"We are a small country but we produce the world's best" - Bruno de Carvalho, President, Sporting Clube de Portugal, 2016
“Sporting Lisbon is the only club in the world that has developed and trained two FIFA World Players of the year, Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo” – Diogo Matos, Head of Youth academy, Sporting Clube de Portugal, 2012
Sporting Clube de Portugal (also known as Sporting CP or Sporting Lisbon) is home to some very happy and proud people these days. As Portugal qualified for the Euro 2016 final, their first major finals appearance in 12 years, the staff at Sporting CP have more than one cause to celebrate.
The club, whose world-class youth academy has produced the likes of Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo among other highly acclaimed names, has added another feather to its brimming cap. Ten players (yes, you read that right!) representing the senior national team are graduates of its famed academy. The club and its President Bruno de Carvalho, are therefore understandably excited about their mission bearing fruit on an international landscape.
As ten of the club’s youth academy graduates take a bow at the Euro 2016 finals, we take a look at the spine of Portugal and also what goes on at the Sporting academy.
The ‘Sporting’ Spine
Portugal did not have an explosive start to their Euro 2016 campaign but managed to eventually tame each of their opponents en route to the showdown finale against the home team (France). It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that Sporting CP has more than provided the strong backbone for the national team, with the club’s academy and staff playing a key role in this achievement.
Ten of the first team players representing Portugal in Euros 2016 are all graduates of Academia Sporting. Apart from FIFA World Player of the year and Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo who captains the team, Rui Patrício, Adrien Silva, William Carvalho, João Mário, Cedric, Nani, Ricardo Quaresma, João Moutinho and José Fonte are the names that will line up for the Selecção das Quinas.
In the U-21 European Championships conducted in 2015, Portugal qualified for the finals with 8 Sporting CP youth players among the ranks.
A beaming club President Carvalho had this to say when asked about players from the club representing the national team: “As a Portuguese, I am really happy for the entire squad. as the president of Sporting Clube de Portugal, although I look at the national team as a whole, I have to mention that the under-21 team reached the final with a team of 11 players that had 8 from Sporting. On the 11th of July 2016, we had 10 players in the senior squad, which means we have contributed a total of 18 players. There is no comparison to that."
Over the years, statistics have shown that at least 7 national team players on average across all age groups are products of the Sporting academy.
The Academy: vision and facilities
Sporting CP’s focus on being recognized as a world leader in youth football led to the setting up of Academia Sporting, the club’s now world-renowned academy. Academia Sporting is located in the Alcochete municipality of Portugal’s capital city, Lisbon. Inaugurated in 2002, the facility is situated in an area spanning 250,000 square metres and includes state-of-the-art infrastructure alongside excellent training systems. There are 7 training pitches of which 4 are natural and 3 are artificially created turf. The facilities include a residential stay facility for some academy players while others living within a one-hour radius are allowed to stay at home and report for training as per schedule.
Scouting and recruitment
Player recruitment is done through an exceptional scouting network, mainly spread across Portugal. More than a hundred scouts are employed to recruit youngsters from the age of 7 and upwards into the system. They are then coached, trained and developed across the board with the main aim of playing for Sporting CP’s first team.
The training styles for different age groups are categorized at the academy, with key focus areas clearly defined for each group.
Initiation: Children in the U7-U13 groups are slowly initiated into the game with key focus areas being the inculcation of the principles of football, the techniques and style of play involved along with an introduction to the physical aspects. All of this is done while learning organization and simultaneously enjoying the game; the cream of the lot are selected for the next stage.
Pre-specialisation: The youth in the U15-U17 age groups are trained on tactical, physical as well as mental aspects of football with only the best in class sought out for specialisation at the next level.
Specialisation and consolidation: The finest of the lot from the previous stage are coached to become specialists, with trainers focusing on players’ performance and honing their physical and psychological attributes in order to develop solidity.
ISO 9001: an assurance of quality
The academy was the recipient of the prestigious ISO 9001:2008 certification, which has both local and international validity, from the Empresa Internacional de Certificação (EIC) – the certification authority of Portugal. As per ISO standards, the certificate is awarded to organizations that consistently deliver high-quality output which satisfies the end-user, are also compliant with regulatory requirements and aim to improve user satisfaction.
Sporting’s academy is the first and only sports academy in Europe to receive an ISO 9001:2008 standard and in March 2016, the certification received a stamp of renewal, a further validation of the project heading in the right direction.
What the future holds
Apart from the extensive and efficient scouting network, the Sporting CP academy has a project where it ties up with schools, both nationally and outside Portugal, for coaching the youth. Christened ‘Escolas Academia Sporting’, the project currently involves more than 6000 children learning to play the game; the key objectives for the partners of the project are sports training, expansion, development of loyalty and discovery of talent.
With well-equipped training facilities, high-quality infrastructure, and a dedicated club staff focused on the medium-to-long-term horizon, Sporting’s youth academy is in good hands. As long as that’s the case, the Portugal national team has little cause for worry in the future.