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Futebol Clube de Famalicão (fah-mah-li-cow) is a club from Vila Nova de Famalicão in the North of Portugal, about 25 miles North of Porto. Famalicão is not a big club, having last been in the Primeira Liga back in 93/94 (only one year after football began, according to the Premier League). They’ve spent the last 25 seasons hopping between the 2nd and 3rd division and as recently as 2009, they were as low as the 5th division. Last season they finished 2nd in LigaPro, earning promotion to the Primeira Liga. So, who is this small team leading the league and beating members of Os Três Grandes (Sporting, Benfica, Porto) after 7 match days?
Idan Ofer of Israel and his company Quantum Pacific Group bought Famalicão in 2018. Ofer has the ambitious goal of breaking up the Big Three, which was made clear in his first summer by signing 18 new players, setting up relations with the omnipresent Jorge Mendes, and appointing Sérgio Vieira as manager. The group saw immediate results, finishing 2nd with 69 points, scoring 57, conceding an average of once per game, and averaging a modest attendance of 3,478. This season they’re averaging many more, at just 4,896. Ofer picked João Pedro Sousa as the man to lead the club to new heights in Liga Nos.
And new heights indeed. Famalicão sit on 19 points, one above both Porto and Benfica, two of the three Big Three. The other member of that illustrious group, Sporting, has already fallen at the hands of the Famalicenses 1-2. In Lisbon. While Sporting continue to be in a crisis, that does not diminish the achievement and I’m certain the fans would never have dreamed of beating Sporting even 3 years ago, let alone topping the table. The only points dropped in the league so far was a 1-1 draw away at Guimarães, which is always a difficult fixture.
While the first 7 games have been stellar for Famalicão, the next 7 will be tricky. They face both Porto and Benfica away while also travelling to Braga. Home fixtures against the odd case of Gil Vicente (a decade-long legal battle promoted them from the 3rd division to the Primeira Liga this season) and mid-table stalwarts Moreirense and Tondela should be winnable, and an away trip to struggling Portimonense is also likely in the bag. Beating or even drawing Porto and Benfica would prove that this early season form is the result of careful squad building and spot-on tactics, and not just the result of a small sample size of games. Many seasons have the odd team like Braga, Boavista or even Vitória in the mix before the customary gap between Porto, Benfica, (maybe) Sporting, and the rest of the league appears.
If Famalicão can keep this run going, they have the building blocks in place to stay at the top for many years to come. First, they have an incredibly young team. While a lot of these are loaned players, they are young enough that loans could realistically be extended (or bought on the cheap from “parent” club Atlético). Fábio Martins, on loan from Braga, is one of the best players and is 26. Defenders Patrick Willian and Nehuén Pérez are 22 and 19, respectively, and Pérez is on loan from Atlético. Rúben Lameiras already has 3 assists and a goal and is only 24. Some others include Gustavo Assunção (19), Pote (21), Guga (22), Álex Cantelles (20), and Anderson Silva (20).
Second, the club broke ground a new €1.3 million training center in 2017. This will offer top class training facilities to the senior players as well as the youth academy. It also signals to other prospective youth and senior players that the owners are willing to invest in the club to stay at the top once they make it. We can see this going on with Tottenham today, a once-mid-table club that invests in world-class facilities to keep top senior and youth players while attracting top talent. Portugal is famous for its youth products, so adding another one to the mix will only help Famalicão, Portugal, and world football.
Football fans everywhere should be eager to follow Famalicão’s story and the Primeira Liga this season (and hopefully the future). Even though the club was bought by a rich energy company that also owns one of the top Spanish teams, they aren’t in this position because money was thrown at them. There has been a conscious effort to put the building blocks in place for sustained success in the future.
End of season update: Famalicão finished a very respectable 6th, one point off Europa League qualification. Famalicão spent most of the season in 3rd and 5th position. We should be looking forward to the 2020/21 season.