It has been a topsy-turvy campaign for Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon this season. After flirting with the relegation zone for a little while the capital club pulled their finger out after the New Year. In the end they finished a more respectable but still disappointing seventh place; three points behind Estoril and European qualification.
On top of that the club have also descended into desperate financial despair; which they are actively trying to fix as quickly as possible with big names such as Norwich City-bound Ricky Van Wolfswinkel already agreeing to leave in 2013.
Luckily for Sporting they have a tremendous youth system; as was evident in their run to the NextGen Series finals this season. Now the hope is they can utilise some of their younger players in order to facilitate the transfer of their bigger assets.
Unfortunately the danger in that respect is this; what do you do when the interest starts coming for your younger players?
That is indeed the case with centre-back Tiago Ilori.
He came into the side in February and has not looked back; becoming a regular in the first-team as Sporting started their ultimately failed march back toward European football.
It was this form that saw Liverpool taking a look at the 20-year-old this year and now reports are heavily linking Brendan Rodgers with making an official move for the player.
You can understand why. He plays in the Rodgers mould but at 6ft 3ins is also built for the Premier League. Born in London to a Nigerian dad and a Portuguese mum there should not be any language barrier to overcome either.
He has also been raised in one of Europe’s most prestigious youth academies so would make an absolute steal if Liverpool do manage to snap him up on a reported £3.5 million fee.
But according to reports in Spain the chase just got harder. While the interest of Valencia has been previously reported Liverpool would have felt comfortable going toe-to-toe with the La Liga outfit but now Atletico Madrid are reportedly interested a deal might have got tougher to close.
Atletico can offer Champions League football next year and with the sale of Falcao seemingly imminent would easily afford to match any wages The Reds were going to offer him.
But there is a reason so many teams are interested in the young defender; because he is a talent. That combined with Sporting’s financial issues make him a must watch that Liverpool should go the extra mile to sign.
image: © azuaje