Sporting’s Alcochete football training complex has acquired global fame.
The Lisbon club’s academy has consistently developed some of the world’s great footballers and is the only one to have produced two Ballon d’Or winners – Luís Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Yesterday it was again the centre of attention in the football world, but for all the wrong reasons.
At 5pm, as the first-team squad prepared to train in preparation for Sunday’s Portuguese Cup final, a group of 50 masked Sporting ultras stormed the complex, entered the changing rooms, violently attacked the players, coaching and medical staff and left a trail of destruction in their wake.
Striker Bas Dost was particularly badly treated, with reports saying he was kicked in the head. Pictures soon began circulating on the internet of the Dutch forward’s badly gashed head. “It’s a drama for everyone. We’re shocked. I feel empty,” Dost told Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad.
Other reports suggest Jorge Jesus, Sporting’s 63-year-old coach was headbutted.
A large proportion of the perpetrators, 21 according to reports, were apprehended by the police and face criminal proceedings.
Sporting’s controversial president Bruno de Carvalho arrived at the scene in the aftermath of the attack, but the players refused to talk to him.
Meanwhile, later in the evening hundreds of Sporting fans congregated at the club’s Alvalade stadium to repudiate the attack and show their support for the players, and particularly Bas Dost, with a huge image of the club’s star striker and Dutch flags on show.
It is impossible to justify the unjustifiable. But the background to yesterday’s attack is as follows.
The incident is the culmination of a turbulent few weeks for the club, beginning with Carvalho’s public criticism of individual players after the 2-0 defeat against Atlético Madrid in the Europa League first leg, which triggered a war of words between the president and the squad played out on the social networks, with Jesus attempting to intermediate.
A stand-off and an uneasy peace between the two sides ensued. This initial crisis seemed to have been weathered. Sporting won the second leg against Atlético 1-0 (but lost the tie on aggregate), performances and results improved and a second-place finish looked on the cards.
But defeat against Marítimo on the last day of the Primeira Liga season on Sunday meant Sporting missed out on Champions League qualification. Shortly after the final whistle had blown in Madeira, Sporting’s players were subject to heckling and insults from the club’s travelling supporters.
On Monday, a series of emergency meetings were held between Carvalho, the coach and the players, with rumours initially suggesting Jorge Jesus had been suspended. The president immediately rubbished these reports, confirming Jesus would take charge of the team in the Portuguese Cup final against Aves.
Carvalho said the meetings were held as a natural consequence of the weekend defeat that had cost Sporting many millions that the club were counting on in their preparations for next season.
The expectation was that big changes would be made after the Portuguese Cup final, with club captains Rui Patrício and William Carvalho, and coach Jorge Jesus all expected to leave. This latest turn of events, however, puts the position of the president himself under serious risk.
By Tom Kundert