The transfer window for Portuguese clubs closed last night, with Porto signing Samuel Portugal (a back-up goalkeeper) and without addressing the glaring Vitinha-shaped hole in midfield. In short, we got worse. Let’s take a look at Porto’s dealings in the transfer market in more detail.
The perpetual fate of FC Porto is to sell our top talent to the bigger markets (England, Spain, Italy, sometimes Germany and France) and try to buy from smaller markets (Portugal and South American countries, especially Brazil). This has been the trend for the last two decades and is not likely to stop – if anything, it will only get worse. This season was no exception.
Porto sold their crown jewels to some of the richest clubs in the world and subsequently tried to replenish the squad by prying away the top talent from smaller teams. This strategy used to net better results, because the scouting was better and deal making was easier. Over the past few years, we have seen a massive inflation in transfer fees. This has severely limited Porto’s ability to compete, due to the significantly worse financial outlook.
Not a huge amount of players left this summer, but there were some very important players departing. Let’s look at each of these in detail (all stats quoted refer to all competitions):
- Fábio Vieira: not a starter last season, but often came off the bench. I think he’s got tremendous potential, but needs to be used right. He will never be a high work rate player or someone who can play very physical football. But he is so good on the ball, has a keen eye for the pass and is excellent at set pieces. That is hard to find and even harder to replace. Fábio would have definitely been an automatic starter this season, especially in this new 442 midfield diamond and given his best buddy Vitinha left. Overall, he played in 39 games, scored 7 goals and made 16 assists. Those are pretty special numbers.
- Vitinha: he’s not one to fill the stat sheet (47 games, 4 goals and 5 assists), but he is so dynamic on the ball. He is very creative and covers so much ground that him and Uribe effectively made it look like we had 3 players in midfield instead of 2. I would argue that he was our most important player last season and completely transformed the way we played football. Vitinha leaves a giant hole in midfield which has not been filled.
- Sérgio Oliveira: he was basically given away. I suspect he just didn’t want to comeback and Sérgio Conceição didn’t see a role for him either – I would challenge that, because I think he would be the most ready-made replacement for Vitinha.
- Chancel Mbemba: This is an underrated departure. He would have the occasional brainfart, but for the most part he was very reliable and his speed was very important when defending counter-attacks. Especially as Pepe starts to wane down and has looked a step slower this season. It seems he asked for crazy money (7m€ net per year) – not sure I believe it and not sure Marseille would have paid him that much either, but it looks like we never had a chance to keep him.
- Francisco Conceição: this one stung a lot of Porto fans. We saw him as a player that would stay long-term and continue to grow, until he ultimately became a star player for us (assuming that happened). But instead, he left to join Ajax after rejecting the club’s attempts to renew his contract. I don’t know who is to blame here – if the player had absurd demands or if the club tried to lowball him. But in the end, Porto sold a player that was potentially worth a lot more for a mere 5m€ (his buy-out clause), which is not a great piece of business. In my opinion, he will never amount to a star player, but he was useful off the bench.
- Diogo Leite: he had his chance with the first team and never really showed that he had what it takes to become a starter. Good player, but not good enough. I hope he plays well at Union Berlin and they make the loan deal permanent.
- Augstin Marchesin: he was an excellent player for us, but once Diogo Costa became the starter, there was no way back for ‘Marche’. He was in the last year of his deal, which is why the transfer amount was so low. He was one of our highest earners though, so the fee plus salary savings are significant.
I think the feeling amongst most Porto fans after this transfer window is disappointment, especially following the two pretty pathetic away performances at Vizela (narrow last minute win) and at Rio Ave (horrible losss). Despite the two big wins at home vs Maritimo (5-1) and Sporting (3-0), there were issues, especially in midfield. The fact that nothing was done about is disappointing, albeit not surprising.
- Marko Grujic: not a ‘new signing’ per say, as he had already played here the past 2 seasons (on loan), but has now has been signed permanently. I have mixed feelings about him. I think he could be a really useful player, but his performance level is not very consistent. I’ve seen him play really well (see vs Milan last season), but also be a liability. It’s generally based on where he plays – the further back he is (where Sérgio seems to prefer to play him), the more he struggles to assert himself into the game. I don’t know that we’ll ever see the best version of Marko Grujic at Porto.
- Stephen Eustáquio: again, not a ‘new signing’, as he joined on loan last winter, but he didn’t get much playing time. I think he’s a good player, different from Grujic or Uribe, in the sense that he’s more of a spread the ball around kind of midfielder, than a pure ball-winner. But I don’t think he’s got any extraordinaire qualities. Feels like a slightly more technical version of Bruno Costa, and I don’t think we needed another Bruno Costa.
- David Carmo: our marquee signing for the season, he cost a whooping 20m€, joining from Braga. This is the most we’ve ever paid for a central defender. Is he worth it? Time will tell, but we’ve never struggled to find good centre-backs in the past. I definitely think he’s better than Marcano and Fábio Cardoso, and once he becomes a starter he won’t get benched again unless he’s injured or suspended. But it’s a ton of money at a non-premium position. He is definitely an upgrade though.
- Gabriel Veron: still early days, but some promising signs. He’s really technical, seems to have good movement off the ball, is right footed but has a decent left foot and is quite versatile. I’m not sure where he fits exactly; he’s more of a forward than a winger or an attacking midfielder. I think he’ll very useful coming off the bench this season and then become a full-time starter next year.
- André Franco: I’ve written my thoughts here. Overall, I don’t think he’ll be a difference maker.
- Samuel Portugal: he joined on the last day of the transfer window from Portimonense. I think he’s a very good goalkeeper. Will he play? Probably not, unless Diogo Costa leaves (could happen in January). Was he needed? I don’t think so. I think Claudio Ramos is a good sub and the third option should be a young player. Samuel wasn’t expensive, but just felt like the timing of this signing was off, especially when all the fanbase was clamouring for a midfielder that didn’t come.
Overall, I definitely think we’ve gotten weaker. There’s an area of the pitch where a signing was needed and it didn’t happen. I’m not surprised, because I don’t think we had the means to make it happen (at least not for the players that we got linked to in the media). But it is disappointing that we’re going into the season with a subpar midfield.
Sérgio Conceição has tried to reinvent this team by playing in the narrow 4x4x2 diamond, but admittedly it hasn’t worked. He’ll need to come up with something different that properly utilises the players at his disposal. I think that needs to be a return to the tried and tested 4x1x3x2 – our best chance to win is by giving our strongest unit the ability to perform at a high level. To me, our strongest unit are the 3 strikers: Taremi, Evanilson and Toni Martinez.
They are very good finishers and we need to be able to give them the opportunity to score. The pattern of every game this season has been the inability to create goal scoring chances when the opposition defence is organised in their midfield half. Clearly a new gameplan is need. We have depth on the wings, with Pepê, Galeno, Veron and Otávio (albeit not a pure winger), or even Gonçalo Borges if he’s gets a run with the first team. We need to use them where they will thrive, not reinvent them as central midfielders.
I had mentioned in my League preview (which you can read here) that I would review my percentages of favouritism once the transfer market closed. Sporting definitely got weaker and their results to open the season have been abysmal. Porto looked like they don’t have a good gameplan. Benfica have mostly looked good on offense, but I think teams will figure them out soon and there are definitely some defensive frailties that can be exploited. However, they look the most consistent at this stage. It’s still very early in the season and it’s anyone’s game, but I have revised my percentages to: Porto 35%, Benfica 35%, Sporting 30%.