Sporting have developed Cristiano Ronaldo, Luís Figo and eight of the 11 players who started for Portugal in the Euro 2016 final
“Effort, Dedication, Devotion, Glory.” Those are the first and last words the young hopefuls see as they enter and leave the Sporting Clube de Portugal academy. I had visited Benfica’s €15m complex the night before and was immediately struck by the contrasting values at this rural complex in Alcochete. Perhaps it was the €0.40 coffee served to me in the clubhouse by a bronzed pensioner who was wearing a permanent scowl. Without extravagances, this is a place for football.
As coaches gathered around a portable TV to watch Primeira Liga highlights and plan what the evening would have in store, I couldn’t help but daydream about the players who had walked these corridors and slept in the rooms next door, back when they owned nothing more than a pocketful of ambition. Sporting have produced Portugal’s two most capped players, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luís Figo, both of whom have won the Ballon d’Or, the Champions League and a shedload of leagues and cups. There are signed pictures and murals of the pair plastered all around the facilities.