rinaldi told me was his favourite to research and write about. The book details his inspirational rise through the divisions before eventually catapulting Cagliari to their one and only Serie A title – ‘a true wonder of the game’ as the author calls him.

Of course, the stunning depth of knowledge in Rinaldi’s first offering as an author is to be commended. Perhaps even more impressive is the cast of fellow writers who made valuable contributions to the telling of some of Italian football’s greatest stories. Such stellar names as James Horncastle, Paolo Bandini and Andy Brassell, to name a few, provide insight into the lives of legends in the mould of Roberto Boninsegna, Antonio Di Natale and Marco van Basten.

As for Giuseppe Meazza – the man so good they even named iconic stadium San Siro in his honour – the insight into his legendary career is enthralling. The same can be said for Juventus legend Giampiero Boniperti whose sheer will to win lives long in the memory of Serie A fans, so much so that a famous quote of his is now considered a motto for the Turin club.

For anyone with a deep-rooted love of Italian football, you will be hard-pressed to find a more comprehensive account of some of the game’s greatest names. Calcio’s Greatest Forwards is a heavenly work of art for Italian football connoisseurs who want to know the men behind some of the greatest feats in the history of the game. Suffice to say, George Rinaldi successfully managed his own line-up to a fine five-star performance.


Full Contents Page of Calcio’s Greatest Forwards

Why it’s high-time River stepped up to the Plate!

At long last, the team they call El Mas Grande – the greatest one – resembled something of their old selves versus Bolivia’s The Strongest last Wednesday night. It has been a trying start to the season for River Plate and, rather ironically, it was reverting to type which has given them a platform on which to build – both at home in Argentina as well as their quest to retain the Copa Libertadores. However, to the bemusement of many, Coach Marcelo Gallardo changed his team’s system yet again on their return to domestic action as they proceeded to let a two-goal lead slip at home to Sarmiento at the weekend.

The tried and tested 4-3-1-2 was scrapped again in favour of a return to the coach’s apparently preferred 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 which has utterly failed to convince yet this season. The only explanation is that Gallardo, quite frankly, has not got a clue what his best XI is. It is understandable given the constraints he works under, but time is ticking and a club the size of River cannot afford to spend a season trying to stumble upon the best system of play for what is fast becoming another mediocre squad alarmingly soon after the highs of last year’s Libertadores campaign.

Marcelo Gallardo

Gallardo will have to act fast if he is to turn River’s 2016 season around.

Truthfully, the script for a chaotic up-and-down season was written during a hotly-contested pre-season ‘friendly’ versus arch-rivals Boca Juniors. The match was frenetic, bringing no less than five (5) red cards as a number of mass brawls ensued. River earned a 1-0 victory, but neither side was afforded the chance to play convincing football on the day.

In all fairness, results alone do not tell half the story since that famous night last July when Los Millonarios were crowned South American champions. Their squad has been ripped apart, with some of the most vital components of that all-conquering River spread far and wide across the globe.

Carlos Sánchez – scorer of a penalty in the 3-0 Libertadores final victory versus Tigres – is now plying his trade with Monterrey in northern Mexico. Ramiro Funes Mori moved to Everton for around £10m. Teó Gutiérrez has found himself in Portugal playing for Sporting whilst dynamic midfielder Matías Kranevitter is attempting to cement his place in a highly competitive Atlético Madrid midfield.

River Plate - Copa Libertadores

There are days when the Libertadores success feels a very long time ago.

This trend looks set to continue in the summer, with a host of top European clubs circling around some more of the club’s prized-assets. Italian trio AC Milan, Napoli and Fiorentina are all interested in promising young central defender Emanuel Mammana which would likely earn President Rodolfo D’Onofrio another significant sum of money. Meanwhile, left back Leonel Vangioni is already confirmed as having signed a pre-contract agreement with the Rossoneri.

As if that wasn’t enough, the man signed by River to replace Teó Gutiérrez’ goals – Lucas Alario – could also be leaving Buenos Aires in the next few months with Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund and Inter Milan just three of the major clubs credited with having designs set on the former Colón hitman. As word would have it, Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp sees him as the man he can launch as the next Robert Lewandowski – a glowing reference if ever there was one. Given his physical prowess as well as technical ability, it is not too difficult to understand this mind-set.

Lucas Alario

Lucas Alario scored that all-important opening goal in the Libertadores final.

A selling club – as River undoubtedly are nowadays – is always going to be judged on how effectively they fill those gaping holes in their squad. Initially, this seemed no problem as they seamlessly recovered from the loss of Teó by replacing him with arguably a much more efficient player in Alario. However, River’s subsequent work during the off-season has failed to convince supporters and pundits alike of their current direction. With their current playing squad, repeating the unparalleled continental success of recent years looks nigh-on impossible.

In terms of continuing to develop players with significant sell-on values, it is hard to fathom where exactly River envisages this squad reaching. Signing a 37-year-old striker in the form of Iván Alonso in addition to the season-long-loan of veteran midfielder Andrés D’Alessandro from Internacional does not signal a long-term vision behind their ambition. Such signings seem to be mere stop-gap measures, with no real belief in their ability to mount a sustained challenge on all fronts.

It is not all gloom and doom however as there are one or two academy products Gallardo will be looking to get the best out of as the season progresses. The club holds high hopes for two in particular – central defender Leandro Vega and striker Sebastián Driussi, who in particular is gradually seeing more and more first team football.

Sebastián Driussi

River hope Driussi will be the next big star off their conveyor belt of talent.

It certainly does not get any easier for River at the moment as they set off for São Paulo to play a crunch Copa Libertadores group stage match. For the moment though, it is difficult to see where a consistent run of form is going to come from. One thing is for sure; River, as champions of South America, have an obligation to step up to the plate sooner rather than later. Regardless of continental success, tenth place in group A of the Argentine Primera División is simply unacceptable.

  • Highlights of that famous night in El Monumental when River ran out 3-0 victors over Mexican side Tigres in the 2nd leg of Copa Libertadores final.

Why Sporting must continue along their own path to success

Sporting are back in their rightful place, in the heart of a Portuguese Liga title race! New coach Jorge Jesus’ inaugural season in charge of boyhood team Sporting Clube de Portugal’ has brought with it a new wave of enthusiasm for Os Leões. An exciting blend of youthful talent as well as some more experienced heads has breathed new life into the patrons of O Estádio José Alvalade. This has all culminated in Sporting once again reaching the pinnacle of Portuguese futebol – exactly where each of Os Três Grandes is obliged to be.

Regardless of which position Sporting finish the league season in, they must resist the temptation to take a new direction come the chaos that is sure to be the summer transfer market. In all likelihood, Sporting President Bruno de Carvalho will be forced to sacrifice one of his stars – whether it be Rui Patrício, William Carvalho, João Mário or Islam Slimani – in order to satisfy other demands of his coach.

Slimani festeja o 2º golo do Sporting

Slimani could well be sacrificed this summer in order to balance the books

It is inevitable in fact because of the €18m loss posted by the club as a result of losing the Doyen/Marcos Rojo case as well as a failed Champions League qualification campaign. This scenario is, by the way, put to you with a blind faith that inspirational capitão Adrien Silva will be retained by the club hierarchy.

Whilst experience is required to achieve sustained success at the top level, it would be ill-advised if Sporting were to replace potential departures such as William Carvalho and Islam Slimani with has-beens of the game. Names such as Miguel Veloso, Ricardo Quaresma and Raul Meireles have all been mentioned recently as players Sporting would like to bring home to Portugal. This would be the wrong way for a club so starved of success in the last few years to indicate their ambition for long-term growth – on both sporting and financial merit.

Miguel Veloso

Many Sporting supporters are open to Miguel Veloso’s return

Yes, Miguel Veloso was a cornerstone of Paulo Bento’s Sporting side between 2006 and 2009 but that is all in the past. Bringing him ‘home’ would only serve to create pressure on the player and club which they could both do without at this moment in time. Sporting’s midfield is well-balanced as it is and does not require a player of Veloso’s characteristics.

The future lies within. Made In Sporting – those immortal words written alongside images of Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo – must inspire the club to continue in its current direction. The club take great pride in the fact their famous Academia has produced two Ballon d’Or winners – and must never let up in allowing others the same chance.

Rúben Semedo should become a mainstay in the heart of Sporting’s defence for years to come, perhaps alongside fellow academy graduate Tobias Figueiredo. Exciting winger Iuri Medeiros, who has impressed on loan at Moreirense this season, also looks set to become a fully-fledged member of JJ’s squad next season. Perhaps even Scotland’s own Ryan Gauld can transform his sparks of brilliance for the B side into eye-catching form which the coach would be loathed to ignore. Many figures at the club certainly maintain high hopes for Scotsman.

Iuri Medeiros

Big things are expected of young winger Iuri Medeiros next season

Plans for next season are already well underway, with Danish club Aalborg confirming 21 year-old striker Lukas Spalvis will make the switch to Alvalade in a deal worth just over €1.5m. A whole host of other names have been linked with Sporting in recent weeks, surely indicating that the club will continue to place full faith in the youth policy implemented thus far during BdC’s reign. Vitória S.C. goalkeeper Miguel Silva has been heavily linked with a move to Sporting in recent days, as a possible long-term replacement for Rui Patrício. The Guimarães club’s president has confirmed Sporting’s interest, as reported by O Jogo – a fee in the region of €2m is widely considered to be satisfactory for Vitória.

One thing is for sure – Sporting cannot allow seemingly all-but-complete deals to be hijacked in the same way as the previous year. By most people’s reckoning, no less than four players have been close to signing for the lions before eventually ending up at FC Porto. José Sá and Danilo Pereira would have been fantastic long-term investments for Sporting, whilst Moussa Marega and Suk Hyun-jun have both failed to convince since making the switch.

Alan Ruiz

Jorge Jesus will hope he can mould Alan Ruiz into a Gaitan-esque figure for SCP

Colón of Argentina look set to become a pivotal part of Jorge Jesus’ plans for next season, with Alan Ruiz having already confirmed he will move to Lisbon this summer. The attacking midfielder, on loan at the Santa Fe club from San Lorenzo, will realise a dream by finally getting his move to Europe. He has scored 7 goals in 8 matches this year and will cost €4.8m according to various media sources. Central defender Germán Conti, also of Colón, has been linked to Sporting in the Portuguese media in the past week as well.

READ this report on Sporting’s interest in Estoril striker Léo Bonatini.

Bruno de Carvalho

President Bruno de Carvalho shows the same passion he expects from all his players

Sportinguistas just recently celebrated Bruno de Carvalho’s third anniversary as President of their club. So those calling for the likes of Quaresma and Veloso to return would do well to remember the circumstances under which BdC’s victory was imperative for the club’s very survival. There is a reason why Sporting recently initiated legal action (valued at €73.6m) against nine former presidents and directors for mismanagement. The club Bruno de Carvalho inherited was a complete mess, both on and off the pitch.

Sporting can’t afford to step back into the dark ages of over-paying veteran players to finish seventh. Sporting should continue on the path the club has set itself these past three years by continuing to develop the best talent Portugal has to offer within the realms of its own academy. Sporting must not attempt to relive its country’s past in search of new glory.