Who: FC Porto, third place finishers in Portugal’s top league (currently second), two-time European champions, renown clearing house for talent on their ways to bigger clubs.
When: Tuesday, 2:45 p.m. Eastern against Bayern Munich in Portugal.
Why: Because one team needed to be sacrificed to the Bavarian monster, and it’s too early to lose a true Champions League contender.
No club in the world does a better job of scouting every continent, plucking underappreciated and/or young players, watching them dominate for a few years and then selling them to a giant club for a healthy profit. Radamel Falcao and James Rodríguez are just two of the players to come through in recent years, but they’re part off a model that’s produced some insane income figures on the club’s books. Porto may not have the means to consistently compete with Europe’s giants, but the club’s figured out how to dominate a different game.
- Quick guide to Wednesday’s Champions League: Bayern Munich
Want to see the stars of tomorrow? Want to say you saw guys before they were the best in the world? Porto is your team, but unfortunately, given the opponent your team has drawn in the Champions League quarterfinal, your Champions League season is about to come to a resounding close.
Why Porto matters: Before José Mourinho was a legendary Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid coach, he’d won the Champions League with Porto, marking the last time a team outside of Europe’s top four leagues has claimed the title. The club has been the best in Portugal for the better part of three decades and has collected its share of scalps in the Champions League, none perhaps more memorable than defeating Manchester United en route to that 2004 title.
Beyond trophies, it’s pretty easy to be relevant when you have players like James and Falcao. As well as Hulk, João Moutinho, and Ricardo Carvalho. And don’t forget Fredy Guarín, Raul Meireles, Pepe and Deco coming through your club. Those are otherwise known as players who went on to litter some of the biggest clubs in the world. And all of them have roots at Porto.
The cool in Porto: “I knew them before they were big” is a pretty hipster thing to say, but it’s also pretty cool. To have memories of 21-year-olds tearing apart mega clubs five years before they led a different super club to the Champions League title is awesome. Besides, while you may loathe that person in the office that can’t stop talking about those bands your 18-year-old self would have found first, the seed of your loathing is envy. With soccer, you don’t have to leave your cubicle to turn back the clock to your arrogant, needy self. You can be a hipster from your laptop.
Porto has one of the most remarkable setups in the world. It pours money into its scouting to scour the world and find players all over the place. The club signs those players, builds them into stars, sell them for a ton of money and has another kid ready to take over. It requires an expansive network or exhaustive searching, but it’s an amazing club and system.
So Porto sold James, Hulk and Moutinho. Now it has Jackson Martínez (Colombian), Héctor Herrera (Mexican) and Yacine Brahimi (Algerian). And in two years, there’ll be an Ecuadorian, Argentine, and Spaniard to replace them.
Watch this player: When Chiapas bought Jackson Martínez from Independiente in Colombia, there was concern about how he’d adjust to the tougher Mexican league. All he did was score 19 goals his last year there. So Porto bought him, and (of course) some questioned whether he could hack it in Portugal.
After joining Porto in 2012, he scored 31 goals. That was just in his first season. He followed it up with 29 goals the next season. It looks like he may be able to hack it. Oh, and he already has 26 goals this season. That includes a goal every 90 minutes in the Champions League.
Maybe it’s just a tap-in. Maybe he’s going the work, dribbling past the defense. Maybe he heads home a cross. And maybe he contorts his body so much that you’d throw your back out, but he somehow manages to redirect a pass on goal. Somehow, some way, Jackson will score.
What Porto has to do: Unfortunately for Porto, this looks like the end. Making the quarterfinals is incredible, but there’s no doubt that a kind draw helped. After all, they had to go through Shakhtar Donetsk, Athletic Bilbao and Basel. That’s hardly murderers’ row.
Bayern Munich is murderers’ row on its own. Sure, it’s possible that Jackson scores two great goals, Brahimi adds a couple of his own, Herrera runs the midfield and Helton makes 15 incredible saves. But that possibility is just one step above “no way in hell.” Enjoy your new, underground team now, because Champions League is moving on without it.