Porto are in danger of finishing the season empty-handed for the first time in eight years
Winners of four consecutive league titles, Porto saw their season collapse in spectacular fashion during a diabolical run of five matches in three weeks that leaves the club, dominant for so long in Portugal, facing the prospect of finishing without a trophy for the first time since 2002.
The result which sent shockwaves throughout Europe was a crushing 5-0 defeat at the hands of Arsenal in the last 16 of the Champions League.
“They took advantage of our mistakes while we failed to take advantage of theirs,” said coach Jesualdo Ferreira as he tried to justify the surprising score line.
However, there was far more to it than that. This was a ship that had been sinking and a combination of factors made it sink.
The warning signs had already been seen during a 3-0 defeat to Sporting in the league just 10 days earlier. A tired and unmotivated unit was swept aside with ease by the Lions of Lisbon, who suddenly looked like world-beaters even though they had struggled to stay in the top five all season.
In the next round of fixtures, during a 2-2 home draw with lowly Olhanense, Porto looked lost and careless. It could even have been worse as they had been two goals down and salvaged a draw in injury time.
Heart and soul
It’s easy to blame Ferreira, and he has been blamed, with not many people expecting him to be around when the new season starts. The problems all started last summer when Porto sold their two best players: Lucho Gonzalez, the heart and soul of the team, went to Marseille, while top scorer Lisandro Lopez left for Lyon. Losing players is nothing new for Porto, but the Argentinian duo left a huge gap that was not filled adequately.
The drop in quality and experience was too much for the team to take and it affected the performances of the core players that did stick around this season. Raul Meireles and Bruno Alves, for example, have looked disinterested and frustrated at times. They have both been linked with moves abroad and it has become clear they are both ready to go. They have won it all, domestically, with the club and are now looking for new challenges.
So what’s next? Porto may have to go back to the drawing board. Even if they win the Portuguese Cup, this season will be branded as a disaster and they will have to build from the ground up. A new boss will surely come in and he needs to invest heavily in the transfer market if the club is going to regain its dominant position in Portuguese football – especially if you consider Benfica, disappointing for so many seasons, have enjoyed a remarkable resurgence and will take some beating.
Porto found that out the hard way when they lost the League Cup Final to their perennial rivals 3-0 in the Algarve at the end of March.