Ask any fan across the world the same question and you will likely get the same answer. The question – would you be OK with your manager leaving to join your arch rivals? The answer is likely to be a firm no. But for fans of Portuguese side Benfica this scenario is playing itself out in real life after their manager for the past six years, Jorge Jesus announced his departure from the club to join arch rivals Sporting Lisbon. It’s fair to say that the Benfica fans are in a state of disbelief, not over why their faithful coach who has delivered three league titles and seven trophies to the club during his tenure has decided to leave but instead why he has chosen to go to Sporting of all clubs. The rivalry between the two clubs who both play in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon is a fierce one with few players daring to make the switch. So for their manager to do so has sparked a furious reaction from the fans and calls of “judas”.
Jorge has decided to make the move to Sporting after letting his existing contract with Benfica end this summer. He refused to sign a new contract earlier this year so the Benfica board were anticipating his departure for pastures new after six wonderful years including two Europa League cup final appearances along the way. With several clubs across Europe interested in the 60-year-old a move to Italy, Germany or England looked on the cards. At least that is what the Benfica board believed so the news that Jorge has all but agreed a £4.4million a year deal with Sporting and will be staying in the capital will come as a bitter blow to the club. The feelings are understandable as it would be the same if the Celtic manager Ronny Deila left to fill the current vacancy at Rangers or United boss Louis Van Gaal replaced Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City.
Jorge Jesus is not the first manager though to have made the switch to a rival club although he is one of only a handful of brave men to do so. Alex McLeish took over at Aston Villa after resigning from arch rivals Birmingham following their relegation from the Premiership in 2011. Further back than that, Terry Neill switched North London allegiances by moving from Tottenham to Arsenal whilst Ron Saunders managed three rival clubs – Aston Villa, Birmingham and West Brom during a busy 13 year managerial spell. There are numerous managers who have bossed both sides of a city rivalry but have managed other clubs in-between. Arsenal managerial legend George Graham stunned his old club when he signed on as Tottenham manager, after leaving Arsenal and spending a two-year spell at Leeds United. Alberto Zaccheroni took over at rivals Inter only a year and a half after leaving AC Milan, whilst Brian Clough famously bossed both Derby County and Nottingham Forest during his career.
Benfica fans will be urged to remember that they took a former Sporting Lisbon manager as their own in 2006 with the appointment of Fernando Santos so these moves do happen. But the direct switch will still hurt Benfica, even though they will understand that as a free agent Jorge Jesus is within his rights to do so. The question however is how he intends to stay in the capital after making the switch and expects the Benfica fans to forget. Like most things connected to rivals, they never forget and will be sure to give Jorge Jesus and his new Sporting Lisbon team a rousing welcome when they come to the Estadio da Luz for the first time next season.