Luisão is one of the most experienced players in Europe, and one of the most recognisable figures in world football. On Tuesday night, he captained Benfica to a memorable Champions League victory over Borussia Dortmund, just a day after his 36th birthday. In the process, he made history by becoming only the fourth player in Benfica’s history to reach 500th competitive appearances. With his contract set to expire in the summer, should the Eagles hand a new contract to their influential skipper? Jeff Viveiros and David Pritchett present the two sides of the debate.
THE CASE FOR A NEW PLAYING CONTRACT
JV: “After seeing the footage of an emotional Luisão in the dressing room after Tuesday’s match against Borussia Dortmund, this has become very easy. So here goes! I believe that Luisão deserves a new contract. Benfica need Luisão as much as Luisão needs Benfica.
Luisão is a Benfica legend. A legend is very rare in the modern game. The constant movement of players through transfers has made it more about the money than the jersey they wear. Luisão has shown time and time again that he has a genuine love for the Benfica shirt. On many occasions he has pointed to the club crest after a goal or a win to demonstrate his passion for the club. This passion has made Luisão a real fans’ favourite.
Luisão has maintained a very impressive level of performance over the years. Just like a fine wine, he gets better with age! His experience has helped him to read the game. Some of his best games can be traced to the latter part of his career. He steps up when the club needs him. Even as a defender, he has scored vital goals for the club at crucial points of the season. Benfica perform better with him on the pitch. When it comes to the big moments, Luisão is there.
He is a footballer with great character, and his leadership on and off the field makes a big difference to the team. He helps the young players to adapt to life at the massive club that Benfica is. He knows very well about A Mística. Last season, after a prolonged injury absence, he returned to the squad in the midst of their championship tilt. Even though he was not able to help out on the pitch, his support from the sidelines was invaluable. When Benfica win titles, he is deservedly the first one to lift the trophy. In difficult moments, he has been the first one to speak out and to defend his team.
Since loyalty is so rare in the modern game, we must reward it where it exists. It has now been 14 seasons and 500 matches, all with the same club! Benfica must present that contract to Luisão and leave it up to him to sign it. Which we all know he will.”
THE CASE AGAINST A NEW PLAYING CONTRACT
DP: “Every story has to have an ending, and I want this story to have a happy one. I want to remember Luisão as the heroic defender that captained Benfica during the most successful period in their recent history. I want to remember him as the player that defied his critics against Borussia Dortmund on his 500th appearance for the club, just a day after his 36th birthday. All being well, I want to remember him as the inspirational skipper that led his team to an unprecedented Tetracampeanato - then lifted the Taça de Portugal at the Estádio do Jamor - as his two final acts in a Benfica jersey. I don't want to explain to future generations of Benfiquistas that Luisão was a legendary figure that played for one season too many.
Nobody can defy the ageing process forever, and Luisão is no exception. Admittedly, he was never the quickest or most agile of players, but his reactions have become noticeably slower in the last two seasons. He sometimes struggles to change direction, and gets uncharacteristically flustered in possession. At 36, Luisão is a player that requires a regular run of games to establish a rhythm and get himself up to speed. This renders him especially vulnerable to mistakes at the start of each season.
Most of the arguments for renewing with Luisão relate to his vast experience and leadership qualities. But these can still be exploited in the locker room, on the bench, and at the academy, as demonstrated by Rui Costa and Nuno Gomes. Luisão deserves a job for life at a Benfica, and I have no doubt that he would accept a coaching or ambassadorial role, even if he decides to play on elsewhere for a few years first.
I will conclude with a caveat. Benfica need four competitive centre-backs to challenge for next season's Primeira Liga. If Luisão and Lindelöf were to depart simultaneously this summer, which is distinctly possible, they would need adequate replacements. Rúben Dias looks about ready to step up from Benfica B, but I would question the wisdom of promoting two youth players at the same time in the same position. Fábio Cardoso would be a relatively inexpensive acquisition that already knows the club and the league inside out. Carlos Ponck is also worth a look when he returns from his loan spell at Chaves.
Luisão has earned the eternal gratitude and respect of every Benfiquista. I want him to go out on a high, so we can all remember him for the right reasons.”
BENFIQUISTAS SHARE THEIR VIEWS
We ran a 24-hour Twitter poll to gauge the mood amongst the Benfica supporters. Of the 282 fans that participated, 78% feel that Luisão should be given a new one-year playing contract.
WHAT THE PRESS ARE SAYING
According to O Jogo, Benfica president Luís Filipe Vieira met with Luisão’s agent Giuliano Bertolucci on Monday for formal talks about a one-year contract extension. On Wednesday, Vieira publicly stated that he wants Luisão to remain at the club for the duration of his fifth term as president, which runs until 2020:
“I believe that he has the fitness and quality to continue playing at the [Estádio da] Luz, but it is up to Rui Vitória and Luisão. He is sure to continue on the pitch, and even if he does not play he will continue to be the club captain. If I have another three years in office, he will continue with me.”