Braga continue quest to turn Portugal’s “Big Three” into Portugal’s “Big Four”
The achievements of Braga football club in recent seasons have been simply astonishing. Yet even the most optimistic of their fans would have been hard-pushed to believe that with just six rounds of the Liga ZON Sagres championship remaining, Leonardo Jardim’s men would be proudly sitting top of the pile.
And should the Arsenalistas come out of Saturday night’s crunch clash against Benfica in Lisbon with the three points, hopes will be further raised that Braga can shatter the triumvirate of Benfica, FC Porto and Sporting that have exercised a vice-like stranglehold on the biggest prize in the Portuguese game.
Only twice in the entire history of Portuguese football has the championship been won by a team outside the traditional big three. Boavista enjoyed their finest moment at the turn of the millennium, and before that we have to travel back to the 1945/46 season, when Belenenses triumphed. Both clubs are now languishing in the lower divisions.
Whether or not Braga can take that final step, there is little chance the northern club will experience a similar slide down into the backwaters of Portuguese football, at least while club president Antonio Salvador is at the helm. Salvador’s astute financial management has seen the club build steadily on solid foundations.
That the club has managed to compete so fiercely with its domestic rivals is something of a minor miracle. Braga’s budget for this season was around 17 million euros. Sporting’s was around double that sum, Benfica’s almost double again, while Porto’s budget was a staggering (by Portuguese standards) 90 million euros. Yet it is Braga at the top of the tree, looking down on the others.
The club’s highest ever finish was second, in 2009/10, while last year Braga made a point of taking their success further afield. A remarkable run in the Europa League was only ended a narrow single-goal defeat to FC Porto in the all-Portuguese final in Dublin.
The message is loud an clear. Braga are the real deal. Benfica, you have been warned.