Can’t be reworded.

Can’t be reworded.


Sergio Conceição’s final opportunity at Porto does not require any added tension or theatrics. However, as the coach gets ready for the second leg of the Champions League round of 16 against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night, having won the first leg 1-0, it possesses all of those elements nonetheless.

The club of Porto is currently experiencing a time of disarray. Everywhere there is uncertainty, conflict, and uncomfortable inquiries. These issues stem from the upcoming presidential elections on April 27th, where the 86-year-old Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa will be seeking another term.

The longest serving president in world football first took office in 1982 and he has strolled back in over and over again. But now, as Porto contend with financial problems and debt, taking money upfront against the future sales of TV rights and season tickets, there is – for the first time in a long while – a serious alternative.

André Villas-Boas, the ex-manager of Chelsea and Tottenham, hails from Porto and is considered a true hero of the club. He held the position for just one season, but it was a remarkable one. In the 2010-11 season, Villas-Boas’s team dominated the league, winning by 21 points without a single loss. Their impressive record was P30 W27 D3, and they also clinched the Europa League and Taça de Portugal titles.

Villas-Boas has expressed concern over Porto’s declining performance under Pinto da Costa’s management, pointing out flaws in scouting and recruitment. However, not everyone shares his opinion and there have been attempts to threaten and intimidate him. His campaign headquarters was vandalized and his family home was defaced with offensive graffiti. Additionally, the caretaker of his residence was violently assaulted and had his car stolen.

On November 13, during Porto’s general assembly, there was a low point when Pinto da Costa’s Ultras created a hostile environment. They threatened and physically assaulted members who opposed changes to the statutes. On January 31, the police arrested 12 individuals involved, including Fernando Madureira, the head of the Super Dragões fan group. He is currently in jail, awaiting trial.

The Porto district attorney general’s office has stated that the individuals who were arrested are being charged with assault, aggravated coercion, making threats, and attacking freedom of information. Cecília Pedroto, the widow of José Maria Pedroto, a legendary figure in Porto’s history as a player and coach, emphasized the need to thoroughly investigate the incidents of physical violence and threats that caused members to flee in fear. She referred to it as the club’s “darkest day,” a sentiment shared by Villas-Boas.

André Villas-Boas (centre) attends a Primeira Liga match between Porto and Benfica at the Estádio do Dragão in Porto, Portugal on 3 March 2024View image in fullscreen

Conceição is currently in his seventh year as a manager. He gained recognition as a player for Porto, achieving three league victories. As a manager, he has accumulated a total of 10 trophies, which includes three more league titles. Out of all Portuguese football managers, only Jorge Jesus has earned more accomplishments, with a total of 12 trophies. In May of last year, Conceição surpassed Pedroto’s club record of most games coached with a total of 323 games. The upcoming second leg against Arsenal will mark his 365th game as a manager for Porto.

The current season has been extremely challenging, with outside pressures affecting the team. It is the responsibility of the manager to protect the players, but there are limitations to what they can do. Conceição is likely to depart in the summer, not just due to the expiry of his contract, but also because no discussions have been held for a new one. This has been hindered by the uncertainty surrounding the next president.

Conceição is reaching the end of a cycle, and is now looking towards a new challenge. He likely desires to join a club where he won’t have to face constant struggles, and can focus on longer-term development without constantly having to sell off his top players.

Conceição has generated €573.45m through transfer fees during his time at Porto, with some notable high-value deals such as Otávio’s €60m transfer to Al-Nassr in the previous summer. Other significant transfers include Vitinha’s €41.5m move to Paris Saint-Germain in 2022, Luis Díaz’s €47m transfer to Liverpool in January of that year, and Éder Militão’s €50m switch to Real Madrid in 2019. Conceição has received high marks in terms of success compared to the amount spent.

José Mourinho jumps in the air as he celebrates during the Champions League match between Manchester United and Porto at Old Trafford, Manchester on 9 March 2004View image in fullscreen

Porto is currently not doing as well as the top team, Sporting, as they are behind by seven points. However, their 5-0 win against second-place Benfica at home has given them a boost. They have also made it to the semi-finals of the Taça de Portugal and will be facing Vitória Guimarães. The most exciting competition for them, however, is the Champions League. Fans are eagerly watching to see if they can eliminate an English team in the knockout phase, which they have only done once before in 2003-04 when they defeated Manchester United in the round of 16. This ultimately led to them winning the Champions League trophy under José Mourinho’s guidance.

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Conceição’s burning ambition is to win the Champions League and he got his tactics spot on in the first leg against Arsenal, his 4-5-1/4-3-3 system compact but able to transition quickly; the defence suffocating. He had paid particular attention to stopping Martin Ødegaard individually and Arsenal as a collective on set pieces; both missions were accomplished.

Arsenal did not have a shot on target and what pleased Conceição was how his players executed a gameplan radically different from the one they normally have in domestic matches, when the opposition tend to park the bus. A further point is that Transfermarkt estimates the market value of Porto’s starting XI at €168m, which is €25m less than Arsenal committed on the signings of Declan Rice and Kai Havertz last summer.

Conceição expressed anger towards Mikel Arteta’s post-game remark and the overall response in London, which focused on Porto’s use of unsportsmanlike tactics. Arteta claimed that Porto had no intention of actually playing during the game, leading to Conceição’s motivation to prove him wrong. Is Arsenal the authority on how football should be played?

Sérgio Conceição reacts on the touchline during the Champions League match between Porto and Arsenal at the Estádio do Dragão in Porto, Portugal on 21 February 2024

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Conceição has long embraced the siege mentality at Porto – it is them and their city against the establishment in the capital, Lisbon, where the national media is based; Sporting and Benfica, too. He has always been an intensely passionate person, who uses adversity and conflict as fuel.

During his upbringing in Coimbra, financial struggles were a constant issue. He also faced the hardship of losing his father at age 16 and his mother shortly thereafter. Football was his primary focus and the stakes were high; failure was not an option and continues to bring out his negative traits.

Conceição’s successful work at Porto has caught the attention of many interested parties, such as Paris Saint-Germain, Napoli, and Lazio. Last year, he declined an offer from Al-Hilal worth €34m over two years, with the possibility of an additional year. He is expected to be highly sought after this summer, not only due to being a client of Jorge Mendes, but also due to potential opportunities arising. However, at the moment, his focus is solely on the Arsenal match, which will undoubtedly be a special and emotional experience.