In a week in which we saw one presidential election campaign reach its conclusion, with the inauguration of Donald Trump as the new president of the USA, another presidential battle continues to rage on. Over in Lisbon, the race to gain power and control over proceedings at Sporting Lisbon is in full swing. Two main candidates have emerged, with current President, Bruno de Carvalho outlining his intentions to stand for re-election and newcomer Pedro Madeira Rodrigues, a life-long Sportinguista, announcing his challenge for the Presidency.
Tuesday 17th January, the season’s over. Nothing left to play for. Knocked out of the League Cup by a modest Chaves side, what next? What’s to look forward to now? The anger, the disappointment, the discontent is rife amongst Sporting fans right now, and it all came to a head after their recent cup exit. Riot police were called in order to protect the players from aggrieved fans as they made their way to the team coach from the stadium in Chaves. Upon arrival in Lisbon, the aid of riot police was once again necessary, as the Sporting team were greeted with yet more hostility from exasperated fans, enraged with their team’s performances on the pitch. Something’s not right at the Alvalade, but is it more than just matters on the pitch.
“Throwing in the towel is not an option”, was the message from club President Bruno de Carvalho to the irate Sporting fans. The president, an avid user of social media, delivered his sentiments to fans via a Facebook post. Strange really, when one of the biggest criticisms that Sportinguistas have of their President is that he talks too much. His open criticism of referees this season and general openness in coming forward when expressing his dismay towards the standard of officiating has caused a stir in Portuguese footballing circles. Some say his constant complaining is only adding to the supposed unfair treatment of Sporting from referees and his comments are in fact hindering his team. If recent reports are to be believed de Carvalho entered the dressing room after a recent poor performance and personally gave the players a piece of his mind. This didn’t go down well with the players, prompting senior players Adrien Silva and William Carvalho to hold private talks with the President to discuss matters at the club. It could be the case that should de Carvalho be re-elected many of Sporting’s better players try to force a move from the club in the summer.
However, it’s not only the President in the firing line at Sporting, with manager Jorge Jesus under real pressure following his side’s abject performances on the pitch. Without doubt, Sporting have performed well below expectations this season, knocked out of the Champions League in the group stage, granted they were drawn in a tough group alongside Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, the expectation would still have been to qualify for the Europa League, yet defeat against Legia Warsaw on the final match day saw them removed from Europe altogether. Followed by an early exit from the Taça de Portugal and then from the Taça de Liga, compounded by a fourth-place position in the league, now 10 points of league leaders and Lisbon rivals Benfica. His recruitment has also been much maligned, with a number of his signings failing to make the grade this season with Sporting.
Expectations were high upon Jorge Jesus’s arrival at Sporting, having been prized away from city rivals Benfica after guiding them to back-to-back league titles. No secret was made of the fact that he was to be made the highest paid manager in the league, and comfortably so. After an impressive first season in which Sporting amassed a club record 86 points, Jesus signed a new contract worth a reported €6 million per year until 2019. The fact the club have so much invested in Jesus financially makes it all the more difficult for them to sack him, but with pressure building, only time will tell what the future holds for Jorge Jesus.
Despite growing concerns surrounding the President and his manager, opinion still seems very much split amongst Sporting fans as to what the way forward should be. There is a clear acknowledgement and recognition of all the positive work that Bruno de Carvalho has done at the club. Sporting were in a mess when de Carvalho took the helm in 2013. Huge debts riddled the club financially, and de Carvalho helped the club climb back into a financially secure position. He returned to the policy of utilising the club’s famed youth academy, that has produced legends such as Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo, and he has helped to bring through players like Joao Mario, Gelson Martins and Ruben Semedo in recent years. A very much hands on and enthusiastic President, de Carvalho can often be found alongside manager Jorge Jesus on a match day, joining him on the pitch. A true Sportinguista himself, de Carvalho has endeared himself to Sporting fans, often slandering Benfica and expressing true, sincere emotion towards the club he loves. The connection is there between Sporting fans and Bruno de Carvalho, he’s not just seen as the president by the fans but as one of their own and that’s what could make the difference come election day.
De Carvalho has also received public backing from former chairman of the board Eduardo Barroso, who has called for continuity at the club. “Crisis? Crisis was Sporting four years ago, on the verge of total financial breakdown, to be in seventh place, with no prospect of getting close to its opponents, changing its president every three years. This is a terrible season that happens in the path of recovery of Sporting. This Sporting has everything to succeed” said Barroso in remarks to the renaissance, reiterating confidence in Bruno de Carvalho. “Our opponents want to destroy this association between Bruno de Carvalho and Jorge Jesus. We have the best coach. We have a president with an excellent project. We realise that Sporting is on the road to recovery, despite this season.” Such public support from former prominent figures in the club will only serve to strengthen his re-election campaign.
So, who exactly is de Carvalho’s opposition to the presidency? His name is Pedro Madeira Rodrigues, and he’s not exactly been backwards about coming forward with his ideas for the club. As former general secretary of the Portuguese chamber of commerce and industry, Pedro Madeira Rodrigues has already proven himself to be a successful, driven candidate capable of handling the pressures that come with the role of President at Sporting Lisbon. With a background in the world of finance, Sporting should be in safe hands on that front and Rodrigues has already outlined some of his plans for the club going forward. He has stated that he wants to introduce a “modern and professional structure for football” at the club and has big plans to increase the club as a brand, with the hopes of gaining wider exposure through various different marketing techniques. He also wants to reinforce the Sporting brand by establishing a network of schools with an emphasis on the former Portuguese colonies. Focusing on the academy has been a big part of his manifesto, claiming he needs to “rescue the crown jewel of Sporting”. Most eye-catching of all his statements so far, though, is that he has already announced that Jorge Jesus will not remain in charge of the club should he be elected, stating he wants a coach who is a “winner”. When questioned about the financial implications of removing Jorge Jesus as manager, Rodrigues simply answered “The problem is solved”, Could it be that having nailed his colours firmly to the mast of Bruno de Carvalho, Jorge Jesus walks, relieving Sporting of the burden of paying off his massive contract?
Strong statements like that, from Madeira Rodrigues, could win over some of the fans who are eager for change, and current results on the pitch are only serving to strengthen his bid for the presidency. However, some of the comments regarding current President Bruno de Carvalho have been met with disappointment from some sections of the Sporting faithful. His comments criticising the President have been seen as disrespectful and have left a sour taste in the mouths of many a Sporting fan. Rodrigues has quit his role as secretary of the Portuguese chamber of commerce and industry in order to dedicate himself to his election campaign. His passion for Sporting is there for all to see, but he needs to be careful how he shows this and undermining the current president is unlikely to do him any favours.
Only paying members of Sporting or ‘Socios’ as they are known, can vote in the upcoming elections. The feeling is that the younger Socios are more inclined to vote to re-elect Bruno de Carvalho as they value the financial stability he has brought to the club and are voting with an eye on the future stability of the club. On the other hand, older Socios are more likely to vote for change as they’ve grown increasingly restless with a lack of success on the pitch and lack of silverware at the club. The feeling amongst them being they may not be around to see their club win another title if de Carvalho remains in charge. They also aren’t a fan of the hands on approach of the president, for them the President’s job is to take care of the club behind the scenes not to be interfering with matters on the pitch and in the dressing room. Interestingly, the votes of the older Socios are worth more than those of the younger Socios, which could make for an interesting result come election day.
The date has officially been set, the elections will take place on March 4th. Until then the campaigning will rumble on, it’s sure to be filled with shameless slandering of the opposition, desperate attempts to endear oneself to the Sporting fans and wild, outlandish promises of prosperity and fortune. One thing is certain, though, March 4th marks a key date in Sporting’s history going forward. Could a cleaning out from top to bottom be the remedy the club needs to reverse its recent fortunes and help them climb back to the top of the Portuguese footballing ladder? Or is continuity the key to success? It remains to be seen. Could this Presidential election turn out to be the most significant one of the year? Most Sportinguistas would probably so.