Lopetegui shows Porto promise a decade after Mourinho magic
Porto have been champions in nine of the last dozen Portuguese top-flight seasons. The first two of those titles, along with European glory, were delivered to the Estadio do Dragao by Jose Mourinho.
It’s now a decade since ‘the Special One’ steered his unfancied Porto side to a shock Champions League crown and left for Chelsea. Every subsequent coach of the Dragons is unfairly, but inevitably, compared to Mourinho.
Well-beaten on the home from by Lisbon giants Benfica, Porto came up 13 points short in the title race. That translated to a third place finish behind other capital club Sporting and a change in the Dragons dugout.
Spain Under-21 boss Julen Lopetegui got the gig, and is charged with restoring Porto’s status as the dominant force in Portugal and challenging in Europe again. It’s his first foray into top-flight management following spells in charge of Real Madrid reserves (prior to Mourinho’s arrival at the Bernabeu) and other national youth sides.
Lopetgeui has certainly used such connections to make some superb signings. He’s plucked promising youngsters from each of La Liga’s top three teams last term on loan. Real Madrid midfield destroyer Casemiro, heralded as the new Dunga or Gilberto Silva upon his switch to Spain, will see his development at Porto watched with interest from his native Brazil.
Atletico Madrid teenager Oliver Torres, meanwhile, will be a more creative presence in the Dragons engine room. He could one day step into in-demand playmaker Koke’s shoes, if Diego Simeone has to sell at the Vicente Calderon.
Barcelona winger Cristian Tello is a long-term acquisition, as he will spend two seasons at Porto. Nou Camp coach Luis Enrique cannot promise him progression in Catalonia, so has done the sensible thing by letting Lopetegui, who coached the player to an Under-21 European title last summer, take care of it instead.
It’s not just temporary talent being tapped into by the Dragons either. Defence has been substantially strengthened by the arrivals of Ghana right back Daniel Opare and Dutch left-footer Bruno Martins Indi, despite the potential £32m sale of Eliaquim Mangala to Manchester City.
Twice-capped Spain forward Adrian Lopez completes the marquee signings so far. Has Lopetgeui signed him to be a foil or replacement for Porto top scorer Jackson Martinez, though?
Diminutive PSV Eindhoven winger and reported Liverpool target Zakaria Bakkali could be the missing piece of the puzzle. Lopetegui is reportedly willing to exchange fellow Belgium international Steven Defour to land him.
One difference between the Porto team of today and that side Mourinho fielded in the 2004 Champions League final will be clear width. What price Lopetegui’s different tiki-taka with widemen tactical approach produces the same results? He is an 80/1 shot to guide the Dragons to Champions League glory.