The Portuguese Liga returns this weekend with an air of unfamiliarity permeating some of the country's most prestigious clubs.
Indeed, a managerial merry-go-round ensued after a breathtaking denouement to last season, which culminated in FC Porto pipping SL Benfica to the title. Sporting Clube de Portugal parted with Jesualdo Ferreira, who took up the reins from José Peseiro at SC Braga, while Porto turned to FC Paços de Ferreira miracle worker Paulo Fonseca following the departure of Vítor Pereira for Saudi outfit al-Ahli.
The void left by Fonseca – who steered Paços Ferreira to an unprecedented third-place finish and UEFA Champions League spot last time out – was perhaps most intriguingly filled by former Portuguese international Costinha. The 38-year-old is best remembered for starring in Porto's back-to-back UEFA Cup and UEFA Champions League triumphs in 2003 and 2004. In the dugout, though, he remains something of an unknown quantity.
Costinha experienced the unforgiving nature of management for the first time after failing to prevent SC Beira-Mar slipping through the relegation trapdoor last term. The former defensive midfielder nonetheless cultivated an aesthetic brand of football, enough to convince Paços Ferreira to offer him a second chance. Now, with the aid of assistant Maniche, with whom he forged a fearsome midfield partnership at club and international levels, Costinho is determined to prove his credentials.
"I know the stakes are high but I can't wait to start. I believe we can surpass expectations once more. I want to continue and build on the good work of last season. I want to win a trophy, it is possible," said Costinha, whose appointment has been warmly received. "The players are delighted with Costinha, they like the way he works and we hope he becomes a very successful coach here," added club president Carlos Barbosa. "Portuguese coaches possess a great deal of quality, so there is no need to recruit from outside."
The competition remains fierce, however. Braga will be desperate to make amends for missing out on a UEFA Champions League berth, while Sporting are heading in the right direction under the astute leadership of Leonardo Jardim. And apart from the usual suspects, there are new contenders on the block, including top-flight debutants FC Arouca and a side steeped in history: CF Os Belenenses, who mean business. "We want to establish this club as a top-tier team and in three years be playing European football," read a club statement.
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