Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The latest football news from 90 Minutes Online

Get Familiar With F.C. Famalicão

F.C. Famalicão badge (via Wikipedia)Every top domestic league has up to three dominant teams across their history, but each league is also prone to the rare anomaly. The Portuguese league is traditionally dominated by the threesome of Porto, Benfica and Sporting Lisbon, who have won all but 2 titles since its inception in the 1934/35 season. But for the time being, the Primeira Liga is witnessing its own aberration.


Newly promoted F.C. Famalicão are daring to break the mould and join the (very) exclusive club of outsiders that have become champions of Portugal, alongside Belenenses (1945/46) and Boavista (2000/01). And whilst it's far too early to make such bold predictions, they have certainly set the pace during the opening 7 games of this season.


After being promoted back to the top tier at the end of last season, for the first time since 1993/94, Famalicão have won 6 and drawn the other of their first 7 fixtures. Commentators thought that the wheels would come off of their stirring start when they went away to face Sporting Lisbon near the end of September, but instead the underdogs secured a stunning 2-1 comeback win.


However, their next challenge, away to Porto on October 27th, is a step up in difficulty. A win at the Estádio do Dragão would really make people start to wonder if a superb 1st 1/4 of the campaign could be sustained by the minnow club. And the manager in charge of this team? Well, Everton may now wonder if they let the right man get away, as it's their former assistant manager João Pedro Sousa, who left in the summer and took the helm at Famalicão in May.


Sousa had previously been attached to Marco Silva, having been his assistant at every turn since 2012, following a friendship that was established when they were teammates at Clube Desportivo Trofense. The two have been a managerial combination at Estoril, Sporting Lisbon, Olympiakos, Hull, Watford and finally Everton.


So whilst Silva is now under pressure at the Toffees, their fans may have cause to wonder if the club have made a mistake and been left with the less dynamic side of the duo. Still, there's plenty of time for things to go wrong at Famalicão, the club have undoubtedly made an impressive return to Primeira Liga but judgement must be reserved until at least the New Year. After all, only 10 years ago, the 'Azuis e Brancos' were in a very different place than today.


The 2008/09 season saw Famalicão competing in the 5th tier of Portuguese football, their lowest point, although they did manage to make it a brief stay by gaining promotion that year. Since then they have slowly but surely climbed back up the leagues, and last season they were given extra financial assurance when 51% of the club was purchased by the Quantum Pacific Group, led by an Israeli businessmen called Idan Ofer, who also owns a 32% stake in Atletico Madrid.


As things stand, the team has been bolstered by a number of loan signings, and there's no surprise to see that a couple of these emanate from Atletico, Nicolás Schiappacasse and Nehuén Pérez. Although they are very much fringe/youth players at their parent club, Pérez has instantly become a mainstay at centre-back. The addition of Fábio Martins has also been significant, loaned from SC Braga, he has scored 4 times in his 7 league appearances, plus there's Englishman Josh Tymon, who has established himself at left-back after being loaned out by Stoke City.


The only concern for João Pedro Sousa, is that the managerial churn at Famalicão has been quite high over the years. Last season started with Sérgio Vieira in charge, he then resigned in mid-March of this year and was replaced by Carlos Pinto, who subsequently won 7 of the final 8 games as they finished runners-up in the LigaPro (2nd division). Unfortunately Pinto does not have the requisite qualifications to allow him to coach within Primeira Liga, and so Sousa inherited the position, whilst Pinto remained in LigaPro and took over at Leixões.


Whatever the rest of this season has in store for Famalicão, it already seems apparent that this club from the north of Portugal has more than enough to survive in the top tier, with their current set-up. As for dreams of a historic title challenge, I suspect that these will be dashed over the coming months, and that Sousa and his team will instead happily settle for the highest league finish in the club's history (which stands at 14th place). If they can manage a drop-off in their current form, and bounce back consistently between now and next May, then perhaps qualification for European football is a possibility.


Of course, all that being said, what is football if the underdogs can't aspire to the unprecedented! Looking back at when Leicester City won the Premier League in 2016, the first half of that season was a case of fans and the media waiting for the Foxes to revert to type and to fall away from the summit. Then the 2nd half of the season saw more and more people slowly begin to believe that Leicester weren't actually going anywhere, until the final few weeks was a case of the football world coming to terms with that incredible achievement. Regardless of what happens against Porto, maybe, just maybe, Famalicão and João Pedro Sousa are on a similar path to legendary status...


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