For only the eighth time in 34 years, Porto have parted company with a coach before the end of the season. To a list comprising Joaquim Jesus 'Quinito', Tomislav Ivić, Octávio Machado, Luigi Delneri, Victor Fernández, Co Adriaanse and Paulo Fonseca, add Julen Lopetegui after the former Spain Under-21 and U19 tactician left the club on Thursday.
The 49-year-old Basque had promised to revolutionise the side's style of play but has gone after a year and a half in charge with Porto lying in third place, four points behind Liga leaders Sporting CP, and out of the UEFA Champions League. What were the issues behind his sudden departure?
Spanish v Portuguese style
Never before had a Portuguese team had a style defined by such short passing. However, the main criticism was that Porto's possession was inconsequential – possession for possession's sake. They have struggled since last term to penetrate tight defences. With many of the Liga's so-called lesser lights choosing to sit back against Porto, some argued it was not the right approach to pursue domestically.
Falling short in the big domestic fixtures
Lopetegui won just two of seven matches against Benfica and Sporting, who beat Porto 2-0 in Lisbon on 2 January. Against Jorge Jesus's sides (Benfica last season and Sporting this), Porto lost twice and drew once, failing to score in any of those games.
Lopetegui cannot complain about the players at his disposal. Yes, Casemiro (Real Madrid), Óliver Torres (Atlético Madrid), Danilo (Real Madrid) and Alex Sandro (Juventus) all left, but the fact is Porto failed to win a trophy with these players last term and for the 2015/16 campaign some high-profile signings were made. Giannelli Imbula arrived for a Portuguese-record €20m from Marseille, while the impressive André André, Maxi Pereira, Miguel Layún and Iker Casillas were also recruited.
In 78 fixtures, former Spain goalkeeper Lopetegui registered 53 victories, 16 draws and nine defeats. Not bad numbers, but the fact several of those reverses were in key matches made the consternation bigger than it might otherwise have been.
Weak connection with the fans
The bond between Lopetegui and sections of the support was not particularly strong. That Porto have not won any of their three games since Christmas only exacerbated the situation, not to mention their inability to make the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League, a competition in which they were quarter-finalists last spring. Nonetheless, they are still in the Portuguese Cup, have an attractive UEFA Europa League tie against Borussia Dortmund, and the four-point gap to Sporting is more than bridgeable.
A new or old face?
Now is probably the time for Porto to turn to a man who knows Portuguese football and the club's ways. It would be no surprise if an ex-Porto coach, someone with a deep understanding of the Portuguese Liga, returns to the Estádio do Dragão. Watch this space.
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