Sempre Vitória | The Gamechanger

As has so often been the case so far in my five and a half seasons in Portugal with Vitória, there’s a three-way title race happening. Benfica and Porto joined us on 35 points going into 2024 and the second half of my sixth season at the club.

We’re still competing on four fronts after progressing to the knockout round of the Champions League for the first time alongside the Taca da Liga and Taca de Portugal.

We’re looking to retain the Primeira Liga title this season, we’ve got some really good players at the club already but sometimes you can’t pass up an opportunity to bring in a next level player. One that could be a gamechanger.

Ryan Gravenberch

It’s a name that shouldn’t be alien to any Football Managers playing saves at the highest level of the game. He’s a player you should really be snapping up as quickly as you can at the beginning of your time at a club with a good amount of money to spend. He starts at Ajax as a very promising 16-year-old.

He moved to Barcelona for £12.5m in the 2021/22 season, which I still think is a bargain. Surprisingly for FM AI management, he actually went on to make 48 appearances across his first two seasons at the club but didn’t set the world alight with any output across those appearances. Heading into the 2023/24 season he found himself on the loan list. I debated what to do when I spotted him…

He’d developed incredibly and really does look like he fits the description of being an entertainer in the midfield. Grønli and Thaciano were already likely to be my first picks in the centre of the midfield, I didn’t see any reason to change a formula that had won us the Primeira Liga title just months earlier. Igor Chaves is constantly attracting interest but I’m determined to keep the homegrown 20-year-old at the club for as long as possible. Would Gravenberch coming in stunt his potential minutes? I decided to take the chance.

Loan deals can often be the gamechanger. It gives you a chance to bring in a player of higher quality that you might not have been able to afford outright, often at a cheaper cost if you’re loaning from a big club. We’re only paying £28k of his £35k per week wages and Barcelona didn’t require any monthly fee. I definitely think Gravenberch brought us that additional bit of quality this season.

It’s actually crazy to think he’s just 21 still when you look at how good he is. His performances for us this season have shaped him into being deemed a world-class midfielder and it’s hard to disagree.

He scored 12 from the centre of midfield, just one shy of Thaciano’s total from the 2021/22 season and a couple short of Grønli’s record smashing season in 2020/21. He assisted six goals across the season too as the Mezzala on attack. Similarly to the Mezzala on support next to him, he’s so often the one pulling the strings in the side but doesn’t often play the final ball for our goals. 10 of his goals came in the league as we went the entirety of the second half of the season unbeaten in the Primeira Liga.

There was two defeats though and they both came in the domestic cup finals. Porto won the Taca da Liga final on penalties and our rivals, Braga, and AVB won the Taca de Portugal with an 80th minute penalty, scoring with both their shots on target.

There’s a third defeat in there as well, a hidden one. Despite Gravenberch attempting to drag us over the line with excellent performances and despite losing one match all season in the league, it was a costly one. A win on the last day against Pacos Ferreira would have sealed a second consecutive Primeira Liga title and when Pedro Ferreira scored with just over 10 minutes to play, it looked as though it would happen.

A defensive error from winger, Elves Balde, saw Pacos Ferreira instantly equalise. With Benfica smashing already relegated Feirense 6-0 they snatched the league win.

It’s difficult to argue against Benfica winning the league after they only conceded 10 goals across the 34 matches. Despite the heartbreak, our 23 is a new season best for us at the back and shows we didn’t miss our star CB too much.

To lose the league in that way on the final day of the season was probably fitting as it was other draws that contributed to us not bringing the title back to Guimarães. A 1-1 draw with relegated Belenenses in early January and a drab 0-0 against 15th place Gil Vicente are games you think are blips at the time but can come back to haunt you, and they certainly did.

Pedro Ferreira struggled in front of goal at times, only scoring 15 across all competitions, just 11 of those coming in the league. Dejan Joveljic actually finished as top scorer overall, but only scored eight in the league. Lovro Majer finished top of the club assist table but suffered a big goal drop off, from 23 last season to just 10 this time round. The 4-1-2-3 has served us very well but I think a change might be on the cards next season to see if it’ll have a positive impact on our performances as a team and as individuals.

After seven trophies across the past three seasons, we finish season six trophyless for the first time since season two. Alongside attempting to wrestle back some silverware domestically, there’s still a lot to do in Europe as Atletico Madrid knocked us out in the first knockout round of the Champions League, 2-1 on aggregate. Incredibly a Portuguese side won the Champions League, Benfica added to their league triumph by finally lifting the Guttmann curse.

Gravenberch may not have led us to the title but we would have been much worse off without him. Maybe another gamechanging signing next season will have us up there and challenging again next season. Season seven, incoming.

If you liked this blog, or any others on the site, then I’d love you to consider donating to charity if you can. A few suggested links to some can be found below.

Donate to Mind or SAMH – charities in England, Wales and Scotland providing mental health support and care.

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