Ten of the 14 Portugal players who appeared in the UEFA EURO 2016 final were Sporting CP academy graduates – José Nuno Pimentel charts the link between the Lisbon club and national team.
With Sporting CP set to encounter prodigal son Cristiano Ronaldo in the UEFA Champions League group stage, UEFA.com shines the spotlight on the club's famed 'Academia' and its role in Portugal's international success.
Seeking a first championship since 2002, Sporting are the only team in the fledgling 2016/17 Liga table with a perfect record after three games. Integral to the Lions' flying start have been centre-back Ruben Semedo, 22, and winger Gelson, who stands to benefit from João Mário's departure to Internazionale Milano. The 21-year-old scored the winner on Sunday in a 2-1 comeback victory against Porto.
As for Semedo, he has been a regular since returning from an impressive six-month loan at Vitória FC in the first half of last season, prompting coach Jorge Jesus to describe the Under-21 international as a "future national team central defender".
Semedo and Gelson are the most recent graduates of a Sporting youth system that made a significant contribution to Portugal's UEFA EURO 2016 triumph. Of the 14 players used in the final against France on 10 July, ten emerged from the Lisbon club's academy: Rui Patrício, Cédric Soares, José Fonte, William Carvalho, Adrien Silva, João Mário, João Moutinho, Nani, Ricardo Quaresma and Ronaldo.
It does not stop there. Portugal's squads at the Rio Olympics (Edgar Ié, Tiago Ilori, Ricardo Esgaio, Tobias Figueiredo, André Martins, Carlos Mané) and 2015 UEFA European Under-21 Championship (Esgaio, Ilori, Figueiredo, João Mário, William, Mané, Iuri Medeiros, Ricardo Pereira) featured six and eight players respectively with Sporting academy ties.
An official study led by Portugal U21 assistant coach Alexandre Silva and presented by the Federação Portuguesa de Futebol (FPF) in February found that between July 2005 and December 2015, 18.5% of players called up to Portugal's various national teams (U15 and upwards) were from Sporting. Benfica and Porto provided 17.2% and 15.2% respectively.
Sporting captain Adrien summed it up when he said: "Sporting has always been one of the best football schools in the world and this study is recognition of the work that is done at the academy.
"In my case, I arrived as a 12-year-old and graduated as a player and a man. I view these figures with great satisfaction. I know I'm one example among many of a club that has grassroots in its DNA."
Translation: "The best grassroots in the world has sent a birthday gift. Thanks, Lions!"