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Thursday, 26 September 2013 09:16

Braga to mount title challenge?

JesualdoFerreira181105.jpgThe fact that in 2012/13 Braga finished fourth, won the Taça da Liga (Portuguese League Cup) but still considered it to be a season of failure (costing coach José Peseiro his job) illustrates just how far the northern club have come in the last decade. But can the Arsenalistas take that next step up to genuinely compete to be champions of Portugal?
Ahead of Saturday night’s game of the weekend in the Liga ZON Sagres, between second-placed Braga and third-placed Sporting, David Thomas argues that it can be done.

The Portuguese League has primarily always been dominated by FC Porto, Benfica and Sporting. However, over the past 10 years, Braga have climbed up the ranks and made themselves viable title contenders. The 2009/10 season was the closest they came to winning the league when they were eventually beaten to the title by Benfica on the last day of the season, finishing runners-up.

The question remains, can Braga continue their climb to become Title winners or will they always play second fiddle to the ‘Big Three’?

Jesualdo back in charge

The Arsenalists may be unable to compete with the finances and reputations of the likes of Benfica and Porto, yet under the guidance of the much respected Jesualdo Ferreira, the very man credited with initiating Braga’s recent emergence after he took over in 2003, it would appear that Braga will be able to at least force their way back into a top three finish in the league. In that first spell the former Porto and Sporting manager managed to turn a team struggling to stay in the league into a team with aspirations of making it into the Champions League.

To say things are different at Braga since Ferreira was last at the Estadio AXA would be an understatement. Braga have gained Champions League experience, have been runners-up in both the Primeira Liga and Europa League, whilst gaining a trophy last season in the Taça de Liga, showing how much they have grown as a club. The veteran coach himself noted this change in status in relation to the club’s fans. “There is much less patience in the stands now, because expectations are much higher,” said Jesualdo at the start of the new campaign.

Of course not everything has changed since Ferreira’s departure; Braga is still vulnerable to losing key players. Star players such as Silvio, Luis Aguiar, Matheus, Artur, Pizzi, Lima and Eduardo (who has returned on loan) have been cherry-picked from Braga, causing them to have to continually replace big departures as opposed to adding to a strong team.

The summer transfer deadline day in 2012 showed the difficulty Braga have in keeping star players when talismanic striker Lima was sold to league rivals Benfica for a reported 4.5 million euros. When set against the guaranteed €8.6m Braga would have been awarded if they had qualified for the Champions League, it would seem they missed out.

Lima out, Éder in

eder6.jpgHowever, the blow of losing Lima was lessened by the arrival of Portuguese hitman, Éder. The former Académica striker made a huge impact for Braga in his debut season, scoring 13 times in 18 games, gaining the attention of sides such as Newcastle, Tottenham and Swansea. Unfortunately his season was cut short after suffering a ligament tear in early March.

The indirect exchange of Éder for Lima is very much an example of the recent recruitment policy of Braga. The team now has a strong Portuguese spine, replacing their erstwhile reliance on South American players. In what is their most historic moment of finishing runners-up in the Europa League in 2011, a lot was made of the Brazilian influence within the squad, with 8 of the players who appeared for Braga that day hailing from Brazil.

Now more than half the squad (55%) are Portuguese and Braga are still competing near the top end of the table. This is another example of the growth of Braga. They are now a club who can attract some of the best Portuguese players within the league, even recently adding Hugo Vieira to their squad.

With the current squad boasting players such as Éder, Ruben Micael, Alan and Rafa, there is every chance Braga can repeat the success of Montpellier, who shocked everyone when they won Ligue 1 in 2011/12. It was proof that a team doesn’t need to be the richest, most fancied or most popular club to reign supreme. But for Braga to reach the next level and deliver the League Title to their fans , it is imperative they take a harder stance in the transfer market and avoid the always daunting task of having to rebuild their side.

While the recent surprise elimination from the Europa League to Pandurii is a setback to their growing reputation in Europe, it gives Braga the chance to focus solely on domestic issues, to build on their Taça de Liga success of last season and to consolidate a team capable of sustaining a genuine title challenge.
by David Thomas

Comments (6)
6 Friday, 27 September 2013 19:19
Rui Miguel/Canada
First, excellent article Dave. Great work.

It would be great if Braga won the Portuguese league this year but my gut tells me that it will be FC Porto or Benfica. With Sporting and Braga fighting it out for third.

No one from the 'Big Three' has won the league since 2000-01. I'm glad to see that Braga has maintained its consistentcy and I think it will continue.

Eder is a very good striker and I see him as a potential 15mil transfer some day. But they also have alot of good youngsters too including Rafa Silva. Among others. They seem to know how to spend their money, (cough) Sporting Lisbon.

Its important that Sporting and Braga remain competitive for Portuguese football. Hopefully a fifth club could emerge to make the league stronger and more competive.

Its too bad that they couldn't qualify for the Europa League, bit of bad luck combined with the team lacking coesion after so many changes I guess. But I think they'll be back next season.

The best of luck to them.
5 Friday, 27 September 2013 17:58
Matthew Marshall, Sydney Australia
Interesting piece David. Portugal could use some challengers to Porto and Benfica, Sporting's current form is promising and Braga have started well.

I have to disagree however with your statement that "there is every chance Braga can repeat the success of Montpellier, who shocked everyone when they won Ligue 1 in 2011/12"

It just won't happen and it is unlikely to happen any time soon. Braga's home game vs Sporting is their first real test this season, but they cannot seriously challenge Porto or Benfica in the long run.

Going out of Europe is a double edged sword, it gives them the chance to play their strongest team every game, but the financial loss will count.

The biggest positive as you have noted is the amount of Portuguese players likely to be given an opportunity which can only be good for the national side. The longer they can hold onto them the better for all involved.
I hope I'm wrong
4 Friday, 27 September 2013 12:11
I so want to believe that Braga can become a serious contender year after year. Although not a popular thought, I for one feel they'll be taking a step back. I understand that they've gotten off to a lively start, but will they have the necessary consistency and/or enough quality to maintain it. Not having to compete in Europe will help, but I think they'll fail to impress.
By that I mean in the expectations put forth in the article. Yes they may squeeze into CL qualifier or Europa, but that will have as much to do with their opposition as it will of anything they do. Having such a seasoned manager will help.

The point that was made and lauded in this piece, I disagree with. Yes Braga has brought up quality and made a tidy profit in the transfer market. But I actually feel they didn't make enough. Why not hang onto Pizzi and others for an additional season and cash in even more, especially of could have helped with CL qualification. Lima being sold to a leading league competitor reeks of bad business. If that doesn't make you squint your nose and turn your head, the overpay for Micael from a club that didn't want him should. Yes plenty of other clubs overpay, but unlike Benfica, Braga can't make those mistakes.
I for one feel that Braga disappointed after earning CL play. They had a wonderfull chance to start bringing in younger notable talents that could have driven them forward on the field and pocket books. I just didn't and don't see that happening.
Don't get me wrong, Braga could come in and out CL play, but I think that last seasons failure, and this seasons European failure will be the norm.
Yes it was a failure in allowing Pacos to finish ahead of them. A failure that has hurt the league.
Lacking depth
3 Friday, 27 September 2013 01:06
Oscar, Australia
I'm a huge fan of Eder, I think he can cause problems for the best defenders in the world and IMO in the next couple of years will be at a big club. Getting him back to fitness I think will be key if braga are to challenge for UCL spots. The league as a whole is much stronger this year than I personally have ever seen it. The high number of portuguese coaches since the Mourinho came into effect has seen a better quality of player being brought to the top flight. Rafa Silva is the perfect example of this, plucked from the 2nd division after a solid season, he has quickly become an integral part of Braga and the u21s seleccao, another example of a player who was ignored by the junior age categories and is now proving to be much better prepared for senior football in comparison to some players who came through the big academies. In defence I personally think they should of kept Anibal Capela in their squad this year instead of another loan spell. I thought he was very good for the relegated Moreirense last season and in terms of ability has their current options covered by some way.
Nice work
2 Thursday, 26 September 2013 15:03
Chris (Canada)
Great article David. I think you make some excellent points. However, Ligue 1 and the Liga are a bit different. For starters, outside of moneybags PSG and Monaco, the league is very underfunded. Somehow it is still a competitive league, even with the "new money" clubs.

Take for example the number of clubs that have won Ligue 1 vs the number that have won the Liga. The number of clubs that have won Ligue 1 is 19, compared to 5 in Portugal. What this means is that the French system makes it likelier to have a non-traditional "big team" such as Montpellier win the league. This is an aspect of Ligue 1 that I love, especially since Montpellier is the equivalent of say an Estoril or Rio Ave in France.

I also think that the smaller clubs are more enabled to win because defence is the main ideology of this league, much more so than even the Italians, long credited as the "conservatives" of futebol with staunch defensive teams such as Milan of the '90's. Ligue 1 has for a long time now averaged the lowest goals per game of any big European league.

Portugal, on the other hand, averages one of the higher goals per game of the big European leagues. This means that the clubs that can invest in more "flair" and goal scoring type players tend to succeed. Hence, SLB, SCP and FCP. For this reason, as well as the accurate analysis laid out bu jon/usa, I don't see Braga taking the title this year.

Braga have a star in Eder, but they aren't deep enough or defensively disciplined enough to go all the way. That said, I think they will do well this year, with no European distractions.

Cheers, and again, great article.
1 Thursday, 26 September 2013 13:34
Braga has an immensely experienced manager and a few quality players, but I just don't see them challenging Benfica and Porto this season.

They have an outstanding center-forward in Eder, exciting young talents in Rafa Silva, Aderlan Santos, and Mauro (hugely underrated), and a handful of experienced veterans in Alan, Ruben Micael, and Luiz Carlos.

But this team, in my opinion, is missing a dynamic, creative difference maker in the final third. Mossoro was that man over the past few seasons. He was quick and clever with his movement, creative on the ball, and seemed to always be at his best in the big games.

I'm not sure if Braga currently has a similar type of player in their current squad. Rafa Silva could be that player, but he's still very young and relatively inexperienced.

I'm also not convinced that Braga's defense is good enough to compete with the best. Nuno Andre Coelho is inconsistent, Joaozinho is average, Baiano is poor defensively, and Eduardo is extremely error-prone.

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