Donald Trump’s four-year administration as the President of the United States ended in infamy, with Trump refusing to concede defeat after losing to Joe Biden, falsely claiming widespread electoral fraud, trying to overturn the results by pressuring government officials, obstructing the democratic transition and mounting various unfruitful lawsuits. This reached a boiling point on January 6, 2021, urging his supporters to march to the U.S. Capitol, resulting in five deaths and injuries to over 140 police officers and temporarily interrupting the electoral vote count. Two-and-a-half years before this unsuccessful coup, the inflammatory agenda of another president would sow the seeds for one of the darkest days in the history of Portuguese football.
Born in what is now known as Maputo, the capital city of Mozambique, to Portuguese parents, Bruno de Carvalho grew up in Portugal, rising to fame in 2009 after founding the Fundação de Solidariedade Social Aragão Pinto, a foundation dedicated to supporting the social integration of at-risk youth through sports, helping over 1200 children via partnerships with local clubs and associations representing 15 different sports. Two years later, he ran for the presidency of his beloved club and lost to Godinho Lopes, unsuccessfully contesting the election results with allegations of irregularities, with his fans protesting outside the club’s grounds.
His luck would change in March 2013, ousting Lopes with 86% of the vote as Sporting rumbled towards a seventh-place finish, the lowest position in the club’s 117-year history. Seen as a man of the people due to his experience as a former Sporting ultra and his social initiatives for at-risk youth, his first team went swimmingly as he managed to reduce the club’s debts and make Sporting one of the most profitable clubs in Europe through his penchant of finding top-notch sponsorship deals and selling young players for mouth-watering fees like Marcos Rojo, Bruma and Cédric Soares.
On the pitch, the club immediately improved, finishing second under Leonardo Jardim — just seven behind Benfica — and qualifying for the Champions League group stage, before finishing third in 2014/15 and winning the Taça de Portugal, falling to 10 men in the 15th minute, falling behind 0-2 to Braga within 25 minutes via European champions Éder and Rafa Silva, only for Islam Slimani to score in the 84th minute and Fredy Montero to equalize in the second minute of extra time. Sporting would prevail on penalties and secure their first trophy in seven years.
Four days later, Sporting announced that Silva had been dismissed with just cause for not wearing their official suit in a fifth-round Taça de Portugal match against Vizela in February, with the dismissal including a clause that required Silva to pay Sporting if he joined another Portuguese club. Silva headed for Olympiacos and led them to a 3-2 win against Arsenal in the Champions League, as well as 17 straight domestic wins, a record for a European club in the 21st century, and yet another league title, before departing in the summer of 2016.
His replacement? None other than Jorge Jesus. The son of Virgolino António de Jesus, who played for Sporting in the 1940s, Jesus would join Sporting’s academy in 1971 and made 12 appearances in 1975/76 before being released the following summer. Jesus would spend two decades managing various Portuguese clubs like Braga and Moreirense before taking charge of Benfica and guiding them to their first league title in five years in his first season in charge. Two more league titles would follow before he switched sides and joined their crosstown rivals Sporting in the summer of 2015.
They kicked off the season with silverware after beating Benfica 1-0 in the Supertaça Cândido de Oliveira, but they would nevertheless come up short in their attempts to win their first league title in 14 years. Sporting won their final nine league matches, but it was the preceding match — a 1-0 loss to Benfica — that truly wrecked their title charge. Kostas Mitroglou opened the scoring within 20 minutes and Bryan Ruiz missed an open goal from five meters out as Benfica knocked their neighbors off their perch and proceeded to win their third straight championship, finishing two points above Sporting.
Despite the near miss, De Carvalho’s reputation continued to grow, with many fans seeing him as a footballing visionary for supporting the implementation of VAR and calling for both increased accountability and better pay for referees, and it was little surprise when he won re-election in March 2017 with 86% of the vote, with the Lions exiting both domestic cups early on, finishing bottom of their Champions League group and finishing six points behind Porto and 12 behind Rui Vitória’s Benfica.
His strongman personality gained many supporters within the rank and file of the Sporting fans and he was seen as a no-nonsense president who would not let agents, officials, or governing bodies bully him and his club. In the tribalistic world of football, such an attitude can make you very popular, but it can also lead to your downfall, as was the case with De Carvalho. His main weapon used in expressing his various dissatisfactions was his Facebook page where he would complain endlessly about officiating, club finances, fan behavior, the Sporting academy, and the team’s performance.
He racked up a breathless portfolio of feuds ranging from the president of Portugal to the two Davids of West Ham. Sullivan and Gold were reportedly called the Dildo brothers by De Carvalho, who denied accusations and called his critics ‘offended virgins’. In a 2017 article for The Independent, Jack-Pitt Brooke profiled the maverick president:
“Bruno de Carvalho is outspoken, confrontational, unpredictable and abrasive. He is a hero to his supporters but is accused of demeaning his prestigious office by those who look down their noses at him. He is either a brash populist standing up for his people or an unseemly loudmouth with deep psychological issues, depending on who you believe. De Carvalho is the Donald Trump of Portuguese football, the president of Sporting Lisbon who is trying to make his club great again.”
The impetuous businessman continued to make his thoughts known and took aim at a variety of targets including super agent Jorge Mendes, refusing to sign William Carvalho to a new deal until he parted ways with Mendes and doing the same with other players like João Mário and Adrien Silva. It reached a boiling point in April 2018 when he criticized the Sporting players after a 2-0 defeat to Atlético Madrid in the Europa League. He stated that the players will face punishment for their performances and singled out several players of the first-team squad as lacking commitment.
Since becoming president in 2013, Silva had used social media to lash out at various targets such as Benfica, accusing them of corruption and accusing the football authorities of failing to provide a level playing ground for his club, singling out various players for criticism like Jeremy Mathieu and Sebastian Coates. Sporting’s players banded together and made their feelings known on Instagram, to which De Carvalho doubled down and slapped 19 first-team players with suspension, later retracting that post.
Fans booed him at Sporting’s next game, with De Carvalho deciding to sit in the dugout and once the crowd made their feelings apparent, before faking a back injury and making a hasty exit. Just two hours before their match, De Carvalho made another incendiary post on Facebook and confirmed that disciplinary measures had not in fact been dropped and accused Sporting’s senior players of instigating a rebellion. The players walked onto the pitch and were greeted by a banner from the hard-line ultras group Juventude Leonina accusing them of having no love or sentiment for the club, but they would nevertheless prevail with a 2-0 win against Paços de Ferreira.
They would follow that up with wins against Belenenses and Boavista — the only two sides outside of Portugal’s Big Three to win the league title — and Portimonense, a draw to Benfica and a loss to Marítimo, as Sporting finished third in the table. Jesus’ side would nevertheless progress to the Taça de Portugal Final after edging Porto on penalties in the semis, and they were looking to add yet another piece of silverware after beating Vitória de Setúbal in the Taça da Liga Final in January.
Just five days before the final, 50 Sporting ultras invaded the club’s training ground and attacked players and managers, beating them with belts, fists and sticks, beating up Dutch striker Bas Dost and throwing him to the floor — who had scored 34 goals that season — and leaving him with bruises on his arms and legs, with the supporters chanting “We’re going to kill you, you’re f****d.”
Sporting would lose 2-1 in the final to an Aves side that — with the exception of their third-tier title in 1984 and their second-tier title in 1985 — had never won any major silverware. De Carvalho was dismissed by club members after a general assembly on June 23 following the rescissions of nine players, although several players like Dost and Bruno Fernandes returned under new leadership. In typical fashion, the ousted president went to Facebook to voice his displeasure, announcing that he was no longer a supporter or member of Sporting, only to retract that statement 14 hours later.
He was detained at home on November 11, 2018, for suspicion of giving permission to the violent attack, with the Portuguese Public Ministry later charging him with terrorism and 98 other crimes including aggravated threat, kidnapping, qualified offence to physical integrity and possession of a prohibited weapon, later being expelled as a member of Sporting. On March 11, 2020, the state prosecutor recognized there was no evidence to support a guilty verdict and recommended he be deemed innocent.
De Carvalho would take part in the Portuguese reality TV show Big Brother – Famosos, later marrying Liliana Almeida, a fellow contestant that he met during filming, and he launched his career as a DJ in 2021, recently appearing on a track with Angolan kuduro artist Scro Que Cuia. But no matter what, he will always be remembered as the Sporting president whose belligerent attitude set the tone for one of the most shameful moments in the history of Portuguese football.
Sporting’s former president Bruno de Carvalho has released a song with Angolan kuduro artist Scro Que Cuia.
The song’s name: Castigo, or punishment in Portuguese. pic.twitter.com/bIzcjgTJlb
— Zach Lowy (@ZachLowy) May 31, 2023
By: Eduard Holdis / @He_Ftbl
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / NurPhoto