Portuguese football has been stunned by the defection of Benfica manager Jorge Jesus to capital city rivals Sporting. Football watchers had been speculating for weeks that Jesus was on his way from the Estadio da Luz, but the smart money at one point was on Porto snapping him up. Indeed, there was also talk of Jesus waiting to get the call from Liverpool and also that his agent, Jorge Mendes, had offered him to Real Madrid president Florentino Perez.
But it was Sporting that came up with the sort of deal that, to quote Marlon Brando, was “an offer he can’t refuse”. No horses heads, though, just the equivalent of up to EUR 15m over a three-year contract.
Were Benfica caught with their trousers down? Rumours abound that the club offered Jesus, who had won three Primeira titles and 10 trophies in all in his six seasons at Benfica, a new contract that was actually a reduction on his existing deal. There are also stories that Benfica president was confident Sporting could not match any deal he was prepared to put on the table and therefore played hardball with Benfica’s longest-serving post-war manager.
Sporting were smart, however, and looked for overseas money to boost their proposition and it mostly came from an Angolan-based shareholder.
This could be as damaging for Benfica as the loss of legendary Hungarian Bela Guttmann, who left the club in 1962 and on his way out of the stadium said Benfica will never win the European Cup in a 100 years. The curse has lived on and Benfica have lost eight European finals.
Benfica will certainly smart to see Jesus line-up at Sporting for the Derby de Lisboa. In 2014-15, while Benfica were winning successive Primeira Liga titles for the first time since 1984, Sporting were way behind in third place.
They’ve got some decent players, though, and one of the conditions of Jesus moving to Estádio José Alvalade was that Sporting would be able to keep their best players – Rui Patricio, William Carvalho, Andre Carrillo, Joao Mario and Islam Slimani.
Benfica fans are naturally unhappy, but Jesus has strong links with Sporting that may also have tugged at the heart as well as the purse strings. He played for the club and so did his father. But the sceptics wonder if Jesus’ style will suit a club that has always developed young talent. At Benfica, Jesus was less inclined to nurture players.
It’s obviously a challenge for Jesus. He has a big enough ego to want to prove that Benfica’s success was his own, and if he was to be similarly successful (Sporting haven’t won the Primeira Liga since 2002), then his place in the Portguguese football pantheon will be guaranteed.