Sporting Clube de Portugal is considered one of the world’s finest when it comes to the difficult art of training young footballers and launching their successful professional careers.
It comes as little surprise that a considerable part of the current Portugal squad learnt its trade at Sporting. In fact, no fewer than eight were produced in Alvalade: goal-keepers Rui Patrício and Beto; midfielders William Carvalho, Miguel Veloso and João Moutinho; wingers Nani, Silvestre Varela and, the superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo.
A recent study undertaken by CIES (Football Observatory) last October showed that a total of 52 players that trained at the Portuguese club are currently playing in the top divisions of 14 European leagues. We have updated that number and, as of last month, the figure stands at 57 ‘Made in Alcochete’ players (the name of the fishing village 30km outside central Lisbon where the club houses its training centre).That figure is bettered only by Ajax (Netherlands), Partizan Belgrade (Serbia) and Barcelona (Spain).
Our aim is not to win championships, but to train players that can go on to play for the national side
Aurelio Pereira, Incharge of Sporting’s Recruitment and Training Department.
The current academy was inaugurated in 2002, meaning that the young talent of Ronaldo was actually moulded in conditions a far cry from the what is on show today. The same can be said of Paulo Futre and LuísFigo, two other brilliant footballers produced by the club. However, Patrício, Carvalho and Veloso are genuine ‘sons of Alcochete’.
Sporting is likely to be the only Portuguese club that will have one of its current players in the starting line-up: Patrício will certainly be the first choice keeper and Carvalho has a strong chance of being given the nod in a defensive midfield position.
The vision of the Master
Aurelio Pereira has been working with the club for 42 years is the man in charge of Sporting’s Recruitment and Training Department.
He does not hide his pride in seeing so many players who trained at the Alcochete Academy earn the green light from national coach Paulo Bento.
“At Sporting we are really happy,” Pereira told Al Jazeera. “Not only us who work with the young players but naturally the fans too. Sporting’s philosophy throughout the years has always been to train players well and that was the case a long time before the Alcochete Academy even existed.”
Having followed Ronaldo’s personal and sporting development closely, Pereira is full of praise for the footballer who recently picked up the Ballon D’or.
“He arrived at Sporting aged 12 and had the urge and determination to be the best at everything he did. At the time, we were owed money by Nacional da Madeira [the club where Ronaldo finds his roots] and he had to undergo some tests to ensure that he was worth the amount in question. It was around $35,000, an astronomical price for a lad that age. But we were instantly charmed with what he did in his first few training sessions.”
In fact, Ronaldo is hugely grateful to Sporting for making him what he is today.
“It is a huge source of pride for me to be part of this youth system which has proven itself to be the best over the years with the players that it has put out into Europe and the world,” Ronaldo had said in an interview with Sporting’s official newspaper last October.
It is a huge source of pride for me to be part of this youth system which has proven itself to be the best over the years
Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal captain
Vision is key
But what really is the secret to success at Sporting?
“A good vision,” Pereira added. “That allows us to find good players and to work with them in the best way possible. If talent exists, it will eventually appear. At Sporting, players can express their creativity. Even if one trick doesn’t go well, the lads know that they will have another chance.
“That’s what we taught Ronaldo and he realised there was no need to be so scared about making a mistake. Here, we don’t want to simply programme players because one day we will end up with machines instead of human beings.”Ironically, Pereira confirmed that that the club’s training methods had no specific focus on wingers.
“At our school, we don’t usually force players to stick to the wings. In fact, a few of the wingers who have gone on to be successful played a lot in the middle to get more involved in the game.”
Sporting’s role as one of the engines behind football training extends to the current Portuguese national coach. Paulo Bento’s first experience as a coach came at the helm of the club’s junior team in the 2004-05 season. In October 2005, he took over from José Peseiro as head coach of Alvalade’s first-team. He remained in that role for four years, a great run in Portugal where football coaches are given marching orders after just two or three bad results.
Surprisingly, despite the names the club has produced, Sporting does not have record number of youth titles. The aim at the club, as Pereira explained, was not to “win championships, but to train players that can go on to play for the national side”.
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