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Portuguese club Sporting Lisbon engulfed in turmoil

June 5, 2018

Sporting Lisbon has had better days.

Fans and club members want the president out.

The president says he is being blackmailed.

Club directors are at odds.

The coach is likely leaving.

The star goalkeeper has quit and other players are reportedly threatening to follow him.

Sporting is Portugal’s third biggest club behind Porto and Benfica, but its hogging all of the angry headlines.

Part of the problem started in April when outspoken president Bruno De Carvalho harshly criticized his team’s performance against Atletico Madrid in the Europa League, and pointed out mistakes by individual players on social media.

The players responded by posting a joint statement defending their commitment to the club and questioning the manners of De Carvalho, saying he should support them as their “leader.”

De Carvalho reportedly wanted to suspend the players who took offense to his comments, but coach Jorge Jesus — who is expected to join a Middle Eastern club in the coming days — denied any suspensions were issued to his players.

A few weeks later, the club was rocked when about 50 fans with their faces covered forced their way into the team’s training center and assaulted players and staff. At least one player was injured and the club’s changing room was trashed. The assault shocked the country and even the government got involved.

“It was a very difficult moment,” midfielder Rodrigo Battaglia told Fox Sports. “There were five or six of them to each player. It was like being in a movie.”

Police detained more than 20 suspects in the hours following the incident, and Sporting condemned what it called an act of vandalism. Practice was suspended the following day and players threatened not to play the Portuguese Cup final the following weekend.

The attack came after Sporting missed out on a Champions League berth for next season following a loss in the last round of the Portuguese league, finishing third in the standings.

There were reports — all unconfirmed — blaming De Carvalho for the attacks on the players and coaches. The president, who reportedly used to belong to a radical fan group, denied the accusations.

Five days after the attacks, the players grudgingly played the Portuguese Cup final despite saying their mindset was off, and they were upset by Aves, which narrowly avoided relegation, 2-1.

Last weekend, goalkeeper Rui Patricio, the starter for Portugal, quit the club saying he endured psychological and physical violence, which meant just cause for the termination of his contract. Forward Daniel Podence, who like Patricio is represented by the company Gestifute, also quit alleging similar abuse.

De Carvalho said the resignations were nothing more than blackmail orchestrated by the players’ agent, Jorge Mendes, who was trying to exploit the tumult at the club to benefit his clients.

“They are trying to take advantage of the panic that surrounded the club,” the president said.

De Carvalho also blamed rival Benfica of trying to interfere in Patricio’s future, so the club would file a complaint against FIFA. The club also accused Portuguese media of “bad journalism” while covering the team.

Some 500 Sporting fans protested in front of the team’s stadium on Monday, calling for the president’s resignation. But De Carvalho, who has been in power since 2013, has showed no signs he will be stepping down any time soon.

The tug-of-war goes on.

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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