After 7 games on the Liga NOS table, the Portuguese league, the leader is not the usual one we are used to seeing. Benfica is second, tied in points with Porto, Sporting is 6th and Braga is 11th. So, who is the team who is leading the competition, without having lost a game yet? It’s the newly-promoted side Famalicao.
We confess that it is a little early to expect Famalicao to go all the way, especially considering the history of the Portuguese League.
In over 80 years of history, only two times there was a champion that wasn’t either Sport Lisboa e Benfica, Futebol Clube do Porto or Sporting Clube de Portugal. It happened in 1945/46 with Belenenses and in 2000/01, with Boavista.
So, as football fans, we are eagerly awaiting when the three-party gets broken and an underdog gets the title. It might happen with Famalicao, although any similarities with Leicester can easily be forgotten.
If you want to compare Famalicao with another English club, the most accurate would be Wolverhampton. Why so? Let’s start from the beginning.
Famalicao – 88 years of history
The club belongs to the city of Vila Nova de Famalicao, a little town in the northern region of Portugal, close to Braga. It has around 140 thousand people, which is 5 times less than Manchester, for example.
The history of the Famalicao Football Club started in 1931 when the club was founded. Initially, their colors were green and white, but in the late 40s, when the club stopped being amateur and became professional, they changed to blue and white.
Allegedly, they were trying an approximation to Porto, who was already a bigger club at the time, but the ‘engagement’ proposal was denied.
The first time among the elite
Famalicao kept the blue and white colors nonetheless, but they were not able to get to the top division until 1987-88. In this season, the club actually won the title of the second division and got promoted. However, something curious happened.
The club was punished for a supposed pitch invasion, against Macedo de Cavaleiros, who the president of the latter confirmed to be combined so that Famalicao could get the 3 points.
The team got their title revoked and they were sentenced to go to the third division. Still – plot twist – in the following season, the president of Macedo de Cavaleiros had an epiphany and he confessed he made the whole story up.
Famalicao got their title back and they played in the first division for 4 seasons, under the manager Abel Braga, who nowadays still coaches in the Brazilian league.
The fall and the uprising
In 1994, however, the club was relegated, and they fell out of grace. Several financial problems made the club collapsed and they were in a downward spiral. In 2008, just 11 years ago, they were in the 5th division, the regional league.
These were dark times, but at the end of the last decade, the board took a strong hand into the club’s finances and led it back to the second division in 2013. They were able to stay 4 years in a stable position in the second tier until they finally got the promotion last year.
Still, this does not explain how the club is doing so well in the league. How were they able to compete with the ‘big boys’ of the Portuguese league?
Here are 5 keys to Famalicao’s success.
1 – Foreigner investment
In 2018/2019, the club got an investment from a foreign source. The Quantum Pacific Group, which already has 33% of Atletico de Madrid, bought 51% of Famalicao, becoming the majority actionist. Recently, they even acquired 80% of the share.
The Quantum Pacific Group is led by Idan Ofer, an Israeli born billionaire, with businesses in the areas of drilling, shipping, and mining. With Ofer in the lead, the club started investing in lots of talented young players and their team is now worth it 20 million euros.
This is still the equivalent to one-sixth of Sporting CP and way below Porto and Benfica, but it is a significant increase in comparison to the other teams in the league.
2 – Jorge Mendes influence
You might know Jorge Mendes, as the superagent of stars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Di Maria, as well as Jose Mourinho. Mendes was known to be a close friend with Sir Alex Ferguson, and he grew his sphere of influence, playing a part in the transfers of half a dozen clubs.
Among those clubs, are Valencia, Monaco, Benfica, Porto, Atletico Madrid and… Wolverhampton.
Mendes is often seen alongside the directors of Fosun, who own Wolverhampton. He is directly connected to the rise of the English club, who rose from Championship to a 7th place finish in the Premier in 2 years. Jorge Mendes acts as an adviser for the club and they employ many players from his agency, Gestifute, such as Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho.
Well, he plays a part in Famalicao’s success story too. Besides being a close friend of Miguel Ribeiro, director of the club, it is not a coincidence than many players from Atletico and Wolves are heading to Famalicao.
3 – A talent ‘showcase’
Following Mendes’ sphere of influence, it might not be a coincidence that Famalicao has many players loaned from Valencia, Atletico, and Wolves.
Such cases are Neuhen Perez and Schiapacasse, two youngsters who belong to Atletico.
From Wolverhampton, there is Roderick Miranda, an experienced center back who played for Wolves until last season and Pedro Goncalves. Valencia loaned Alex Centelles and Uros Racic.
There is also Diogo Goncalves and Guga, from Benfica, Fabio Martins from Braga and Vana, a goalkeeper from Porto.
In total, Famalicao has 10 players loaned from teams that are used to compete in the European elite. Also, the average age of the players is 23, which demonstrates how Famalicao might be taking advantage of being a showcase for talented players from other teams.
4 – The coach: Joao Pedro Sousa
To gather all these players ain’t so difficult as it is to make them play as a team. The task was given to Joao Pedro Sousa, a coach that was always an assistant manager until he was given his first responsibility to go ‘solo’ in Famalicao.
Joao Pedro Sousa has been an assistant for current Everton manager Marco Silva, ever since his arrival to Estoril. Since then, Sousa followed Silva to Sporting, Olympiakos, Hull City, Watford and until last year he was on the bench at Goodison Park.
The manager, who was born in Angola, is 48 years old and he practices an attacking football, that granted him the prize of the best Liga NOS manager of September. Maybe, Sousa’s absence is the reason why Silva’s Everton is on such a low form…
5 – The loyal supporters
Even before the injection of money into the club, Famalicao always had a very loyal support base. Bear in mind that in Portugal it is very unlikely you find a person that supports a team outside the top 3 that we mentioned.
Therefore, the fact that Famalicao dragged 5000 supporters to their games while they were still in the second division it’s pretty incredible.
The club keeps dragging a similar number of fans to their games and they have the highest percentage of stadium occupation from all the teams in Primeira Liga (92%).
Their stadium is quite small, only having 5000 places, but it is still noticeable if you compare with the remaining teams in the league.
The relationship between the club and its supporters is also remarkable. During an away game in 2018, the board decided to offer pizza to the fans who had come to the game and were going home late.
This became a tradition and it is now regularly that you see Famalicao fans receiving free food, as a reward for their loyalty.
The next challenges
Even if they do not win the league, if Famalicao keeps the same loyal supporters and continuous investment, it is likely you will hear more about them in the following seasons.
It is uncertain whether this will be a happy ending story or if Famalicao’s luck will run out. Liga NOS schedule resumes at the end of the month and the underdogs visit Porto away, a battle that will be the tougher so far. They already beat Sporting in Lisbon, so anything can happen.