For those who like to remember Paulo Futre as a left winger with a penchant for shimmying past delusional right backs, hunch-shouldered à la Chris Waddle, before delivering either a pinpoint cross for a grateful striker, or a well placed cross shot into the net, recent appearances will have come as a bit of a let down. This is putting things mildly.
Futre’s glittering career, which began at Sporting, now appears to have ended at Sporting too. This grand institution which is now the country’s most entertaining soap opera, has started to eat its own great and good. In a country left rudderless by political machinations, the farcical manoeuvring of a small group of pot bellied men around the lifeless but still warm corpse of a football club should not really warrant much attention, but it has gripped the nation. Whilst we look at the goings-on at São Bento and weep, at least Alvalade watchers have had the opportunity to release the odd belly laugh in the last five days or so.
The belly laughs have all been coming from Benficistas and Portistas, naturally enough. The rank and file of green and white remain stoically silent as middle-aged businessmen who should know better make an unedifying spectacle of themselves. It has been presidential election time and Sporting’s socios duly elected Godinho Lopes to the top podium, an honour shared in the past by such grand luminaries and pat philosophers as Pedro Santana Lopes and the recently removed “worst ever Sporting president” José Eduardo Bettencourt.
The result came as a surprise to some, who had already presumed that the dashing young cavalier, Bruno de Carvalho, last seen parading Marco van Basten around town to delighted squeals from the faithful, would occupy the throne. Presumably even a man of Van Basten’s undoubted high intellect also thought it might be a fait accompli, as he tottered about giving his opinions on how Sporting can move forward again. Russian funds appeared to be in place to buy the long list of semi-superstar players, said to be chomping at the bit to join the club. Then they lost by 0.5% of the votes cast and the roubles began to melt.
That de Carvalho and his Dutch buddy missed out by this measly figure has encouraged them to protest about the way the election was conducted and the manner in which the votes were counted. In a direct parody of their big cousins in parliament, everyone has started wailing and gnashing their teeth. The confusion is gaining epic proportions. Only Sporting could manage to create something so entertaining out of a tired old slugfest between failed politicians, bankers, noisy tv pundits and hairy egotists. The winning candidate reached but 36.55% of the votes once the “urns” were tipped over, with de Carvalho slouching in just behind on 36.15% and the other three candidates sliding around in the beige foam of the 10% watermark.
The election process was marked by two outstanding elements: one, the extravagant promises of the few to the many, some seeming hopelessly inopportune, others downright implausible. Only the victor, however, must come good on his pledges and, with this in mind, Godinho Lopes and his fogies will no doubt be looking up the telephone number of Roberto Mancini, as the inimitable Jô featured as one of the candidate’s star promises for next season. With promises like this, it’s surprising he got any votes at all. The mind fairly boggles.
Two, the behaviour of a minority who attempted to invade the area designated for vote counting and thereafter took to the Alvalade precincts and attacked anything vaguely resembling figures of minor authority. This is in itself serves as a fine image of the turmoil that the club finds itself in at the moment.
But now there is also a “three”. The domestic media have landed on the hapless figure of Paulo Futre and have spent the week lampooning him in cartoons, sketches, columns and Youtube mock-ups. There is no place to hide for the ex Porto, Atleti, Benfica and er, West Ham, ace. His hair may be slick but his performances in front of the cameras have been anything but during the campaign. One Youtube spoof has him waving a reporter quiet during a press conference speech. The camera cuts to a shot of a toddler in his high chair wearing an expression of mixed shock and fear, his baby eyes as wide as a tunnel opening, as Futre’s voice can be heard saying “Sorry, member, I’m concentrating extremely hard here”. That he is in the middle of a meandering monologue about how Sporting will play 4-3-3 at home, then 4-4-2 away and how they will sign “Brine Rizz” from (pause, whilst he checks his notes) “twenty” and also devour the Chinese market by bringing in the “best player in China” brings the whole thing down to the level of a Monty Python sketch. The papers have loved it ever since. Cartoons of Chinese packers in far away warehouses stacking banks of boxes marked “Sporting scarves”, “Sporting tops” etc as another Chinaman comes to the warehouse door and says “It’s bad news, boys” are everywhere. Futre, you see, backed the wrong horse.
Meanwhile, the winner, Godinho Lopes, has started work with the usual interminable “visits” to training, the academy, the stadium, supporters events etc that are a requisite part of the Big Man’s cv here in Portugal. In amongst his election promises, after the delightful titbit that Jô would be box office here next season was another name seemingly picked out of a hat, that of Oscar Wendt, the Swede playing at Copenhagen. Godinho stresses that “all 8 player targets are confirmed as incoming recruits for 2011-2012”. Only one problem. Klaas Jensen, Wendt’s agent, states that there has been no contact whatsoever from the club. As for Brine Rizz, nobody dare ask.
For those that thought it couldn’t get any worse for Sporting, it just has.