To task a football fan with maintaining a degree of rationality is never easy, particularly when their team is embroiled a negative trend of results. Even more so when that team is based in Portugal!
As many may know, football is lived at an intense rate in the home of the 2016 European Championship winners – a fixation that’s akin to the most obsessive of footballing nations around the globe. Fans of the sport have done especially well to remain connected, even through times of austerity, so it’s a relationship to be respected and admired.
Naturally, with little return but to see one’s team succeed above others, the mood around a football club can turn sour at an alarming pace. Many Portuguese outfits can vouch for that and Sporting are no exception to the rule.
After an inspiring debut season for Jorge Jesus in the green half of Lisbon, a squad was assembled last summer designed to compete on all fronts and, most importantly, drag them over the edge in the race for the league title.
Disastrous first half of season
By January of this year, however, Sporting was out of the running for both the league and all relative cup competitions, subsequently extending the 15-year-wait for a league title and witnessing their bitter rivals, Benfica, take all the glory. It was a damning culmination of events.
The fans, in response, have expressed their discontent in more ways than one. Despite attending the Alvalade in large quantities, patience with Jesus and his players has withered away. Numerous jeers have followed the squad out at the final whistle and beyond, with even the biggest of names finding themselves in the firing line.
Sporting’s president, Bruno de Carvalho, hasn’t been left behind by fans in voicing his displeasure during a disappointing season. Who could forget the alleged impasse between the enigmatic Lions leader and key players following a 2-2 draw away to Chaves earlier this season?
The apparent disharmony reared its ugly head again when Sporting self-combusted against a Belenenses side that had lost seven league games on the spin, and who had not won at Alvalade since the 1960s.
Bruno de Carvalho reacted to the 3-1 reverse by publicly demanding more hunger from his team, promising that next season fortunes would have to change. Soon enough, the club president was rumoured to be holding showdown talks with Jesus in a meeting that reportedly failed to take place.
Panic was soothed by a public vote of confidence in Jesus ahead of the new season, but all it took was another miserable result, this time away to Feirense, for the whole issue to flare up again.
The blame game
Bruno de Carvalho demonstrated his dissatisfaction once again in what he declared to be his last Facebook post. Considering some of the content, it may be for the best. He described the club’s players as “little boys”, with the continued strain on success being placed upon them.
In between has come the recent resignation of Vicente Moura, the club’s vice-president, as a direct consequence of what he feels were jibes aimed at him, among others.
From players, fans, the board and the manager, the back-to-back defeats have left a collective state of anger in their wake, with each corner keen to deflect their portion of blame for a failed campaign.
Disappointingly, such a scenario has come about after an 11-game unbeaten run from Sporting that should have served as a trampoline for the next season. The defeats themselves could, for one factor or another, have turned out differently for the Lions, who some might say were unlucky not to have at least avoided defeat on both occasions.
Such has been the wave of discontent, however, that you wouldn’t be surprised to see the Jesus-Sporting alliance break up earlier than expected as a consequence.
It’d be wise not to rush to such a decision, with Jesus’ track record alone being more than enough to warrant time and support. The 62-year-old does have a positive season to set against the inadequacies of the current term. And truth be told, Sporting have seen several seasons of a similarly underwhelming nature over the years.
It’s also important to remember a not too distant era in Sporting’s history; one that saw the club languish in mid-table and flirt with financial demise. The Green and Whites are in a different world at present, boasting access to one of Portugal’s most experienced and successful football minds who, as of next season, has a point to prove.
Moreover, the fans remain fully energised judging by the attendances at the José Alvalade stadium. This season Sporting set records for the aggregate number of fans attending their home matches and the average per league game (over 43,000) since the state-of-the-art venue was opened in 2003.
The foundations remain solid, but for Sporting to bounce back in a dignified manner, a truer sense of unification and, yes, patience, is paramount. It’d be foolish the scrap it all and start over.
By Patrick Ribeiro