TugaScout is an English-language site reporting on matters associated with Portuguese football by freelance writer Alex Goncalves, offering the latest news, reviews and opinions surrounding the Portuguese League and the Seleção players based abroad.

Six famous names currently playing for smaller teams in Portugal

Six famous names currently playing for smaller teams in Portugal

At club level, Portugal is a bit of an unknown quantity when it comes to the sides outside the traditional Big Three - but there are still a few footballing names that those around Europe will have heard of that are currently plying their trade in the lower echelon of Portuguese football.

Indeed, while Portugal are a breeding ground for some of the sport’s hottest prospects, big names with substantial reputations playing in the league system are much harder to come by.

The most famous player currently competing in the Primeira Liga has to be former Spain and Real Madrid keeper Iker Casillas. Other than him though, there are very few, if any, true footballing legends in the league.

But, there are always exceptions, with some well known footballers playing in the country - and, more impressively, not for any of Benfica, Porto, Sporting or Braga. Here, we list five footballers playing for smaller teams in Portugal that you will have surely heard of:

1. Danny (Maritimo)

Attacking midfielder Danny is a name most will be very familiar with. An exceptional playmaker, the 35-year old spent a decade at Russian giants Zenit St Petersburg, where he competed in the Champions League on 34 occasions, and played a stunning 270 league matches in the space of 9 years.

To add to that, he also managed to find the back of the net a whopping 68 times, bagging an astronomical 84 assists in the Russian top flight as well. A truly extraordinary return that meant he, on average, directly contributed to one goal every 1.7 matches.

En route, he helped Zenit win 3 league titles, 2 domestic cups and the UEFA Super Cup. He even helped them get out of the Champions League group stage in the 2015-16 seasons, an impressive achievement for the side.

He even went on to be their captain, and really only left due to injury troubles; indeed, a long-term cruciate ligament injury kept him out for the vast majority of his final season at the club, but he still played regularly when available, managing 12 Russian Premier League games in the 2015-16 campaign, scoring 4 in the process.

For his performances at club level, Danny earned a total of 38 caps for Portugal, a number that would have been even higher but for recurring spells on the sidelines due to injury.

As an acknowledgement of just how highly rated Danny was in his prime, his move from Dynamo Moscow to Zenit cost the Russian outfit no less than €30million. And, looking back, he was worth every penny.

The fact he's now back at Maritimo, even if he is past his peak, is a real coup for the club, and he's performed admirably. 14 years after he first joined the Madeiran outfit, he has played at least 60 minutes in every one of their league fixtures this campaign, only missing one match due to suspension.

And while he hasn't found the back of the net yet, he is, of course, the captain, leading by example. 

2. Fabio Coentrão (Rio Ave) 

When Fabio Coentrão made his move back to his boyhood club Rio Ave, there was shock aplenty both in Portugal and across Europe too - especially considering he was still only 30 when he made the move.

In fact, even Coentrão appeared somewhat surprised that he had to drop down the league and sign for Rio Ave late in the summer transfer market, admitting he was "sad" that Sporting CP did not come in for him during the window.

Making a name for himself at Benfica when only in his early twenties, Coentrão set the Portuguese Primeira Liga alight with his attacking prowess from left back, amassing a total of 52 league outings for the club, getting 2 goals and 13 assists and winning the Primeira Liga in 2009-10, complimented with the League Cup in the very same year.

Having performed so well for the Eagles, Real Madrid came calling, purchasing Coentrão for €30million. He went on to represent the European giants for seven years, two of which were spent out on loan at Monaco and Sporting.

He played 28 matches in the Champions League alone for the serial winners, while his most productive season came in his first, where he played 20 La Liga games as he helped Real Madrid lift the trophy alongside compatriots Pepe, Cristiano Ronaldo and Ricardo Carvalho while Jose Mourinho was at the helm.

Now at Rio Ave, the former left back has undergone something of a revolution, utilised as a right sided winger, allowing him to get as involved in the action as possible. And it has certainly paid off, Coentrão chipping in with three assists from his 7 league outings already this season.

3. Jackson Martinez (Portimonense)

It came on the same day as Fabio Coentrão's move to Rio Ave; as the Portuguese transfer window came to a close, two very familiar faces returned to the Portuguese League on the final day. And while Coentrão was a surprise, Jackson Martinez came as a shock. 

The Colombian striker had a tremendous career in Portugal with Porto, where he scored 92 goals in 136 games, finishing as the Primeira Liga top scorer in each of the three seasons he spent at Porto, an outstanding achievement for the Colombian.

His performances for Porto earned him wide-scale acclaim as he became linked with a wealth of top level clubs across Europe. Eventually a move to Atletico Madrid was on the cards, costing the Spaniards €35million and, while he didn't have much impact in La Liga, he eventually earned another big-money move, transferring to Chinese outfit Guangzhou Evergrande.

His choice to join the Chinese Super League was met with a great deal of disappointment, with fans who had followed his career hoping that he would stick around in Europe and try and cement his place as one of the finest strikers on the continent, but the money on offer was deemed too good to turn down.

His time in China proved to be a nightmare though. While he quickly became a key player in the side, just 8 months and 16 games after he signed for tens of millions, he suffered a devastating ankle injury which kept him out of action from that point forth. For the next 18 months, Martinez failed to represent Guangzhou again, with treatment and rehabilitation required, and his contract was terminated in March 2018.

It's a nightmarish story, not out of place in a piece of horror fiction, but ultimately it was a reality for one of Colombia's finest, who he represented on 40 occasions, including at the 2014 World Cup.

Martinez's fall from Grace was Portimonense's gain though, signing him for free just last summer. He has since started to show some of his former capabilities, giving Portimonense more of a focal point up front.

Having now played 9 games and scored twice, Martinez is on the right track to getting back to at least a fraction of his former self. 

4. Ricardo Costa (Tondela)

At the age of 37, Ricardo Costa is the oldest name on this list. The veteran centreback now plies his trade at Tondela, who garnered something of a reputation of being experts at pulling off ‘great escapes’; two years in a row they only just survived relegation from Portugal’s top flight and, last season - Costa’s first at the club - they finally made good progress, finishing 11th in the league and rarely looking under threat of suffering relegation.

In that 2017-18 campaign, Costa played 32 out of Tondela’s 34 league games, an incredible showing for someone approaching the end of their playing careers. What’s even more startling is that not only did he feature in all those games, but he completed every single one from start to finish - as the club captain. An illustration of the incredible impact he has had at the club.

This year Costa has only picked off from where he left off, already playing 12 of Tondela’s 13 league matches, playing the full 90 in 10 of those outings - and he doesn’t look like slowing down anytime soon.

For those that are unfamiliar with the icon that is Ricardo Costa, he is the former Porto, Wolfsburg and Valencia centreback that played for Portugal 22 times throughout his career, representing the country at three World Cups in the process.

He’s got a fantastic trophy cabinet to match his illustrious career too, having won five league titles in his career (4 Primeira Liga trophies with Porto and 1 Bundesliga honour with Wolfsburg in 2008-09) as well as being part of that Porto side that lifted the Champions League trophy in 2003-04.

5. Muriel Becker (Belenenses)

Becker is certainly the most unheard of name on this list - and, to be honest, is only here because of the accomplishments of his brother. That is because, for those that are unaware, Muriel Becker is the brother of Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson.

And while Alisson has gone on to become one of the greatest goalkeepers in all of world football and play for his country 33 times, his older brother Muriel, now 31, is playing for Belenenses, who currently sit 7th in the Portuguese top flight, having played out his first 10 years of professional football in Brazil with Internacional.

Becker has been very impressive so far this campaign, playing in all 12 of the club’s Primeira Liga matches this season. Perhaps even more impressively than that, he has even kept a clean sheet in 7 of those fixtures, a phenomenal record - and a major reason as to why Belenenses are now up in 7th in the table.

6. Hugo Almeida (Academica de Coimbra) 

Hugo Almeida is perhaps the most impressive on this list because not only is he representing a lesser team in Portugal, but he’s playing for a side that don’t even compete in the Portuguese top flight.

Almeida, now 34, plays for Academica, who currently sit 11th in the table, just 5 points - and 5 places - above the relegation zone. That’s by no means due to Almeida though, who has actually been a good performer when given the chance since arriving at the club from Hadjuk Split, scoring 4 goals in 7 outings - or, more impressively, an average of one goal every 74 minutes.

The former Portugal international, who score 19 goals in 57 appearances for the national team, represented the likes of Werder Bremen, Besiktas and FC Porto in an adventurous career that spanned over 7 countries and 12 clubs. He won the Portuguese League title twice and the Portuguese Cup as many times while at Porto, as well as featuring in two of Porto’s Champions League matches on their way to victory in 2003-04.

He also lifted the German Cup with Werder Bremen in 2009, helped the German club get to the UEFA Cup final that same year, and also lifted the Turkish Cup with Besiktas in 2010-11 after emerging as the competition’s top scorer.

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