When Sporting goalkeeper Rui Patrício’s wife, Vera Ribeiro, stated publicly last week that masturbation might be a useful tool in helping World Cup squad members relax and focus, she was not – as far as we know – employing irony.
Ms Ribeiro is a sexologist and sexologists tend to put forward haphazard theories about these kinds of activities. In the case of her husband, concentration on the task ahead is beginning to prove increasingly tricky. Having finished the domestic season with a blooper in Funchal that helped Sporting finish just behind eternal rivals Benfica and thus outside the Champions League places allotted to Portugal, Patrício then took part in Sporting’s horrific cup final shambles against the previously unheralded Aves.
That game lost amongst the chaotic scenes of Sporting’s rapidly disintegrating season meant that the green and whites from Alvalade were about to run into one of the biggest crises in its long and illustrious history.
President Bruno de Carvalho has had his sausage fingers in this particularly malodorous pie for some time. It was his combative, member of a claque style leadership that brought about the crisis in the first place. Unusual even in Portugal to see a president sat on the bench alongside the manager and his training staff, De Carvalho took things several steps further, often remonstrating on the touchline, “creating a presence” – as he would have it – to make sure the referee and his team did nothing unfair to his beloved side. On one infamous occasion, he even managed to receive a red card for his pitch-side clowning.
Having had, according to some sources, a catalytic part in the process that ended with a group of hooded thugs “breaking into“ (many ask how security seemed to suddenly melt into the bushes when the hooligans arrived) their Alcochete training complex, the fall out was and continues to be immense. With certain players picked out and beaten up, the matter went into the hands of eager teams of lawyers, all saying the same thing: if they wish, the players in question (i.e. the entire squad) could initiate a legal process to rescind their million-euro contracts, which would allow them to walk free from the club without any transfer fee going to Sporting.
If alarm bells did not ring at this point, they most certainly did when it became clear the president intended to sit tight and slug it out in traditional style.
What happens to Sporting is a matter of grand conjecture in the Portuguese capital right now. How it all affects the national team’s preparations for their opening game with Spain at the weekend is another matter altogether, however.
There are some signs of a resemblance to Portugal’s ill-fated 1986 World Cup preparations, when – aided and abetted by an attempted player strike for better bonuses – the national team went into a winnable group with England, Morocco and Poland in a state of shambolic disrepair. The dissent continued, thanks to an age-old hankering for dictatorial methods of management amongst the leaders of the FPF, who remained in Mexico City to stay close to the FIFA buffet tables, instead of journeying to the industrial north of Monterrey, where the squad was preparing in an atmosphere as bitter as it was febrile.
Inertia and squabbling led to a first round exit, culminating in a highly embarrassing 1-3 defeat to Morocco. Things beginning to sound familiar?
With Rui Patrício leading the way in announcing the start of a process to rescind his Sporting contract, he has been followed by Bruno Fernandes, Gelson Martins and William Carvalho. Four major Sporting assets and four national team players with every chance of starting against Spain on Friday. All of them with their heads enveloped in a darkening legal cloud of tug and counter-tug, if the fragrant Ms Ribeiro will forgive the imagery.
This can only lead to problems for Fernando Santos, in his attempts to gather focus and energy for the toughest possible start to Portugal’s World Cup campaign. Remember four years ago, at the World Cup in Brazil, a seemingly simple group proved too much for Portugal after a first day hammering against favourites Germany. If the same thing happens against Spain, it will be an uphill struggle to retrieve the necessary sang-froid and focus for tricky games with old friends Morocco and a dangerous looking Iran led by Carlos Queiroz.
Once again, we wait to see what happens next.
Nothing is ever dull around the Portuguese camp and Santos will hope that his Sporting entourage and their suitcase of problems do not disrupt final preparations for Spain. With the dubious words of Patrício’s wife ringing in his ears, the wily coach will be hoping that her recommended action is the peak of his troubles when the football gets underway in Russia.
By Simon Curtis
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