Jorge Jesus who led Benfica to their first back-to-back championship triumphs in over thirty years is reported to have been lured by a €6m per season salary for three years. Rumours had been rumbling for several weeks but most observers of Portuguese football put it down to little more than silly season speculation.
It appears that Benfica president Luís Filipe Vieira was also convinced Sporting would not have the financial capacity to prise Jesus away from the Estádio da Luz.
That is the only plausible explanation for offering the 60-year-old coach a new contract in which his salary was significantly reduced. With FC Porto, who have long been linked with a swoop for Jesus, having confirmed that Spanish coach Julen Lopetegui would remain at the Dragons, the Benfica president no doubt thought Jesus would eventually put pen to paper on a new more modest deal.
Sporting president Bruno de Carvalho had other ideas. Carvalho worked tirelessly, along with Banco Espírito Santo Investimento led by José Maria Ricciardi, to secure funds from backers in Equitorial Guinea and the former Portuguese colony of Angola. Jorge Jesus now has the possibility of earning €18m in three years at the Alvalade but the eyes of a passionate football nation will be watching developments.
Beyond the financial considerations, the coach made several demands that president Bruno de Carvalho accepted, namely that he will oversee the whole football structure of the club, and crucially that none of Sporting’s best players will leave this summer.
So Rui Patrício, William Carvalho, André Carrillo, João Mário and Islam Slimani will provide their new boss with a solid basis on which to construct the team.
On the other side of the coin, Sporting have long been known for fielding players produced at their famed Alcochete academy, and Jesus’s reluctance to put his faith in Portuguese youngsters was his biggest criticism during his Benfica years.
Should he lead Sporting to championship success, he will go down in history as one of the greatest ever Portuguese coaches.
There is no doubt that Luís Filipe Vieira will be facing a backlash for letting Jesus go with many fans remembering the curse of Bela Guttmann. In 1958 the Hungarian took control at FC Porto and in his first season won the Primeira Liga before taking over at Benfica and immediately sacking twenty of the senior players! In their place he promoted the youth team as well as signing an unheard of 19-year-old, from a club in Mozambique, by the name of Eusebio. Guttmann won the league for the next two seasons but his greatest achievements came in the European Cup.
In 1961 and 1962 Bela Guttman’s Benfica beat Barcelona 3-2 and then the might of Real Madrid 5-3 (with a side containing Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano) to incredibly become the only side other than Real Madrid to win the tournament at the time. Understandably Guttmann asked for a pay rise but his request was rejected by the Benfica directors and he stormed out of the club. He left them with a parting shot though, ‘The Curse of Bela Guttmann’, uttering as he departed “Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever win a European Cup”.
Since 1962 Benfica have been in eight European finals 1963, 1965, 1968, 1983, 1988, 1990, 2013 and 2014 and lost them all. For Benfica fans the curse is very real, every time the team plays close to his grave in Vienna they take flowers and ask for the curse to be lifted. Before the European Cup Final against AC Milan in Vienna in 1990, Eusebio himself went and prayed to Bela Guttmann but Benfica still lost 1-0.
Jorge Jesus revolutionised Benfica over his six years at the club, winning three Primeira Liga titles, ten trophies in total and overseeing a number of transfer windfalls to flow into the club’s coffers, despite losing his best players year-after-year.
However, the president has constantly said he wants Benfica to shift its focus as a club to include more home-grown players. There are strong rumours that Rui Vitória, who has had a great season at Vitória Guimarães, will be handed the Benfica job. Vitória trained Benfica’s youth squad earlier in his coaching career.
He accepted the Vitória Guimarães job despite the club being in a precarious position from a financial point of view, having to rely on youth products and players plucked from the lower leagues.
Under these conditions he has enjoyed tremendous success, keeping the northerners near the top of the table and in 2013 leading the team to its first major trophy, winning the Portuguese Cup, ironically beating Benfica in the final.