Swapping crown jewels for silverware
If last summer you told a Sporting fan the Lions would be selling the crown jewels of their academy, he or she would probably burst out laughing in disbelief.
However, after completing the sale of Miguel Veloso to Genoa for Ã¢ÂÂ¬9 million plus Spaniard Alberto Zapater, Sporting signals a clear shift in their strategy. In recent years, everyone at the club was convinced that nurturing their own players was the best way to build a successful future for the club.
The truth is that Sporting last won the league in the 2001/02 season, and last year looked miles behind top trio Benfica, Braga and Porto. Whether it is because their academy products end up thriving for other clubs or are not up to the standard, Costinha and Bettencourt have realized the club needs to be more than a production line to remain competitive.
Joao Moutinho and Veloso, the most prized assets of their much-hailed academy, were sacrificed to raise funds, but Adrien Silva and Bruno Pereirinha also left, albeit on loan deals.
Fans and pundits are now starting to suggest the young players cannot achieve success on their own - sentiments fans of the Premier League will be all to familiar with, having heard similar about Manchester United and more recently Arsenal. The popular perception is that in order to succeed, Sporting will need to find the right balance between youth and experience.
ItÃ¢ÂÂs hard to say whether theyÃ¢ÂÂre right or wrong because, just like anywhere else, there is no flawless strategy, only multiple bad ones.
Had they moved forward with this decision two years ago, they would have been able to get more money. ItÃ¢ÂÂs not that the Miguel Veloso and JoÃÂ£o Moutinho deals were bad deals, but they werenÃ¢ÂÂt great either; considering the current market conditions and the fact Sporting had enjoyed a truly dismal season, the Lions managed two fair pieces of business.
And letÃ¢ÂÂs be honest: itÃ¢ÂÂs not the midfield that should worry manager Paulo SÃÂ©rgio. Provided he is able to get the best out of talented duo Marat Izmailov and Simon Vukcevic, Sporting should have enough quality and diversity in that department (adding to the duo above Pedro Mendes, Maniche, Matias FernÃÂ¡ndez and new boys Zapater and ValdÃÂ©s).
In fact, the biggest problem for Sporting will be replacing LiÃÂ©dson, who is in the twilight of his career. The talismanic Brazilian-born striker will be 33 later this year and will most likely lose his influence and ability to carry the team. DjalÃÂ³, Saleiro and Postiga are not exactly prolific strikers, which doesnÃ¢ÂÂt bode particularly well for Paulo SÃÂ©rgioÃ¢ÂÂs side, but there is still time to do more business before the start of the season on August 14.
The question remains, are Sporting better equipped to challenge for honours this term than in 2009/10? Can we actually say at the moment that Sporting have a better squad today than it had two months ago?
The Portugeezer doesnÃ¢ÂÂt think so for now...but if the Lions use some of the money available to buy a striker and a right-back, they may well do.