It's been a
pretty miserable year all round for Portuguese football, on and off the pitch, domestically and internationally.
The Big Black Spot over the year was created by the so-called Golden Generation's
dismal showing in the World Cup in Korea/Japan. Portugal played pants, managing a win over weedy Poland but losing to the theoretically accessible USA and South Korea. Everything was wrong about the campaign, starting
with coach António Oliveira's selection of players (midfielder Paulo Sousa was a crock before he left Portugal, shaky Baía was chosen over the in-form Ricardo in goal) passing, disastrously, through the misguided
psychological preparation which suggested that the thing was as good as won and ending with João Pinto punching the Argentinian ref in the South Korea game, reflecting the indiscipline that surrounded the Portuguese
Coach António Oliveira was there on tourism, according to reports, leaving the hotel room at ungodly hours with his assistants in tow to "go for a walk on the beach" (in their suits). The man was
justifiably shown the door, but the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) took their time doing it, as they did to name his successor. Agostinho Oliveira stood in and did a fine job in the autumn friendlies, while the
Federation hummed and hawed over whether it should be a Portuguese or foreign coach. 'Portuguese', it was decided, with the name of Manuel José in line ... but only as long as it took Gilberto Madaíl, the FPF president,
to be helped to win the FPF elections by the block vote of the Association of Portuguese Coaches. With his re-election in hand, Madaíl went back on his word and announced that World Cup hero with Brazil, Felipe Scolari,
would be the next national coach.
At club level, Sporting won their second title in three years thanks more than anything to the almost uncanny goalscoring talent of Mário Jardel. The Brazilian's personal year was an
unhappy one as he split with his wife Karen. The soap opera of the separation coincided with the start of the new season, and Jardel was given several weeks' sick leave for 'psychological' problems. Some saw the whole
situation as a ruse by Jardel to get out of his contract with Sporting and into a more lucrative one with another club, preferably Spanish or Italian. No firm offers were forthcoming, however, and Jardel was forced to
eat his affirmations that he would never play in Portugal again and to return to Sporting. But his form and fitness have been missing, and Sporting have struggled to hit the levels of recent seasons, with Niculae slow
to recover from injury, Sá Pinto out injured, João Pinto only now beginning to shine again after his suspension for the Korean incident and newcomer Kutusov not really impressing.
FC Porto got rid of unpopular coach
Octávio Machado at the beginning of the year and brought in José Mourinho, who had left Benfica under a cloud and had moved to União de Leiria where he did a good job. With very few changes to the squad, Mourinho has
performed a small miracle at Porto, restoring the famous mystique of invincibility that has been lost in the last few seasons. At the end of the year, they are six points clear at the top and look untouchable. And in
Deco, they have the player widely regarded as the best in the SuperLiga.
Benfica failed to qualify for Europe for the second season running, but kept faith with coach Jesualdo Ferreira ... at least until
November when he was replaced by Spaniard José Camacho. Like Mourinho at Porto, Camacho has brought back a little pride to the huge Benfica following; there were two thousand supporters to watch training in Caldas da
Rainha over Christmas. The team's football has become more solid and coherent, and winger Simão and midfielder Tiago are sure to be key players in Portugal's EURO 2004 campaign.
Boavista reached the quarter-final
stage of the Champions League, but because of financial limitations (the club has only recently broken the 15,000 level of sócios), they had to sell the influential midfielder Petit (Benfica) and had to let
captain Pedro Emanuel go (FC Porto). The team has found it hard to replace these two, and a terrible start to this season sees them in the lower reaches of the table, although recent form shows promise.
teams of the season so far are Varzim, Belenenses and Gil Vicente, all challenging for the European places. Of the teams that came up, only Nacional of Madeira have shown anything, while Moreirense struggle and
Académica are bottom and in dire financial straits that saw the board resign recently.
In fact all the clubs in the so-called SuperLiga
(re-named for marketing purposes, although some have criticised the name as a patent misnomer) have some kind of money trouble. Clubs are resorting to opening their doors on match days to get people into the habit of coming back to football. But the image of the game here is at its lowest ebb ever. After the scandal of missing funds at Benfica which left former-president João Vale e Azevedo in prison for embezzlement, it was the turn of Vitória de Guimarães president Pimenta Machado who was arrested in December on the same charge. As the year turns, suspicion is flaring once again. Sporting president Dias da Cunha told Radio TSF: "There's a lot of money passed under the table in the Portuguese game, a lot of creative accounting, a lot of dirty money."
It's a story that will run and run into the new year.