The Curse of the Golden Whistle
How corruption and inefficiency have squandered the legacy of Euro 2004.
Aveiro. Sunday, 20 August 2011. 6.10pm. Players from Beira-Mar and Sporting waited in the tunnel of the Estádio Municipal, bobbing up and down in the tense moments before kick-off. Ten minutes later, they were still there. The match, due to begin at 6.15pm, had been thrown into jeopardy by a frantic, uncoordinated search for a refereeing team, after the appointed official, João Ferreira, had refused to take charge following yet another week of controversy and vitriol.
Sporting had begun the 2011-12 season at home to Olhanense the previous weekend, with their new coach Domingos Paciência fielding four new signings and including four more among the substitutes. Os Leões were still in the middle of a summer overhaul, with the president Godinho Lopes busy making good on his promises of investment on the pitch and a bullish reassertion of the club's identity and tradition off it. Lopes had been elected the previous March after a campaign notable for accusations of vote rigging and money laundering, characterised throughout by a distinct lack of unanimity among the candidates as to what exactly was best for a once-proud institution fallen on hard times.
Lopes, who surrounded himself with the great and the good of Sporting's past (Manuel Fernandes, second only to Fernando Peyroteo on the club's all-time goalscorers' list, was a particularly vocal supporter), defeated Bruno de Carvalho by a margin of less than 1%, a result that was confirmed amid rancorous scenes outside the Estádio José Alvalade. Throughout the campaign De Carvalho, a youthful, dynamic figure who promised Marco van Basten as coach and €50 million worth of investment 'guaranteed' by Leonid Tyagachev (then the president of the Russian Olympic Committee), Alexander Nazarov (the former governor of the Chukotka region of north-eastern Russia) and Yuri Pachechin (a construction magnate), was regarded as the clear favourite. A poll conducted by A Bola on the Monday before the election predicted that his margin of victory would be 24.1%, and when early exit polls on Saturday March 26 showed him to be ahead, most Sportinguistas went to bed with the sound of a sweeping broom echoing through their consciousness.
However, they had reckoned without Sporting's voting system. Although all sócios are eligible to vote, those with smaller membership numbers (who have been paying their dues the longest) are entitled to more votes than those with larger numbers: 1-19 were given 25 votes, while 76,642-83,034 had just one. At around 6am on Sunday March 27, the shrewdness of Lopes's strategy in targeting the older generation with his regular references to past glories was revealed. De Carvalho's followers were furious and police had to intervene to prevent supporters of the same club from attacking one another at the Campo Grande bus station.
De Carvalho immediately challenged the outcome, saying that "the aim is to clarify everything that happened and to spell out the rules that had to be complied with, and some of which were not. We are preparing to impugn the elections. We will go ahead with a court injunction."
Despite the brouhaha, Lopes managed to defy the expectations of many by steering the club through a largely positive pre-season that saw the arrival of Domingos — one of Portugal's foremost young coaches — and a host of signings. Some were necessary (Alberto Rodríguez, Stijn Schaars); others big names to attract fans who had deserted the Alvalade in their droves over almost a decade of instability and underachievement (Diego Capel, Jeffrén Suárez, Ricky van Wolfswinkel).
A 3-0 loss to Valencia in August's presentation game barely made a dent in the collective euphoria, with Lopes declaring the 48,952 attendance (the second highest since the Alvalade opened in 2003) a sign that club and support were once again united.
The 33,248 who witnessed the disjointed display against Olhanense could have been forgiven for recalling such pronunciations with a rueful air. Sporting performed in the manner of a team adapting to life under a new coach, as was natural with a host of new arrivals on the pitch. It was hardly a major cause for concern and had Hélder Postiga and Yannick Djaló not been so profligate in their finishing, Sporting would have won comfortably. Domingos admitted as much following the final whistle but also insisted that the referee Carlos Xistra "had a very bad night. The officiating must be commented upon because it is part of a game of football." Later in the week, Lopes reprised Domingos's refrain with gusto, condemning "the lack of impartiality shown in Sporting games" and delivering a document to the president of the Liga Portuguesa de Futebol Profissional (LPFP)'s Arbitration Commission, Vítor Pereira outlining Sporting's various grievances against Xistra1.
The use of inflammatory rhetoric by presidents, coaches and players has become a lamentably common ploy in football, not least because in the age of 24-hour news it provides an ideal means of deflecting attention away from shortcomings on the pitch. It is tempting to hypothesise that the practice has become so widespread simply because policing the multitude of hints, insinuations and thinly-veiled conspiracy theories in a coherent, structured fashion would create an unrealistic workload for whichever body was unfortunate enough to be lumbered with the task. There has been an extended collective abdication of responsibility on the part of those in charge of football in Portugal and so the attacks on referees go on unchecked with nobody apparently too concerned for the long-term consequences.
This time, though, the referees hit back. João Ferreira communicated his refusal to oversee Beira-Mar's game against Sporting through a statement issued by the Associação Portuguesa de Árbitros de Futebol (APAF) and his fellow officials swiftly declared their solidarity. As kick-off drew closer, media analysts and administrators alike pored over the available legislation in search of a workable solution. Speaking to TVI, the former referee Pedro Henriques confirmed that it was in theory possible for a player from one of the two teams to take the whistle but also stressed that the ultimate responsibility lay with the appointed LPFP delegate to oversee the process. For his part, Vítor Pereira assured the press that a contingency plan was in place although the circus that led up to kick-off suggested the finer details had never been worked out.
In their minute-by-minute report, Maisfutebol reminded a rapt audience that a similar event had taken place in October 1998. On that occasion, Paulo Costa had refused to oversee Sporting's meeting with Farense and the Category B referee Andrelino Pena had been called into action.
Eventually, after a warm-up that delayed kick-off by a further 10 minutes, Fernando Martins, a worker in the health industry and referee in the Aveiro district league who had been at the game as a spectator, emerged from the tunnel to a chorus of whistles and got the match underway. Following a dull 0-0 draw, Público reported that the decision to select Martins and his assistants Fábio Silva, Nuno Simões and Nuno Soares had been reached at a meeting convened an hour before kick-off between the LPFP delegate and the clubs. For his part, Martins, who had a mercifully controversy-free 90 minutes, described the outcome as "a dream come true".
Conspicuous by their absence from the polémica were Portuguese football's governing body, the Federação Portuguesa de Futebol (FPF). Carlos Esteves, president of the Arbitration Council, spoke to Rádio TSF 24 hours before the match and confirmed that although there had been conversations between the LPFP and the FPF regarding the situation, he and his fellow Council members had received "half a dozen calls from second category referees" stating that if requested to oversee the game, they too would refuse. Esteves therefore concluded, "It is the responsibility of the Liga."
This brief interview highlighted the crux of an issue that has defined Portuguese football for decades: a disconnect between the national governing body and the two professionalised leagues overseen by the LPFP. The origins of this disconnect can be traced back to the birth of the game in Portugal.
The exact date and nature of football's introduction to Portugal remains open to debate but, writing in 2011, Hugo Relvas credits the likes of Ginásio Clube Português, Club Lisbonense and Carcavelos Club with key roles in the game's formative years. It's generally accepted that os três grandes (Benfica and Sporting of Lisbon and Futebol Clube do Porto) appeared between 1904 and 1906 (although Porto's official website states their year of foundation as 1893) with Boavista thought to have been established in 1903. Associations for Lisbon, Portalegre and Porto were established in 1910, 1911 and 1912 respectively, with the intention of coordinating regional tournaments.
1914 saw the creation of the União Portuguesa de Futebol (UPF), but the outbreak of World War One put any aspirations for a national competition on hold until 1921-22 when the inaugural Campeonato de Portugal (played as a knock-out tournament) was won by Porto, who defeated Sporting in the final. In 1926, the UPF was reconstituted by government decree into its present incarnation as the FPF, although the nation's extended political turmoil meant that the new entity was only legally established in 1938, the same year that the first recognised national championship (also won by Porto) was held.
Under António Salazar's corporatist, nationalist and repressive Estado Novo regime, which lasted from 1932 to 1974, public institutions existed as instruments through which the social order could be maintained. Relvas describes how "the regime used football as a way to promote the patriotism of the Portuguese people, believing that if people were talking and 'living' football they would not be concerned about oppressive measures."
The Estado Novo intervened in football when it suited, preventing, for instance, Eusébio's move to Italy: indeed, only Jorge Humberto made the journey from Portugal to Italy during the Salazar era, departing Académica for Inter in 1961 and moving on to Vicenza before returning to Coimbra – the place where Salazar studied, taught, and took his first steps into the political arena.
The authoritarian grip of the Estado Novo not only allowed the grandes to retain their most gifted players, but it also preserved the increasingly outmoded structure of the FPF for half a century. The Sindicato dos Jogadores Profissionais de Futebol (SJPF) was not established until 1972, by which time Salazar had passed away and the pervasive presence of the Estado Novo was beginning to wither. Eusébio was among the members of the first steering committee, along with his fellow luminaries António Simões, Fernando Peres, and Artur Jorge.
Four years after the Revolução dos Cravos [Carnation Revolution] unleashed a maelstrom of economic, social and political change in Portugal, football (specifically that in the north of the country) had its own landmark 12 months. After 19 years without lifting the national title, Porto, coached by the great José María Pedroto and with the current president Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa as sporting director, edged Benfica to wrest the championship away from Lisbon, an event which has since come to be viewed as a key moment in the club's modern history. Da Costa, an omnipotent figure at the Dragão for the best part of three decades, has pointedly contrasted Benfica's relative lack of success post-Salazar compared to that which they enjoyed during the Estado Novo years and, while such declarations are in one sense simply barbs aimed at an eternal rival, the re-emergence of Porto as an active power in the Portuguese footballing sphere is not just significant in the history of the club, but in that of the game in Portugal itself.
A power struggle between Da Costa and his predecessor Américo da Sá saw the former (along with Pedroto and a host of stars including Fernando Gomes) depart during O Verão Quente [The Hot Summer] of 1980; but the duo returned to consolidate their grip on the club two years later, drawing on the foundation of popular support created by the back-to-back titles won at the end of the 1970s.
1978 also saw the establishment of the LPFP (albeit only as a department of the FPF) under the leadership of João Aranha and subsequently Lito Gomes de Almeida. Relvas describes it as "without significant autonomy and power of decision" until 1988 but the gradual shift towards a footballing disestablishment had begun.
Work undertaken by the SJPF and the APAF (which had been formed in 1986) to move the game towards a more professional, modern approach continued through the decade and extended talks between Aníbal Cavaco Silva's Partido Social Democrata (PSD) and the LPFP resulted in the granting of partial autonomy to the country's two national divisions, from 1990-91. At the same time, the modernising forces that swept across the European game from the late 1980s were also affecting Portugal: those clubs who wished to pursue a more independent, flexible model of governance — one that placed the interests of profit above all else — exerted great pressure on newly appointed LPFP president Valentim Loureiro to secure full autonomy.
In many ways, Loureiro represents the emerging contradictions at the heart of Portuguese football's drive towards modernisation. Born in 1938 and a veteran of the bloody, protracted war that Salazar's Portugal waged between 1961-75 in an attempt to retain control over Angola, Loureiro is infamous for his consumption of offices, titles, and positions. President of Boavista from 1978 to 1997 (the mantle was then passed on to his son João), the early years of his administration at the Estádio Bessa were marked by the establishment of the Supertaça Cândido de Oliveira, the now traditional curtain-raiser to the new season, contested by the most recent winners of the Liga and the Taça de Portugal. An active and influential figure in the northern PSD since the 1970s, Loureiro utilised his numerous contacts from the political and sporting spheres to facilitate the talks regarding LPFP autonomy and wielded a great deal of political capital in the initial attempts to overcome the fudged legislation which only granted partial independence.
1993 was a good year for Loureiro: he was elected president of the Gondomar Câmara Municipal and managed to negotiate the law which laid out a definitive separation of professional and non-professional football in Portugal, with the LPFP in charge of the former and the FPF of the latter. Loureiro's cause was helped by the fact that since the Caso Saltillo scandal of 1986, public and more importantly political perception of the FPF had become increasingly negative. The scandal was sparked by the treatment of Benfica's António Veloso after a disputed positive doping test shortly before the squad were due to depart for the Mexico World Cup. Veloso was later cleared of wrongdoing, but not before he was dismissed and Fernando Bandeirinha was called up as a last-minute replacement. The tension was raised further once the Selecção arrived in Saltillo (via Frankfurt and Dallas) to find that their accommodation was some way below the standard they had expected, particularly in terms of privacy and training facilities. The build-up to the tournament was marked by a steady flow of sensationalist stories devoured eagerly by the Portuguese public and a war of words between the squad and the FPF, conducted via a series of press releases and interviews. The squad, incensed by the treatment of Veloso, their accommodation, paltry win bonuses and the expectation that they would advertise FPF partner brands without receiving additional financial reward, threatened to strike, although they eventually backed down after widespread condemnation at home and abroad.
Things didn't improve once the tournament began. The group stage proved little short of a disaster, with an improbable 1-0 victory over England swiftly giving way to losses against Poland (1-0) and Morocco (3-1) which were in turn listless and humiliating. The Selecção didn't qualify for an international tournament for a decade and the Caso Saltillo was a major contributor not only to the FPF's fall in stature as an institution but to the chronic financial issues that plagued it throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s. Loureiro's relentless lobbying and the seemingly increasing validity of the argument that the failing economic health of the Portuguese game was being eroded by the archaic FPF resulted in the separation, rubber-stamped by Cavaco Silva's government.
The first national championship to be organised by the autonomous LPFP began in August 1995, one month after the election of Pinto da Costa as president. Despite being behind the establishment of the LPFP as a separate legal entity, Loureiro's burgeoning political career meant that in 1994, he had been replaced by the Benfica president Manuel Damásio, with the arrival of Da Costa a move designed to minimise the risk of the backbiting and mutual enmity which generally emerges whenever officials from Benfica and Porto are required to be in the same room. However, this delicate balance proved impossible to maintain for an extended period of time and Loureiro returned to office in December 1996, much to the disgust of Benfica and Sporting, who chose to remove themselves from the process.
The Eagles were particularly isolationist in the nineties under the presidency of João Vale e Azevedo, which ended with the former lawyer imprisoned on charges of embezzlement and the club indebted to such an extent that the effects are still being felt more than a decade later. After being granted parole, Vale e Azevedo decamped to London where he continues to fend off criminal charges stemming from his short reign in charge of Portugal's most successful club. Between 1994 and 2004 Benfica lifted just two Taças de Portugal and no national championships, while Vale e Azevedo continues to contest an extradition order.
The establishment of the LPFP as an independent actor coincided happily with Portugal's return to prominence on the international stage. The Geração do Ouro, spearheaded by the iconic creative axis of Luís Figo and Rui Costa and coached by the up-and-coming Carlos Queiroz, had won consecutive Fifa World Youth Championships in 1989 and 1991, the second of which was secured with a penalty shoot-out victory over Brazil in front of 127,000 at the Estádio da Luz. At a time when the Caso Saltillo was still at the forefront of the footballing public's consciousness, this triumph over a more fashionable Lusophone rival provided hope for the future which began to bear fruit with qualification for and an encouraging group-stage performance at the 1996 European Championship.
Although the foundation of the LPFP and the national side's rise were connected only in the sense that the likes of Costa, Figo, Fernando Couto and Vítor Baía starred for LPFP member clubs, the notion of new beginnings on the pitch was undoubtedly reflected behind the scenes. As part of the changes in law negotiated during the early 1990s, the country's traditional multi-sport clubs (of which football was and almost always is the predominant branch) were for the first time allowed to convert their professional football divisions into separate companies, which in theory retained the associative, sócio-driven foundation, but with additional room for flexibility in areas such as professional management and — crucially — generation of revenue. The structure known as Sociedade Anónima Desportiva (SAD) has to date been adopted by fewer than half of the LPFP's 32 current members, but has allowed the grandes (as well as other traditionally better-supported clubs such as Braga and Marítimo) to operate primarily as businesses rather than member-owned associations.
Despite the willingness of Cavaco Silva's government to rubber-stamp this change in the national game, the FPF and its 22 member associations were not entirely abandoned. Indeed, the FPF retains its status as a body with utilidade pública (UP), which is accompanied by recognition and more importantly financial support from the government.
With the LPFP now ahead in terms of marketing and sponsorship (thanks largely to the continued patronage of the online gambling and alcohol industries), the maintenance of grassroots football in Portugal is considered to be a matter of government responsibility. Despite this, UP status was suspended in March 2010 by Laurentino Dias, then Secretary of State for Youth and Sport, in what was presented as the final straw in an argument over voting reform which had dragged on for the better part of three years. The crux of the issue lay in the fact that despite the establishment and progression of the LPFP, the 22 member associations still held a 50% voting bloc in the FPF's General Assembly, with the LPFP accounting for just 20%. The politics of the game did not represent its modern economics.
In addition, the continued existence of two differing sets of judicial structures (one for the FPF and one for the LPFP) created a situation whereby clubs could call upon two sets of rules when discussing disciplinary cases. A notorious consequence of this legal irregularity took place in February 2010, when the LPFP Disciplinary Committee handed down suspensions of four and six months to the Porto players Hulk and Cristian Săpunaru following a fracas in the tunnel of the Estádio da Luz in which the pair were adjudged to have physically assaulted a steward after a 1-0 defeat at the hands of the eventual champions Benfica. Porto chose to appeal the decision to the FPF, which subsequently reduced the sentences to three and four matches respectively. Porto supporters still consider Benfica's 2009-10 title win to be tainted as a result — more fuel for the fire.
The civil case is still dragging through the courts but regardless of the outcome of any eventual trial, it acutely exposes the inherent contradictions and weaknesses of a system that calls upon two sets of rules to police a single sporting competition. The LPFP president Hermínio Loureiro, who had taken over from his namesake Valentim in 2006, resigned in protest and the subsequent muckraking between the two institutions culminated in Dias's decision to pull the plug temporarily five months later.
The stakes were raised in March 2011, when Fifa waded in with the inevitable threat of sanctions. Showing his usual preoccupation with adequate standards of governance, Sepp Blatter said, "We are worried about the situation in Portugal. The Portuguese federation has to approve the statutes." Thankfully, the mutual loathing between the FPF and the LPFP did not extend to a desire for self-destruction and an agreement was reached for the statutes to be adopted a fortnight later. The whole unedifying episode illustrated the fragility of the foundations on which football in Portugal rests — foundations that have appeared especially rickety ever since the elephant known as Apito Dourado ['Golden Whistle'] barrelled its way into the room, back in 2004.
Understanding the historical context of Portuguese football's current state is vital, particularly as it offers an insight into those key figures that shaped the way in which it attempts to operate. Probably no single episode has contributed as much to the raising of the tension as Apito Dourado and its sister investigation, Apito Final ['Final Whistle']. Without them, it is hard to imagine the prevailing environment of paranoia, accusations and —particularly among supporters of the grandes — a notable rise in incidents of supporter violence and vandalism being tolerated, and in some cases tacitly encouraged, by those in power. For many, the varying processes that fell under the Apito Dourado label merely confirmed long held suspicions as fact.
Under the Estado Novo, Portugal's various police forces enforced the will of the state, particularly in the area of public disorder. Corruption, in its numerous forms, was uncovered and acted upon only when it suited the requirements of those at the very top of the political and economic apparatus. The vast majority of the people responsible for carving out the modern Portuguese footballing landscape have done so with a similar lack of regard for the power of public institutions (albeit with far less damaging consequences for society as a whole), but on the morning of 20 April 2004, the Polícia Judiciária (PJ), arrested 16 of them following an investigation which lasted a year and involved around 150 officers, probing match-fixing, specifically the corruption of referees.
The list of those detained reads like an LPFP-issue contacts book: the president Valentim Loureiro, António Pinto da Sousa (head of the FPF Arbitration Council), José Luís Oliveira (Loureiro's deputy in the Gondomar Câmara Municipal and the president of SC Gondomar)... A widely circulated PJ statement also confirmed that about 60 offices and homes had been searched across the country.
Displaying remarkable vivacity for a man whose offices had just been searched, the FPF president Gilberto Madaíl seized the opportunity to revel in his rival's apparent demise, saying he was not surprised by the arrests, following "insinuations which have been made over years." For his part, the then-prime minister (and a PSD colleague of Loureiro) José Barroso neatly sidestepped all invitations to make a substantive statement, merely saying, "I hope everything will be cleared up." Of course, Barroso could afford to be vague, with his departure for the European Commission Presidency fast approaching.
His vagueness was unfortunate but with Portugal about to host an international tournament for the first time and able to field a group of players with genuine aspirations of winning the competition, the last thing that anyone wanted taking the headlines was a corruption scandal that threatened to cut to the very core of the national game. The minister for sport José Luís Arnaut also declined to comment on the case ("our rule of law is based on the constitutional principle of total separation between the executive and the judiciary"), choosing instead to forecast "a great time of celebration and affirmation of football in Portugal".
Government attempts to distance itself from the case were compromised by the fact that they had, along with the tournament director António Laranjo, been preparing for the championship since it was awarded to Portugal in 1999 (though it should be noted that Barroso was only elected in 2002) and that public funds had been instrumental in the construction of seven new stadiums and the extensive renovation of three more.
Given the eventual outcome of the case, it does not bear thinking about what might have happened had Angelos Charisteas not managed to nod home ahead of Costinha, ensuring Greece beat Portugal in the final and sealing one of the most unlikely achievements in the history of football. Portugal awoke on 5 July 2004 with a sore head and a scandal that showed little sign of ending. Yet while Loureiro, Pinto da Costa, his associate António Araújo, and a succession of referees passed through the court of Gondomar, charged with a wide variety of corruption-related offences and banned from contacting one another, progress remained slow as 2004 ticked into 2005. Público's reports from the time make for depressing reading and reinforce the notion that neither the public nor the sporting judicial systems were equipped to deal with such an extensive case, one based around hundreds of hours of wiretaps. Defendants declared themselves free to go, media outlets provided conflicting reports as to their status and it seems that although documents and charges were filed, they were simply added to an ever-growing pile.
However, December 2006 saw the publication of Eu, Carolina, a sensational (in every sense of the word) memoir by Carolina Salgado, former escort and companion of Pinto da Costa. Salgado (who dedicated the book to her former lover) accused the Porto president of being far more immersed in the scandal than his initial charges alleged. Press and public alike eagerly devoured the details of her long-term relationship with the man credited for revitalising the country's pre-eminent club at the time. With all the key ingredients of a scandal (sex, violence, and powerful men being caught in the act) present and correct, sales were astronomical. That led to the deputy attorney general Maria José Morgado being appointed to breathe new life into an investigation that had seemed all but over.
The veracity of Salgado's claims were naturally the subject of much debate but the key outcome of her exposé was the decision taken by prosecutors to re-examine accusations of bribery centred on two Porto matches (against Beira-Mar and Estrela da Amadora) from the title and Champions League-winning season, 2003-04, as well as a 3-2 Benfica defeat at Nacional. From being a case focused on activities at Gondomar, a small club from the greater Porto region, all eyes were now fixed on the winners of seven of the last ten national titles and two referees: Augusto Duarte and Jacinto Paixão.
On 6 March 2007, it was confirmed by the judge Pedro Miguel Vieira that Herminio Loureiro (who, despite being delisted by the PSD, had been re-elected as president of the Gondomar Câmara Municipal as an independent), Pinto da Sousa and José Luís Oliveira would stand trial on over 70 charges of corruption, their defence having failed in an attempt to have the wiretaps labelled unconstitutional. Artur Marques, representing Oliveira, had the line of the day, telling the press in sanguine fashion, "there is no tragedy, just a decision I disagree with."
With Loureiro no longer wielding as much influence at the LPFP, a theoretically unrelated investigation dubbed Apito Final was launched in 2007, using the same evidence compiled by the public courts and led by the chief of the disciplinary committee, Ricardo Costa. However, while Portuguese law dictated that the courts were unable to file charges against institutions, the LPFP handed down punishments to both clubs and individuals, all relating to 2003-04. Porto were found guilty of attempted corruption, fined €150,000, and had six points deducted from their 2007-08 total (though this did not alter the destination of the title), while Da Costa was suspended for two years and fined €10,000.
The club chose not to challenge the verdict, which led to a Champions League ban from Uefa — although that was reversed after an appeal. Boavista were relegated to the second tier and fined €180,000 for corruption: national champions in 2001, they now compete in the regional II Divisão and came perilously close to extinction in September 2011 [for more details, see Andy Brassell's piece later in this issue].
União de Leiria, who had already been relegated, were docked three points and their president João Bartolomeu was suspended for a year. The club secured a return to the top flight at the first attempt, but were evicted from the Estádio Dr Magalhães Pessoa by the local municipality in the summer of 2011 over unpaid rent. One official declared the club "brought nothing of value" to the area — though that did not prevent União from securing use of an alternative stadium in nearby Marinha Grande in exchange for funding the construction of three artificial pitches for public use. The club created international headlines in May 2012 when a player strike over months of unpaid wages led to coach José Dominguez having just eight men at his disposal for a relegation six-pointer against Feirense. Unsurprisingly, Leiria have chosen not to apply for the second professional tier in 2012-13.
Three referees (Duarte, Paixão and Martins dos Santos) and three linesmen were handed suspensions ranging in length from two to six years.
Despite having overcome the constitutional wrangling that had stymied the civil case, the LPFP's verdicts were placed in jeopardy by the same oddity that saw the bans on Hulk and Săpunaru overturned in 2010. Although Porto chose not to appeal to the federation over their points deduction, Pinto da Costa and Boavista did contest their respective punishments and, on 7 July 2008, the FPF Conselho de Justiça met to consider their cases. However, amid high farce pieced together by the media in subsequent days, the five members present voted to suspend the president Gonçalves Pereira and reject the appeals — but not before Pereira and his deputy had claimed that one of the members, João Abreu, was ineligible to rule on the case, and departed, declaring the meeting closed. Although the verdicts were upheld on 30 July, Pinto da Costa sought recourse with a higher legal authority and, in May 2011, the Tribunal Administrativo do Sul declared the section of the meeting that rejected the appeal to be legally "non-existent".
The FPF has pledged to challenge this decision, while the Boavista president Álvaro Braga Júnior has voiced his expectation that the club will be restored to the top flight, with accompanying financial compensation — despite the fact that the non-existent section of the meeting did not concern them. The case, unsurprisingly, continues, and although reports in February indicated that Os Panteras could be on the verge of a legal breakthrough, no one at the Bessa is holding their breath.
While Apito Final remains entrenched in a legal quagmire, Apito Dourado is, legally speaking, complete. On 18 July 2008, Valentim Loureiro, Pinto da Sousa and José Luís Oliveira received suspended sentences for abuses of power, but all three were acquitted on corruption charges relating to the selection of referees for SC Gondomar matches during the 2003-04 season.
Shortly before celebrating 27 years as Porto president on 23 April 2009, Da Costa was (along with Augusto Duarte and António Araújo) acquitted of all charges of corruption relating to the Beira-Mar game by the Tribunal de Gaia. The court rejected Carolina Salgado's accusation that Duarte and Araújo visited Da Costa two days before the match so that the Porto president could hand Duarte "a thick envelope" containing €2,500. Judge Catarina Almeida described the meeting as "suspect and unwise", but having rejected Salgado's version of events (the court heard during the trial that she had asked for €500,000 not to publish her book), concluded that it alone was not sufficient evidence to remove reasonable doubt. Salgado was sentenced to 300 hours of community work by the same court in October 2010, after being found guilty of defaming Pinto da Costa.
Nine months earlier, six videos had appeared on YouTube, containing wiretap recordings featuring Pinto da Costa, António Araújo, Valentim and João Loureiro, Jacinto Paixão, the Porto director-general Antero Henrique and even Deco in conversation. Little of what was being said would have been unfamiliar to those with inside knowledge of the investigations (not to mention more observant members of the public, such had been the extent of the leaking of information since April 2004), but under Portuguese law the use of wiretaps as evidence is only permitted for specific offences. At the time of writing, the identity of the person who posted the wiretaps remains unknown.
It has been argued in some quarters that inadequate standards of governance, contradictory regulation and ineffective communication and cooperation between its varying institutions do not, or should not, sit at the top of the list of problems currently afflicting Portuguese football. Issues associated with economic short-termism are arguably having the greater impact on a day-to-day basis. The need to create a legacy for the Euro 2004 stadiums has seen clubs such as União de Leiria, Beira-Mar, Académica and on occasion Portimonense play home matches in desolate, expansive arenas, populated by no more than 3,000 hardy souls surrounded by empty seats. Financing the upkeep of these stadiums has also created tensions between municipalities and their footballing tenants — not only Leiria, but Beira-Mar and Académica have also locked horns with their respective local authorities on occasions. Sending the Selecção across the country for friendlies and the introduction of the Taça da Liga has done little to plug the gap.
Issues with salaries are also common — Vitória de Setúbal, Belenenses and Boavista are just three to have paid wages in arrears at some point during the 2011-12 season. This is, of course, indicative of the wider financial crisis afflicting Portugal as a whole — the contraction or minimal growth of sponsorship and television monies, combined with an all-too-numerous 'floating' class of supporter, has forced many clubs to diversify their methods of revenue-seeking, or go the way of Campomaiorense, Salgueiros, Estrela da Amadora and now Leiria.
The proliferation of third-party ownership has been one major consequence of this: following the creation of the Comunidade dos Países de Língua Portuguesa (CPLP) in 1996 and the Bosman Ruling the year before, players from Portugal's former colonies (primarily Brazil but also Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and others) were granted the right to citizenship. The accompanying economic rights precipitated a flood of player imports and the continued absence of regulation in the area of player ownership ensured that Portugal swiftly became the ideal entry point into Europe, not only from the perspective of adaptation, but also for those agents seeking either an instant financial return on their 'investment', or a long-term pay-off, as has happened with the likes of Ramires, Lucho González, Lisandro López, Pepe, and many more.
The problem is exacerbated (and the practices made nigh-on impossible to police) by the fact that only Benfica, Sporting and Porto are required to disclose detailed information with regards to their transfer dealings, as the grandes are the only Portuguese SADs to be publicly traded and therefore regulated by the Comissão do Mercado de Valores Mobiliários [Securities Market Commission].
The issue has received increased coverage in the English-speaking media following the sales of Ramires and David Luiz to Chelsea from Benfica, both of which involved a number of third-party investors at various stages. The now-infamous transfer of Bébé from Vitória de Guimarães to Manchester United in August 2010 also attracted global attention. However, what many observers have missed alongside the possible implications for Portugal's traditional elite — despite all being saddled by debts of questionable sustainability Benfica, Sporting and Porto are as close as Portuguese football gets to a sensible investment — is the impact that third-party ownership is having in less publicised areas. Clubs of more reduced financial means are routinely signing away large percentages of transfer fees as they try to compete on and off the pitch and retain a relationship with dwindling numbers of supporters.
There has also been the inevitable slow down in the production of youthful talent — Portugal's Under-20 side may have reached the final of the World Cup in 2011, but of the 21-man squad, only Cédric Soares and Caetano are competing regularly at the top level in their home country. The rest are either handed occasional substitute appearances, on loan to lower-league sides, or scattered across Europe with similarly limited first-team opportunities. The decrease in Portuguese talent (particularly at the grandes) has become a sore point for many supporters, but as long as the economic incentive exists for clubs to import players from elsewhere, they will surely do so. Similarly, the departure of the most talented before their 23rd birthdays is now the norm, with Porto's João Moutinho a rare exception.
Amid this climate of uncertainty, 2011 saw elections at the FPF and LPFP. In the latter, Mário Figueiredo defeated Euro 2004 tournament director António Laranjo by 27 votes to 21 — although none of the grandes supported his candidacy. A 45-year-old lawyer who practised at the Porto firm that represented Pinto da Costa throughout his legal adventures, Figueiredo has also made a number of bold declarations since taking office in January. His most immediate task is averting further financial catastrophe, following a court ruling that Bwin (a sponsor of many teams and, since 2010, the Taça da Liga) remove all advertising and sponsorship from Portuguese sporting competitions. The Associação Portuguesa de Casinos and national lottery operator Santa Casa filed a suit in 2005, claiming that Bwin (and potentially other gambling sponsors such as BetClic) enjoy an unfair advantage, as they are not subject to comparable levels of government tax or gambling legislation. Eduardo Serra Jorge, representing Bwin, said after the ruling, "It is time for the state to legislate and tax online gambling instead of banning it. Regulating it is in the interest of the consumer, the economy and the state budget." The Sporting Clube da Covilhã president José Mendes struggled to envision a future without sponsorship from the likes of Bwin and BetClic: "The Liga Orangina [second tier] clubs are already bankrupt."
The list of concerns continues to grow but examine every one and a direct link can be traced back to those responsible for the development and sustainment of football in Portugal. A brief period of hope for relations between the LPFP and the FPF dawned in December 2011 when Figueiredo's predecessor, Fernando Gomes, a former marketing and financial executive at Porto, successfully stood for the top job at the FPF, Gilberto Madaíl having stepped aside. But rather than drawing upon shared experiences and collaborating with a view to bringing about some positive change, the duo almost immediately plunged the game into a fresh constitutional crisis over the thorny issue of expanding the Liga.
Historically, Portugal's top professional division has been made up of anything between 12 and 18 teams. The upheavals of the late 1980s created a particularly fluid attitude towards structuring, but in 2007, a sensible compromise of 16 was reached. For a country of 10.5 million inhabitants, the vast majority of whom follow one of three teams, the idea of any more than 16 participants is unrepresentative, financially unworkable and unrealistic.
This remains as true as it ever was, but Figueiredo based his election campaign on a promise to re-introduce an 18-team Liga and to allow B teams to compete in the second tier, an unprecedented move (B teams are not an unfamiliar presence in Portugal, but unlike in Spain they have never been allowed to participate in professional national competitions). The finer details of this pledge were not made public but following a meeting of the LPFP's 32 member clubs in March, the gist of it became all too clear. After his proposed play-off system was not ratified by the self-interested Liga clubs, Figueiredo, in a depressingly inevitable move, attempted to convince the FPF and the general public that in order to fill the 18 places, there need be no relegation at the end of 2011-12.
The competitive implications of this were obvious and in an environment so chronically devoid of financial resources, the temptation in some quarters to make a quick buck from what would essentially be meaningless matches proved too tempting to ignore. To his credit, Gomes swiftly used FPF privileges to veto the proposals, insisting that any expansion would have to be implemented within the framework of fair competition. In one sense the self-interest of the Liga clubs (who hold two votes at LPFP general meetings, with their second-tier counterparts holding one) was to blame for the impasse: had they accepted a round-robin play-off between the teams that finish 13th and 14th in the Liga, along with the 3rd- and 4th-placed sides in the Liga Orangina, with the top two staying up and the bottom two going down, they may well have ended up with an 18-team Liga and the financial windfall from the two extra televised matches they so crave. Yet the fact that a man of Figueiredo's supposed standing and experience failed to foresee this scenario (his assertion that competition would not be affected by the absence of relegation because "nobody wants to finish last" was as laughable as it was concerning) is yet another reflection of the deep-rooted incompetence, unwitting or otherwise, that has paralysed football in Portugal.
In the event, relegation went ahead and the 2012-13 Liga Orangina will feature B teams from Porto, Benfica, Sporting, Braga, Marítimo and Guimarães. Figueiredo's latest projects are the introduction of foreign officials and a collectivisation of television rights. Say what you will about the man, but he thinks big. However, the contrast between his grand designs and the hand-to-mouth existence of the clubs who provided his mandate is acute.
Following his victory in December, Gomes declared "our goal will be to promote Portuguese football, building on the good things that have been achieved in the last 15 years." Learning some lessons from the last 110 would be a good starting point.