Last season Sporting Club de Braga’s manager Jorge Jesus stated that the only way they would ever win the league would be on a Playstation. They had just been beaten by Benfica in Estadio da Luz 1-0 to an offside goal and had been denied two clear penalties.
It was a bodyblow that Braga would not recover from and they ended up finishing 5th but gaining their sixth consecutive appearance in Europe, a feat few clubs in Portugal have equalled. Eduardo, Braga’s goalkeeper, had gone 627 minutes until that fatal offside goal. Earlier in the season he had gone over 700 minutes in Europe only to be beaten by AC Milan’s Ronaldinho in the 93rd minute of a UEFA cup game in Milan.
Ironically Jorge Jesus moved to Benfica in the off season in an extended contractual mess that involved ‘alleged tapping’ and ended up with Benfica paying Braga €700,000 and Jesus losing €300,000 season bonuses. He has been labelled “The Special Two” (after Mourinho – The Special One) by Manuel Machado, who manages Nacional, the team that finished one place ahead of Braga in the League. Their ongoing ‘spat’ will see them square up in a little over two weeks in the next round of the Portuguese league.
The media in Portugal suffers from verbal diarrhea. There are three big teams(Benfica, Porto and Sporting) and then there are the rest. Rarely does a team outside the so called ‘Big 3’ (Tres Grandes) get a meaningful mention other than the odd sideline. The ‘Special Two’ has jumped from the lower classes to the higher classes and the benfits are plain to see. Not a day goes by without a mention of his name. Mourinho may not be forgotten but due to Benfica’s meteoric return to the echelons of greatness The ‘Special Two’ has become the media’s favourite son. Headlines such as “Nobody will stop ‘Benfica” (Ninguem para Benfica) have hyped the nation into believing that Porto’s twenty year dominance may be at an end.
There is no doubt that Benfica are the biggest team in Portugal, the team with the most supporters, the team with most league wins, the team with the most ‘associate’ supporters in the world and there is no doubt that they’ve started this season with a bang. They’ve only dropped two points and have scored twenty four goals in seven games. It’s clear for all to see that they have taken this league by storm and already raced three points ahead of Porto and an incredible seven points up on their city rivals Sporting. They have one of the highest goals per game ratios in Europe. They have won one game 8-1 only conceeding a goal in the last minute. The powerhouse that is Benfica has returned to take the crown that has elluded them for many years but is soon to be returned to it’s rightful owner.
But, hold on a second(second being the correct word). The lower classes, or ‘small clubs'(pequenas), are also shouting. The media ignore the cries. They fall on deaf ears. Benfica’s five penalties in the first six games may seem over the top. After all, the referees have to do their jobs. That’s what they are paid for. The steamroller that is Benfica takes no prisoners. It crushes all those who oppose its dominance. The ‘Special Two’ wants to take Mourinho’s crown and become the new ‘Special One’. If he stays more that 12 months it will be special indeed. Benfica go through managers so fast that the media have to mention each one 50 times a day so people can remember who the current manager is. Benfica have had 10 managers in the last ten years.
But, hold on a second(Second is definitely the correct word). Benfica are 2nd in the league. 2nd? yes! 2nd! Sporting Clube de Braga are in 1st place. They are not only in 1st place. They have been there since day 1 when they were were the only team to win(incredibly the other seven games were all draws). Braga have the best defensive record in the league and have won all their seven games so far. They have beaten Sporting (away) and Porto (home), neither of whom Benfica have faced to date. The new rules, created by the football federation, dictated that none of the ‘Big 3’ (Grandes) could meet in the first three weeks of the season. Porto played Sporting in week six and won 1-0. Benfica will meet Sporting in week 11 and Porto in week 14 of the season. Week 15 marks the halfway point in the season.
So, The ‘Special Two’ plays against his old foe Manuel Machado in the next game and then goes to his former employers in Braga. Will Braga continue to surprise or will the Benfica steamroller continue to roll? For many it’s no surprise. Braga have consistently improved over the past five years. They have considerably outfought Benfica in term of buying and selling players for profit over the past few years. Benfica had to sell percentages of many of their players this season to pay for their 25 million euro influx of stars(which does not include Barcelona’s 14 million euro signing, Kerrison, who was loaned to Benfica). Braga’s record purchase by comparison is Mossoro, a €700,000 signing from Maritimo last year.
The ‘Special Two’ declared after Braga were uncerimoniously dumped from the new Europa League that no blame was to be assigned to him due to Braga’s failure in Europe and his extended negotiations between himself, Benfica and Braga in June. But after Braga won their first six games he had to say that the majority of the team were his from the previous season. Such humilty!
Braga, if they manage to win their next game (away to Rio Ave), will equal the third greatest start in the history of the Portuguese league. After that it’s Benfica and possibly an attempt on Sporting’s record 11 wins at the start of a season. Will the steamroller crush the small club? Will the rabbit beat the tortoise? Or will the Pequenas(small ones) show that they have grown up and are ready to fight the big boys? Children who bully are usually bigger than their victims. Football teams who bully are usually richer than their adversaries. But when children grow up, just as football clubs grow, they end the bullying and start fighting back. The end is nigh?
Braga have beaten two title condenders in Porto and Sporting(who finished 1st and 2nd for the last three years). Benfica have yet to face up to any team of strength. Braga are two points clear of Benfica, five in front of Porto and ten in front of fourth placed Sporting. You make up your mind.
I’m sure the ‘Special Two’ has made up his mind. The rise to the top is long and difficult. The fall form grace is short and sharp. With already three managers having packed their bags already there are surely more to follow. Braga’s manager Domingos Pacienca was under pressure after failing in the Europa League but his amazing run in the league has already secured his place in the history of the club. He’s not ‘too special’ and is very humble in his approach. He manages from afar and leaves coaching to the coaches. He’s a disciplinarian as Man Utd’s on loan Rodrigo Possebom found out (He hasn’t played since an outburst in the Europa League). And obviously he’s a decent manager. Otherwise they wouldn;t be unbeaten and top of the league after seven games. And so the story continues…
There is no better time than now. The time to live is now. The time to dream is now. The time to imagine and forget the past is now. The time to shine is now. The time to bleed, sweat, and determine yourself for the things you want most is now.