Very few clubs across Europe boast a better youth academy than Portuguese giants Sporting CP.
Of course, some of their previous products need no introduction such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Rafael Leao, but they also have an eye for foreign talent that can not only help their own cause but eventually bring profit to restart the cycle.
The latest example of that is Manuel Ugarte. The 22-year-old was signed from fellow Portuguese side Famalicao in 2021 for a reported initial €6.5m with the potential to rise to €12.5m once he had played 90 matches. At the end of the 2022/23 season, Ugarte made it to 85 appearances for Sporting, but he will not reach 90, sold to Paris Saint-Germain for £51m having also been subject to interest from Chelsea who had looked to be frontrunners just last month.
The fee makes Ugarte Sporting CP’s second-most expensive sale of all time, including add-ons. But who are the rest of the top 10?
10. Joao Palhinha (£20m)
- To: Fulham
- Date: July 2022
You’ll see a theme on this list with the Premier League doing a lot of shopping at Sporting CP, and that’s not even including Cristiano Ronaldo (£12.24m) or Marcos Rojo (£16m).
Joao Palhinha was by no means a youngster when he was part of Sporting’s title-winning side in 2020/21, but he was finally getting his breakthrough at a club he had joined in 2013 as an 18-year-old. Spending a lot of time out on loan, Palhinha played just 95 times for Sporting’s senior side before Fulham came calling last summer.
In his first season in the Premier League, Palhinha played 35 times for Fulham with three goals and 14 yellow cards, just one short of becoming the first ever player to hit the 15-mark and get the subsequent suspension. But the mathematicians among you will probably work out that the three games Palhinha missed last season were due to suspension, one for five yellow cards and two for hitting 10 before the deadline.
9. Nani (£21m)
- To: Man Utd
- Date: July 2007
And they say lightning does not strike twice. Although Nani wouldn’t be able to fully replicate Ronaldo’s success or numbers, he did become someone Ferguson would turn to for a big moment after his former Portuguese teammate left for Real Madrid.
A steep decline and competition for places ultimately saw him leave for pastures new, but perhaps the lack of appreciation for Nani’s Premier League career can partly be explained by the fact ‘assists’ were yet to be truly popularised in his hey day.
According to Opta, no player to play over 5,000 minutes of league football for Man Utd has averaged an assist as frequently for the club as Nani.
8. Adrien Silva (£22m)
- To: Leicester City
- Date: August 2017
Following their against-all-odds Premier League triumph, Leicester City were ready to establish themselves as one of England’s top sides. In order for that to happen, cash needed to be splashed. Looking to strengthen their midfield options, Adrien Silva was recruited from Sporting in August 2017 but he struggled to break into the Foxes starting eleven.
Of course, he wasn’t helped by the fact his transfer documents arrived with FIFA 14 seconds late, meaning he was ineligible to play for his new club until January 2018. Silva was understandably annoyed with FIFA’s trivial nature, but rules are rules and his Leicester career never really got going.
He swiftly exited, initially joining Monaco on loan before completing a permanent switch to Sampdoria and more recently Al Wahda in the UAE.
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7. Islam Slimani (£28m)
- To: Leicester City
- Date: August 2016
Adrien Silva wasn’t the first Sporting player to join Leicester. Before he linked up with Jamie Vardy and company, Islam Slimani was signed to alleviate some of the pressure on the former England international’s shoulders, but the Algerian marksman wasn’t able to acclimatise to England’s top division. He would ultimately play 36 times, registering eight goals, before embarking on a journey that has since led him back to Portugal’s capital — where he is again wearing green-and-white.
While Slimani’s club career has been a mixed bag, he’s an icon in Algeria, becoming their record goalscorer in October. To date, he’s hit the net 40 times in 87 caps.
6. Nuno Mendes (£34m)
- To: PSG
- Date: July 2021
A Sporting academy product, Nuno Mendes first joined PSG on loan for the 2021/22 season, having made 47 appearances for his boyhood club. In his first season in France, Mendes played 37 times across all competitions, eventually making the left-back slot his own ahead of Abdou Diallo and Juan Bernat.
Last season Mendes was hampered slightly by injury but remains the first-choice left-back at the Parc des Princes, and won the Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year award, still only 21.
5. Joao Mario (£34m)
- To: Inter Milan
- Date: August 2016
Joao Mario played a huge part in some cup successes for Sporting in 2015 and was very much a player on the rise when Inter came calling in August 2016 — when the midfielder was fresh from winning Euro 2016 with Portugal.
Mario never did fulfil the huge sum Inter paid for his services and fell out with former boss Luciano Spalletti due to a lack of regular starts. Loan spells at West Ham and Lokomotiv Moscow followed, while he made a temporary return to Sporting last season, playing 28 Primeira Liga games as they finally regained the title.
You’d think that would be a fairytale story, but Mario has since joined fierce Lisbon rivals Benfica in a permanent deal. Safe to say, he’ll not be looking forward to the ‘Derby de Lisboa’ going forward.
4. Pedro Porro (£39m)
- To: Tottenham
- Date: February 2023
Pedro Porro hasn’t an academy product at Sporting, and only permanently joined them in the summer of 2022, though he spent the previous two years with the club on loan from Manchester City. Growing his stock while in Portugal, Porro made the return to England earlier this year, joining Tottenham Hotspur on loan.
While the initial move was a loan until the end of the season, it included an obligatory purchase for £39m this summer, which has officially come into play. In his first half-season with Tottenham, Porro played 17 games across all competitions across the right flank, with three goals and three assists.
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3. Matheus Nunes (£42.2m)
- To: Wolves
- Date: August 2022
Signed when he was 20, Matheus Nunes spent a short time with Sporting’s reserves side before making the step up to the senior team and he played a major part in their title win in 2021. His performances caught the eye of Premier League side Wolves, who made the midfielder their most-expensive signing in a club-record deal worth just over £42m.
The Portugal international had a good first season in the Premier League, playing 34 times for Wolves in the division, missing just two games after his signing. He’s already being linked with a move away from Wolves, such is his quality, but Nunes appears to have his sights set on the new campaign with Wolves and first full season under Julen Lopetegui.
2. Manuel Ugarte (£51m)
- To: PSG
- Date: July 2023
The newest name on this list, all eyes will be on Ugarte to see how he fares at PSG as part of their much-changing squad this season.
1. Bruno Fernandes (£67.6m)
- To: Man Utd
- Date: January 2020
Manchester United have needed some inspiration for a while now and in January 2020, they paid an eye-watering fee to Sporting CP to acquire Bruno Fernandes. This path worked with Ronaldo and, to an extent, Nani, so what could go wrong?
As a team, the Red Devils haven’t really progressed during the time since, still searching frantically for silverware and title relevance alongside Man City and Liverpool. But individually, Fernandes has run up some incredible numbers, hitting 64 goals and 52 assists in 185 appearances across all competitions so far.
Fernandes continues to be pigeon-holed as a ‘penalty/set-piece merchant’ and Paul Scholes even suggested the Portugal international is ‘becoming a problem’ for Manchester United. But there’s little doubt the Red Devils would be much, much worse off without him.