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Meet Hugo Viana, The INEOS Target For A Role In Their Manchester United Empire

INEOS are completely restructuring the foundations that hold Manchester United together at present, and truth be told, it looked like they were going to fall apart and crumble before the emergence of Sir Jim Ratcliffe. The Dan Ashworth negotiations remain ongoing, with United refusing to be hoodwinked by Newcastle United. Jason Wilcox’s appointment is anticipated to be a lot smoother, with a resolution anticipated in the next two weeks. The Reds are confident they will have Wilcox in place for the summer, and he is expected to be working in tandem on negotiations with the new CEO, Omar Berrada, formerly of Manchester City.

Multi-club ownership has become a thing of the present, and Manchester United are eager to become part of the party. INEOS of course, own OGC Nice, and the first signs of a connection between the two clubs became evident last week as United’s U21s played a behind-closed-door friendly against Nice during the international break. Ratcliffe, Sir Dave Brailsford, and Jean-Claude Blanc are currently surveying the scene to try and find a suitable COO to oversee the multi-club landscape, and Hugo Viana from Sporting CP is a name they are investigating.

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FARO, PORTUGAL – JULY 19: President Frederico Varandas of Sporting CP with Hugo Viana of Sporting CP before the start of the Pre-Season Friendly match between Sporting CP and KRC Genk at Estadio Algarve on July 19, 2023 in Faro, Portugal. (Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images)

Who is Hugo Viana?

Hugo Viana is currently the sporting director of Portuguese side Sporting CP. The 41-year-old is a former professional footballer who played for clubs such as SC Braga, and Sporting CP, and even had a stint in the Premier League with Newcastle United, where he made 39 appearances.

Viana’s first taste of the director world in football came in 2018 when he was given a role at another team in the Portuguese league, Belenenses. His time at the club lasted just six months, leaving on his own accord before being appointed by Sporting later in 2018. Initially, Vianna was appointed as an international director by the president, Frederico Verandas, when he won the election at the club in September 2018. A month later, Hugo Viana was named the new sporting director of Sporting CP.

Early Days At Sporting CP

The former Newcastle man had control of the club’s transfers in the January that followed, but it was a window seen as largely unsuccessful among the Sporting faithful. Several players within the first window did not succeed at the club, namely the likes of Idrissa Doumbia, Tiago Illori from Reading, and Luiz Phellype from Pacos Ferreira. Renan Ribeiro was another signing that was seen as a failure, although he did have some good moments at the club compared to the rest.

The following year, Hugo Viana again led the transfer strategy at the club and signed players like Andraz Sporar for around €6 million from Bratislava, but this was again viewed negatively internally and externally at the club, with the player never making a true impact. One of the reasons for the 41-year-old’s failure initially was his inexperience as a director. Viana was said to have trusted his opinion on players as opposed to the overview of the scouting team at the club, which has been described as one of the best around.

Rafael Camacho is another example, who came in from Liverpool and remains a huge question mark and critique point when it comes to his work. Camacho was brought into the club for €4.5 million and immediately became the club’s highest-paid player, having only played a handful of times for Liverpool prior to signing. The 23-year-old remains at the Portuguese club and is still one of the highest-paid players, despite making just 26 appearances since joining in 2019.

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Along came Ruben Amorim

The criticism of Hugo Viana tilted around the time Sporting appointed Ruben Amorim as manager in 2020. The decision to hire Amorim was backed by Viana, who felt he was a great choice to come in and take the reigns after a poor few years when it came to the hiring and firing of managers. Tiago Fernandes, Marcel Keizer, Leonel Pontes, and Silas were all hired and fired before the club and Viana eventually struck gold with the appointment of Amorim.

As mentioned previously, Viana mentioned Amorim to the president, Varandas, while he was at Sporting Club Braga, and the club paid a substantial fee of €12 million to bring him in. The director trusted the Liverpool target to come in and change the fortunes at Sporting, and he has done just that during his tenure in charge.

Amorim immediately took control of the team, and how it was built, including the exact profiles in each position, and Hugo Viana took control of the negotiations. New scouts were signed internally to work alongside the manager and provide him with what he needed, and Sporting also signed a man by the name of Bernardo Palmeiro, who has a license from FIFA to be involved in the negotiations of transfers. In the beginning, when Viana was perhaps inexperienced, Palmeiro helped in negotiations with other clubs when it was decided that Sporting wanted to pursue a player. He was a key figure in negotiations at the club and stayed for two seasons.

“He made them champions in his first full season, but equally important were the people he surrounded himself with… The president and Hugo Viana were extremely important”.

Paolo Bento on Ruben Amorim & Hugo Viana.

Viana is not the person who sets the main targets internally at Sporting CP, with that burden falling on the shoulders of the manager, Ruben Amorim. This was something the manager demanded upon signing for the club. He wanted full control of all transfers, but the pair have worked together really well in the last few years, which has allowed Hugo Viana to gain a lot of respect internally from those who were perhaps raising eyebrows about his quality before.

Still, the prime targets are Amorim’s, which may be something Liverpool fans will want to pay close attention to. The Portuguese manager identifies players who can play a defined role and works in tandem with the scouting team to provide players for Hugo Viana to chase down and try to sign.

The former Premier League midfielder is described as well-liked internally by the players and staff, with the players especially appreciating the fact he was once a footballer himself. It’s something that has allowed him to create a positive locker room and a nice ambience within the environment of the club, which has contributed to its success in recent seasons. He is a passionate character and loves a disagreement with the referee, of course in a respectful manner. He stays away from the media and allows the manager to communicate with them, doing his work in the background to ensure the club stays on track. It’s described as one of his best attributes as a director.

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Amorim and Viana are extremely close, and the relationship between the two has been compared to Pep Guardiola and Txiki Begiristain at Manchester City. Due to this relationship and how well it works, there are doubts as to how successful Viana would be outside of Sporting, working with another manager who isn’t the current Sporting coach. There is also a belief that wherever Amorim goes, he would like to bring Viana along with him. The former Braga midfielder has grown as a director while working alongside the 39-year-old manager, and his relationship with Bernardo Palmeiro has also been vital in his ascension as a sporting force internally at Sporting Club.

The coaching staff at Sporting have been described as second to none, and Viana tries his best to do what he can for the manager while trying not to get in the way with any of his own demands. This may work in the favour of INEOS. The 41-year-old has shown he can work well in a good environment with the right people around him, and he’s likely to have that as part of the multi-club model.

One thing that must be stated regarding Hugo Viana is that Sporting is not under multi-club ownership. They do not have affiliate clubs in the same way that OGC Nice will be to Manchester United, so his experience within that field will indeed be limited. Nevertheless, INEOS are huge admirers of the director, and Omar Berrada’s experience within the same field at Manchester City is expected to be passed on if he does get hired for the role.

Sporting’s Sales:

In regards to the deals the director has been involved in since joining Sporting in 2019, there is an extremely impressive catalogue to choose from. Most recently, the signing of Viktor Gyokeres for just €21 million has been lauded across Europe, with the Swedish striker now having a value of above €50 million. The same can be said about Morten Hjumland, who signed from Lecce last summer for just €18 million. Hjumland is someone Manchester United have scouted recently.

In terms of departures from last summer alone, the club made €100 million from the sales of Manuel Ugarte to PSG and Pedro Porro to Tottenham Hotspur. This meant they had a positive net spend of €63.5 million and made a profit of €31.3 million on Porro and €47.5 million on Ugarte. Pedro Goncalves was also a deal Sporting will feel Hugo Viana was impressive in getting done, signing him for just €13.5 million in the 20/21 season.

The season before, they had a positive net spend of €78.5 million and made a signing for just €7.5 million, which is likely to make them a major profit in the coming years in Ousmane Diomande. The sales of Matheus Nunes, Nuno Mendes, and Joao Palhinha again made over €100 million from sales in that campaign.

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A lot of the players signed are, of course, targets identified by the scouts and the manager, but to make that amount of profit from the negotiations of selling players is still extremely impressive nonetheless.

This is a vast improvement from the past, when agents used to throw a list of players at Sporting and they would take a pick, signing a lot of the wrong players for fees they were perhaps not worth. Viana and Amorim have been vital in changing that, with the scouting team working hard to provide the correct profiles to fit the manager’s side in every position. They have gone from effectively being a hostage in negotiations to having leverage and knowledge when they walk into a room to try and convince a player to sign.

The process is fluid among Amorim, the scouts, and Hugo Viana, with all three working in tandem on deals like Victor Gyokeres. The player has to fit the profile the club is looking for, but also have the personality to slot into the locker room. This is of utmost importance to the manager.

What role could he have at Manchester United?

Viana is likely to be involved in overseeing the talent from club to club within the multi-club model that INEOS is currently working to implement in their network. Recent reports have linked players like Aaron Anselmino from Boca Juniors to Manchester United, but the plan was likely that Anselmino would have joined Nice to aid his development and eventually come through at United.

Playing these players at Nice allows them to flourish in a stable environment with multiple first-team experiences in a top European league. That means if they are good enough to play for Manchester United in the end, they’re ready to shine as soon as they step into the first team. Viana will be in charge of overseeing this potential talent and also arranging the talent coming into the clubs in question. At the moment, that is just Manchester United, OGC Nice, and Lausanne Sport, but that network is likely to grow if the success grows within those three clubs within the coming years.

An example of this is already said to be evident at Lausanne, with highly-rated Italian youngster Simone Pafundi currently on loan at the Swiss club. If a deal can be agreed upon with Udinese at the end of the season, there are huge chances Pafundi could go on to play for Manchester United in the coming seasons. United are also monitoring the South American market, with other players like Ian Subiare and Franco Mastantuono currently being scouted by the Manchester club.

In Portugal, it’s seen as a risk for Hugo Viana to leave Sporting to try and work with another club. It would be a bigger blow to lose Amorim, but despite this, it would be a blow to lose the director. His time at the club has been successful. He has created a winning team, a great environment, and a well-structured set of processes between each of the departments at the club during his time there.

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