Where I Found the Game: Portugal

by Carl Schmitt

Editor’s Note: Our occasional “Where I Found the Game” series highlights the soccer travels of people from the Mid-South. The idea is to show the reader what the game looks like in different parts of the world. Today, Memphis FC Director of Coaching Carl Schmitt shares his recent trip to Portugal with a full professional academy.

I recently spent a week as the assistant coach with the South region ODP U15 boys team at Sporting Lisbon in Lisbon, Portugal. We played three friendly games against professional youth clubs from Portugal and had six training sessions that were split between our staff and the Sporting Lisbon staff. We had seven full days in Lisbon.

We arrived on Friday morning, March 15, in Lisbon, and took our bus to the Sporting Lisbon Academy facility, where we stayed for the majority of the trip. This is where the youth teams of Sporting Lisbon live, starting at U13. The U13, U14, U15, U16, U17, U19, and U23 teams all live and train at the facility. We toured the facility and then checked in our rooms. 

After getting some food and having time to relax, we had our first training session with the Sporting Lisbon staff. We worked with their U16 head coach Marco Santos, his assistant with the U16’s Diogo Botas, and the academy goalkeeper coach Joao Spinola. Their sessions usually consisted of three parts – a technical part, a rondo part where the players have the ability to make decisions, and small-sided games. Each session, our goalkeepers would go work with their goalkeeper coach, Joao. Their staff did an excellent job all week with our players and were very open about sharing their ideas and programming information. 

After the session, we went back to the rooms and then left for the Sporting Lisbon vs Santa Clara first division Portugese game. The atmosphere was excellent, with singing the majority of the game and green smoke bombs going off with banners lifting in the supporters section. It was a great experience for our boys as this was the first professional game in Europe most of the boys had witnessed. After the game we returned back to the Sporting facility. It was a great first day to what would be an unbelievable trip.

Carl Schmitt, left, pictured with Marco Santos, the Sporting Lisbon U16 head coach.

On Saturday, we had breakfast at the facility and then had our second training session with the Sporting staff. The food was excellent and was perfect for what a soccer player needs to reach peak performance. The breakfast each morning consisted of the choise of bread, meat, cheese, yogurt, cereal, and fruit. We usually had breakfast, lunch, a snack, then dinner. All over the facility there were signs on the wall reminding the players about nutrition and hydration, specificallywhat athletes should be eating and drinking each day. They also had fresh water jugs for players to fill up their water bottles and return to their rooms. 

After training that morning, the players had lunch and then time for everyone to relax from the long day before of traveling. The dorms had soccer on television 24 hours a day, so everyone was able to watch games that afternoon and evening and rest. What was interesting about the internet connection was that around 10PM or 11PM their internet would go out in the dorms. They must have done this on purpose in order for players to get the proper amount of rest each night.

On Sunday, we would have our first game that afternoon. We had breakfast in the morning, then we had a light training session with our staff, consisting of some technical work and set pieces. We had lunch after the session,  then the players were able to rest. Lunch usually consisted of some soup, a salad bar, then a main entrée of meat or pasta. 

Before lunch, we were able to watch the Sporting U14 boys play against Oriental, another Lisbon club. It was good to see some of the top young players in Portugal. The Sporting teams usually play a 4-3-3 with all their youth teams. They try to dominate possession and press when they don’t have the ball. Sporting won pretty easily, but they played some very high level soccer. 

After some time to relax, we traveled to play our first game against Amora FC, a club currently in the Portugese third division. We tied the game 3-3 after being down 1-3. It was good for our guys to battle back and get a draw after a poor start. We traveled back to the Sporting facility and then after dinner it was time for bed. Dinner consisted of soup, a salad bar, and some type of entrée with some meat and or pasta. Water was always served with all meals.

On Monday, we had another light session that morning with the Sporting staff. The session consisted of some technical work, a switching the point-of-attack possession exercise, and a small-sided game. After the session, we were able to watch some of the Sporting U23 session as they were training beside our field. Then we had lunch and some time to rest before we left for our second game against Cova de Piedade. 

Cova’s stadium was located in downtown Lisbon and was really a beautiful facility. We won the game convincingly 6-0 but our group played really well this game. Cova de Piedade’s first team is currently in the Portugese third division. After the game, we returned back to Sporting for dinner and then bed.

On Tuesday, we had two training sessions with the Sporting staff, a morning and afternoon session. The first session consisted of some soccer tennis and some finishing exercises; the afternoon session consisted of some technical work and then a playing through the thirds exercise. In between sessions, the players had time to relax and also watch the Sporting U23 and U19 teams train. It was nice to be engulfed in their culture and be able to interact with their players and staff. I was able to meet and visit with the Sporting head scout, their head strength coach, and the U16 academy staff. They start scouting players at the age of 12 and under. The reason for this is that players are usually attached to clubs if they are older than 12.

We had the four meals as usual, and that evening we were able to watch the Sporting U15 team play a game against a local Lisbon club. The Sporting team played a 4-3-3 just like I had observed with their U14 team. The Sporting youth teams all play a 4-3-3, but have the freedom to change the formation as needed. 

Marco Santos, the Sporting Lisbon U16 head coach, says he teaches his players four different formations. He feels it is important for players to be able to adapt to different formations. It is all about developing players for the first team, and everything they do is to help accomplish this goal. From the game that I saw with their U14s, in the second half they played a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield.

Wednesday was our last day at the Sporting facility. We had a light training session in the morning that consisted of some stretching and going over set pieces. We then did our evaluations with their players. While waiting to go to lunch, we were able to meet Deco, who was at Sporting for some meetings. Deco played for Porto, which is in the north of Portugal, and one of the big clubs in Portugal. Deco also played for Portugal and Barcelona. He also won the Champions League with Porto and Barcelona. It was very cool and very random to meet him at Sporting.

After packing and saying our goodbyes to the Sporting staff, we traveled to tour Benefica’s stadium. This was a great experience for us all as the stadium is very modern, has much history, and has three Canadien Eagles that serve as the club’s mascots. Before the Benfica home games, one of the eagles flies around the stadium as the crowd sings the club song. 

All three eagles live in the stadium, and we were able to see them hanging out behind one of the goals. They are massive and incredible animals to see that close. After the tour of the stadium, we were able to visit the club museum. Benfica has a rich history, having won several European Cups in the 1960’s and having one of the greatest players of all time, Eusebio, playing for the club during this time. 

Eusebio was a teammate and friend of our head coach of the regional team Wolfgang Suhnholz, who played with Eusebio in the NASL in the 1970’s for the Boston Minuteman and Toronto Metros-Croatia. There was much information in the museum about Eusebio, and he has a statue outside the stadium. It was another one of many great experiences for our group.

After the tour and museum, we checked into a hotel which was closer to downtown and the airport. We had our final game that evening against Seixal 1925. Seixal 1925’s first team is also currently in the Portugese third division. Their stadium was on the top of a hill located near the coast, and it had some beautiful views of the city. We won this game 6-0 and again played really well. We returned back to the hotel after the game and went to bed.

Thursday was our last day in Lisbon. We went sightseeing all day. We first went to the Belem area, which is located on the coast. After lunch in Belem we went to downtown Lisbon and were able to walk around and shop there also. We had dinner at the oldest Brewery in Portugal, then returned to our hotel. On Friday, March 22, we flew home after a wonderful week of soccer and experiencing the Portugese culture.

I was very impressed with the Sporting Lisbon Academy and it is easy to see why they have developed so many world class players over the years. Lisbon was a beautiful city with a rich history and culture and the people were very friendly everywhere we went. It was great for our boys to be able to experience what life is like as a youth professional player at Sporting Lisbon, but also to be able to experience some of the Portugese culture.

See you on the field.

Carl Schmitt

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