Why Celtic and Rangers need to look to Portugal for a new way to operate

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There is no doubt that Celtic and Rangers are huge football clubs.

But they have to start working in a different way.

All over Europe, it is not uncommon for rivals, especially those within the same city, to become totally obsessed with the idea that winning the derby and finishing above their rivals is all that matters.

Maybe Scotland can turn to Portugal.

There is a total obsession with football in Scotland. The attendance of matches per capita is among the highest in Europe.

And while they have the Old Firm giants, each community seems to have the benefit of a built-in professional club.

However, it is at the top of the tree that Scottish game needs a little pruning.

Primeira Liga

Portugal is always cited as an example and yet, beyond the big clubs of the Primeira Liga, you could have first division matches where the spectators often number in the thousands – and sometimes in the hundreds.

What I’m talking about is how Portugal’s top three big clubs – Benfica, Porto and Sporting – understand and celebrate the glory of their past, but never inhabit it.

They have created a new model where the three clubs have their academy at the heart of their business strategy.

They have scouting networks all over Portugal to make sure they know the best young talent from around the world.

This summer, the Old Firm’s big signing in the Premier League was Celtic’s Odsonne Edouard at Crystal Palace for € 17million.



Odsonne Edouard has scored twice for his Crystal Palace debut

If it was Benfica who made this deal, the fees would likely be double and Edward would likely go to a bigger Premier League club.

Benfica beat Barcelona 3-0 in the Champions League group stage on Wednesday. In Primeira Liga, they played seven and won seven.

They’re four points ahead, guess who? Porto and Sport.

The Irish tend to call Sporting “Sporting Lisbon”, which is a bit like calling the Stamford Bridge Blues “Chelsea London”.

Athletic

In Portugal they are simply known as Sporting and they are the traditional rivals of Benfica. They are rebuilding after the chaotic presidential reign of Bruno de Carvalho.

De Carvalho’s tenure ended in 2019, but not before he was accused of ordering an attack, which was carried out by a mob of 50, against Sporting players at the club’s training ground. .

It may seem strange that the president asked his ultras to attack his own team, but de Carvalho was as strange as three left feet!

I remember going to dinner with him and, at the end, saying to someone, “It was very special.



Sporting president Bruno de Carvalho during the 2015/16 Premier League match between SC Braga and Sporting CP, at AXA stadium in Braga on May 15, 2016. (Photo by Catarina Morais / DPI / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

However, I was quickly corrected and assured that the evening’s bizarre chats had been one of the most normal nights by Carvalho standards.

There is an obsession in Portugal with dominance of Benfica, just as there is an obsession in Scotland with dominance of the Old Firm.

The difference is that the best clubs in Portugal don’t just live in the past, they are cutting edge business football machines that have adapted to the modern football world and the modern football player.

State-of-the-art football business machines

Premier League champions Manchester City have taken Bernardo Silva from Benfica, but it was the arrival of center-half Ruben Dias for € 70million that many believed was Pep Guardiola’s best signing.

Take Manchester United. When it comes to who is considered the best investment Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has ever made, few would oppose Bruno Fernandes.

The signing of Sporting was an absolute masterstroke, just like 18 years ago when Alex Ferguson invested in Cristiano Ronaldo of the same club.

When you look at why Portuguese clubs are still massive influencers in European football, while the best Scottish clubs risk becoming almost irrelevant, isn’t it ironic that this summer’s biggest Premier League investment in an Old Firm player, in 2021, almost identical to the fees Sporting were able to secure for a talented teenager named Ronaldo in 2003?



MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – AUG 12: Sir Alex Ferguson greets Cristiano Ronaldo as the young Portuguese player signs for Manchester United at the Carrington Training Ground, Carrington on August 12, 2003 in Manchester, England. (Photo by John Peters / Manchester United via Getty Images)

And remember, 2003 was the year Celtic lost the Uefa Cup final to José Mourinho’s Porto.

The result that night was 3-2 for the Portuguese. Isn’t it amazing how much the gap has widened since then?

In a week that Benfica beat Barcelona 3-0 in the Champions League, Celtic and Rangers have lost again in their Europa League groups, and are both down with not even a point between them.

Celtic fans dream of the day they will be European Champions again, but they have to learn the lesson from the Lisbon Lions off the pitch, not on it.

While Benfica appear to be backed by half of Portugal and have support from all corners of the country, the heart of the game actually lies in the north, where Porto are king.

Port

There’s never a summer that their legendary president Jorge Nuno de Lima Pinto da Costa, who has held the post since 1982, not only turns or deals fueling the frenzy at the Estádio do Dragão to stay ahead. Benfica, but to ensure that the production chain of outstanding young players delivers success on the pitch and that the world’s biggest clubs line up to recruit their best young talents.

Look at Ruben Neves. They were able to sell him to the mid-table Wolves for over € 20million.

We all remember Ricardo Carvalho going from Porto to Chelsea for over € 30million in 2004/05 and Anderson to Manchester United for a similar amount.

But does anyone remember Eliaquim Mangala, who cost Manchester City 45 million euros when he arrived from Porto seven years ago?



MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 18: Manchester City’s Eliaquim Mangala winks during training session at Manchester City Football Academy on February 18, 2019 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Matt McNulty – Manchester City / Manchester City FC via Getty Images)

Which is why watching Celtic on Thursday night was almost tragic.

In fact, I really like manager Ange Postecoglou. But there are already serious question marks, because in the crazy jungle world of Old Firm, no one ever has time to build something, because in European terms and in modern football best practices, Celtic and the Rangers don’t even know how to get started.

Too often, the toxic nature of the debate leads both sides to believe that being successful is winning the 90 Minute War.

Whereas if you look at Benfica, Sporting and Porto, the games mean just as much, but never at the expense of a coherent strategy to invest in young talent and ensure the sustainability of their competitiveness.

It’s time for Celtic fans not to blame Postecoglou, to stop ranting and raving and joining the embarrassing fringe of crazies on social media, but to ask the question – why the Celtic is slipping to such an extent that club legend Neil Lennon, who won trophies as a player and manager, and was there for some of the big days, was kicked out of the club as an Old Firm leper.

When you look at where Porto was when President da Costa took power and where they are now, their fans will be comforted by Tuesday night’s disappointing loss to Liverpool.

But the difference between Porto and Celtic, who both lost by four goals this week, is that you know it won’t be long before da Costa, 83, opens his box of tricks and have a look at the machine he created, which will ensure that Porto bounce back.

The difference is that for those who run the biggest clubs in Portugal, it’s their life, their obsession. There is nothing else.

While it seems that in Glasgow they are happy to be content with Old Firm loot rather than figuring out how to be players in a new world of football.


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