Historical Football #17 – Portugal’s 80s Wing Wizard

Historical Football returns with a look at one of Portugal’s greatest talents – a fleet-footed, skillful left winger that began his career at Sporting and would go on to win the European Cup and star in Madrid. No it’s not Cristiano…

Every country seems to have some kind of footballer stereotype. Want a maverick number 10? Brazil. Want a technically sound passer? Spain. Want a ruthless winner? The Germans have got you covered. Want a defender? Italy’s your port of call. Want a ludicrously talented winger? Then look no further than the Portuguese. Figo, Ronaldo, Simao, Quaresma and more in just the last 20 years alone have graced the world stage with varying degrees of success and plenty of flair. But before them, the man to do it best in Portugal was none other than Paulo Futre. A full international at 17, his career was part brilliance, part inconsistency, part madness but there is no doubting his ability.

Born in Montijo, Portugal on 28 February 1966, Paulo Jorge dos Santos Futre made his first steps into football with his hometown side before he joined Sporting’s academy at just nine years old. His progression through the academy system was rapid and he made his professional debut in 1983 at just 17 years old. This wasn’t a brief moment in the sun for Futre however as he very quickly established himself in the Sporting line-up. Futre would make 24 appearances in all in 1983/84, scoring 3 times but impressing enough to earn his international debut for Portugal at 17 years old – a record for Portugal.

Buoyed by his successful debut professional season with Sporting, young Futre went to then Sporting president Joao Rocha to ask for a pay rise. His performances had been good and he was a full international so a little more money seemed logical to the teenager. He was flatly refused by Rocha and immediately left the club with Sporting able to cut a swap deal for their young winger with bitter rivals Porto. Sporting got Antonio Sousa and Jaime Pacheco in return for Futre but both players would return to Porto two seasons later with Sporting having nothing to show from Futre’s sale.

Porto, now with Paulo Futre on the left wing, went from strength to strength and a small golden period began for them. They would win the Primera Liga in 1985 and 1986 on the back of some excellent performances from Futre with his second season resulting in his first Portuguese Player of the Year win. This was only the beginning though for both club and Futre.

Futre 3

Qualifying for the 1986/87 European Cup thanks to being champions of Portugal, Porto with a rampant Futre would go on a deep run in the competition. A 10-0 mauling in the first round of Malta’s Rabat Ajax was to be expected before they managed to see of PSG’s conquerors, Vitkovice of Czechoslovakia, despite a first leg defeat. Futre would score Porto’s third in the 3-0 second leg win, dribbling past three challenges before drilling low into the corner. It was a deadly indication of what he could do.

The quarter finals would see Porto avoid the big names and draw Denmark’s Brondby who on paper seemed to be little match to the Portuguese side. However, this was a Brondby side containing some of the key men in Denmark’s Euro 1992 victory and they pushed Porto close but lost out 2-1 on aggregate. Porto’s semi final draw was also favourable avoiding Real Madrid and Bayern Munich to get Dynamo Kiev. Futre was now on fire, the 21 year old winger becoming a hot commodity in European football and he broke the deadlock of the first leg to set Porto on their way to a 4-2 aggregate win. Collecting the ball on the right, Futre drove into the box onto his stronger left side at pace and somehow managed to get there before a defender and loop it into the bottom corner. The semi win would set up a final with Bayern Munich.

This was a rough draw. Bayern had blitzed through an impressive Anderlecht side and demolished Real Madrid in the semi final first leg as well as knocking out next season’s winners PSV in the first round. And they showed their class in the final too. An early Ludwig Kogl goal had Bayern in control but Futre had been a thorn in their side all night and his man of the match display inspired Porto to come from behind and win the European Cup. It was a remarkable victory and Futre’s final match for Porto as left that summer for Spain’s Atletico Madrid.

Second in the Ballon d’Or in 1987 and Portuguese Player of the Year once more, Futre continued to shine in Madrid where he became a fan favourite very quickly. His countless assists and goals were a key part of Atletico’s player and he would help them win the Copa del Rey in 1991 and 1992 (where he scored). He was also a key component in Manolo winning the Pichichi in 1992 but his time in Madrid would see his physical frailty begin to show through a number of injuries.

Futre 2

His knees reduced his impact in Spain in 1992/93 and he would return to Portugal with Benfica in January 1993 and, in doing so, became just the fourth player (at the time) to have played for Portugal’s Big Three. His spell at Benfica was short-lived and not brilliant despite a Portuguese Cup win and he would join France’s Marseille in the summer.

His injuries were now totting up and he would only play 8 games in his season in France before moving on to Serie A with newly promoted Reggiana. This was a shock as Futre had been linked with a move to European champions Milan but he chose Reggiana instead. His debut was promising as he scored but he was struck by injury again after a poor tackle cost him his season. Reggiana survived but the following season saw more injuries hamper Futre to 12 appearances before Reggiana were relegated. He would jump ship and join Milan but his spell at the San Siro was dire. More injuries and competition meant that his one appearance was as a late subsitute on the final day of the season.

In 1996, he would join Harry Redknapp’s West Ham in an infamous stint. While he only made nine appearances without doing much, Redknapp rated him as one of the best talents he’d ever seen, saying that training would stop just to watch Futre. However, what he’s more famous for in East London is his tantrum over not being able to wear number 10. Redknapp stated in his book that Futre said, “Eusebio 10, Maradona 10, Pele 10; Futre 10, not f**king 16.” When Redknapp told him he could leave if he didn’t like it, Futre took him up on the offer and walked out less an hour before a game at Highbury. He would get number 10 in the end but only after negotiating and offering to pay up to £100,000 for it. In the end, it only cost him letting John Moncur (the occupant of 10) stay at his Algarve villa for two weeks.

Futre 1

The injuries and inconsistency was racking up for Futre and his return to Atletico in 1997 was another poor one before a season in Japan with Yokohama Flugels led to Futre calling it quits in 1998 aged just 32. His international career had saw him earn just 41 caps in total, scoring six goals as injuries curtailed what was a glittering career.

There is no doubt that Paulo Futre is one of Portugal’s finest talents. A phenom in his teenage years and the star of Porto’s finest hour in 1987, Futre seemed destined for great things however injury curtailed his career badly towards the end. When he was on fire, Futre was one of the finest players in the world – a unique mix of speed, skill and a dogged work rate. His delivery from wide was near perfect and, while his goals dried up as his career winded down, the goals he did score were important and excellent.

Paulo Futre was Portugal’s wing king and set the standard for others to follow.

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