After the UEFA Cup Final victory over Celtic last May, Porto coach Jose Mourinho was asked about rumours that he was on the point of moving on.
He responded that he had worked hard at Porto, wanted to see how far he could go in the Champions League and would then consider his options.
Reaching the 2004 Final was not among his calculations. He said: “We can do quite well but we cannot expect to live with the sharks. Winning the Champions League is for clubs who can afford 20 or 30 or 40 million euros on one player.”
Twelve months on, Porto are big fish themselves. The club could now become the first to win the UEFA and Champions Cups in consecutive seasons since Liverpool in 1977. Their success in seeing off the likes of Manchester United, Lyon and Deportivo La Coruna en route to the Final in Gelsenkirchen has earned the club between £15 and £20million in prize money and TV revenue, while Mourinho is now the most feted coach in the world.
Yet the entire Porto squad has been put together for a fraction of the cost of Chelsea or Real Madrid’s expensive collection of stars.
The case of Porto’s 2004 vintage offers proof that talented players, with a confident coach and a shrewd transfer policy, can outwit and outplay Europe’s big-spending superclubs.
Last summer, Porto sold Helder Postiga and Nuno Capucho, two of the stars of their UEFA Cup triumph, to Tottenham and Rangers respectively, for a total of approximately £13m. Only a small proportion of that revenue was spent on new players.
Some £2.4m went on South African striker Benni McCarthy, who had scored 12 goals in 10 games while on loan from Celta Vigo in the 2001-02 season. The remainder of Porto’s transfer activity centred on the club’s two traditional sources of players: smaller Portuguese rivals and Brazil. Brazilian teenager Bruno Moraes arrived from Santos for a nominal fee, while swap deals brought in midfielders Pedro Mendes (Vitoria Guimaraes), Bosingwa (Boavista) and Ricardo Fernandes (Sporting Lisbon) for little more than £1million.
In addition, the squad was reinforced during the January transfer window with the acquisition of Brazilian teenager Carlos Alberto and experienced Portuguese international winger Sergio Conceicao, who, out of favour at Lazio, returned to Porto on loan for the remainder of the season, though he was not eligible for the Champions League.
Players for peanuts
Striker Derlei and left-back Nuno Valente both followed Mourinho from Uniao Leiria; the coach proudly proclaims that he signed Derlei “for peanuts”. So credit to Mourinho for moulding one of the smallest squads in this season’s Champions League into a tight-knit unit that has challenged successfully on three fronts: retaining the Portuguese title by a country mile while also reaching the Finals of the Champions League and Portuguese Cup.
Inevitably, attention focused on Mourinho’s future in the build-up to Gelsenkirchen. But just as important to the success of Porto over the past two seasons has been midfielder Deco.
Club president Jorge Nuno Pinta da Costa describes the Brazil-born midfielder as the “jewel in Porto’s crown” and is a fierce protector of his club’s assets.
Last month Pinta da Costa reacted angrily to Chelsea’s clandestine meetings with Mourinho’s representatives.
“I want to make it clear that we will go to war with Chelsea over Mourinho,” said Pinta da Costa.
“We will bring in Uefa, FifA, whoever we need to. The attitude of the Russian (Roman Abramovich) is the worst I have seen in the football world. He thinks that after buying Chelsea he can do what he wants and skip all the established rules.”
While the president was upset at another clumsy attempt by Chelsea to ‘tap up’ a well-respected coach, he was equally well aware that if Mourinho were to accept Abramovich’s petro-millions this summer, Deco could also follow his coach to London.
To lose Mourinho would be a setback for Porto. To lose Deco would be a disaster.
Deco has been the heart, soul and lungs of Mourinho’s Porto team. The midfielder’s low centre of gravity makes him hard for opponents to shake off. It also means that he is capable of adapting to the different types of football played in Europe’s major leagues. Hence the interest across the continent – and not just from clubs who have been linked with Mourinho Ð in signing Deco this summer.
Midfielder Costinha and right-back Paulo Ferreira have also been linked with moves abroad this summer. But it is Deco who will be Porto’s most likely match-winner in Gelsenkirchen.
Unfortunately for Porto, he is also the most likely catch for the “sharks” who are now circling the club’s juiciest assets.
By Gavin Hamilton