FC Porto wrote another chapter in their majestic season by becoming Europa League champions. Porto beat Sporting Braga 1-0 in the Europa League final at the AVIVA Stadium (referred to as the “Dublin Arena” for this final). Porto had previously claimed domestic league honours, their 25th league title, as well as winning the Supertaça Cândido de Oliveira (also known as the Portuguese SuperCup).
The lone goal of the game came, not surprisingly, from the head of Radamel Falcao. Falcao had already broken Jürgen Klinsmann’s 15-year-old record for goals in a single UEFA Europa League or UEFA Cup season and he took his tally to 17. Falcao also struck 16 times in 22 league games so expect to hear a lot of transfer speculation about him this summer. You will also hear a lot about Givanildo Vieira de Souza, aka Hulk, who scored 23 league goals in 26 games and added 4 goals and 4 assists in the Europa League. It would surprise me to see Hulk move to another club as Port re-signed him until 2016 and added a huge (100m Euro) buyout clause.
One of the more compelling stories has been Porto’s manager André Villas-Boas. The comparison between Villas-Boas and Jose Mourinho will persist throughout next season though they are unwarranted. While the current Porto manager mentored with Mourinho at three different clubs, it’s clear that Villas Boas’s style of play is more attack-minded and more entertaining. Villas-Boas is being linked with many high profile vacancies around Europe, including his mentor’s old club – Chelsea. I have to wonder if it may be too much too soon for Villas-Boas, who is the youngest manager ever to win a European competition, at 33 years of age. Porto are clearly a class above the other teams in Portugal and I don’t want to belittle their acheivement in winning the Europa League but this is his first ‘big’ job and he’s only been at it a season. If I were a bigger club I’d be interested in him as a prospect but I’m not sure if he’d be the guy to bring immediate success. Stepping into the manager role at a club like Chelsea where more experienced and more successful managers have been fired would be virtually risk-free for Villas-Boas. If he succeeds, then his reputation is enhanced. If he fails, then people will say too much was asked of a novice manager. Certainly the salary on offer could make the decision attractive for Villas-Boas. It will be one of the more interesting stories to follow this summer.
Plaudits should also go to runners-up Braga. Braga were not given much of a chance when paired against KKS Lech Poznan, Liverpool FC, FC Dynamo Kyiv and SL Benfica but they overcame the odds to reach the finals. Led by manager Domingos Paciencia, a former long-serving FC Porto striker, Braga also made their UEFA Champions League debut this past season. Having finished fourth in the Primeira Liga this season, they will be in the playoff round for next season’s Europa League. If Braga retain their core players they should be strong contenders in next season’s Europa League. The loss will be particularly hard to take for Braga players Custódio, Hugo Viana and Miguel Garcia, who had been part of the Sporting Clube de Portugal team downed by PFC CSKA Moskva in the 2005 UEFA Cup final.
Porto completed their silverware haul with a decisive 6-2 win over Guimaraes in the Portuguese Cup this past Sunday. Congratulations to the Dragons and their fans for one of their most successful seasons ever.
Most UEFA Europa League/UEFA Cup goals in a season
17 Falcao (FC Porto, 2010/11)
15 Jürgen Klinsmann (FC Bayern München, 1995/96)
14 John Wark (Ipswich Town FC, 1981/82)
12 Derlei (FC Porto, 2002/03)