Football over the Christmas and New Year period in Portugal was dominated by a tumultuous fortnight for Sporting.
A breakdown in the relationship between club president Bruno de Carvalho and coach Marco Silva was widely reported, with several media outlets even jumping the gun and stating the highly rated tactician had been sacked.
Such reports proved incorrect. Carvalho publicly backed his coach on Saturday afternoon, shortly before Sporting's impressive 3-0 victory over Estoril, which was followed by a call for union by Silva and club captain Adrien.
Sporting's fans will be delighted a degree of normality, fragile or not, has returned to the Alvalade after the club had appeared to be in self-destruct mode the previous two weeks.
Over 30,000 fans flocked to the Alvalade yesterday, in the wake of the surreal backdrop to the game.
The third man
Reports that president Bruno de Carvalho and coach Marco Silva were no longer on speaking terms had been rampant over the festive season. The flames of discontent were fanned by incendiary comments from ex Sporting player José Eduardo who accused Marco Silva of being "no angel, but rather a devil for Sporting", "following his own agenda instead of working on Sporting's project" and "intent on toppling the president" among other bombastic claims.
Such bruising accusations from somebody who was not part of the club's hierarchy would normally be dismissed as an attempt to seek publicity. But Eduardo's assertion that he had tried to act as a peacemaker between what he insisted were two warring parties - upon authorisation from Carvalho - together with a deafening silence from the president in the immediate aftermath of the comments, threatened to create an implosion at the club.
The entire situation was as wholly avoidable as it was unexpected. Bruno de Carvalho's belligerent style of presidency has been largely responsible for bringing about a turnaround at the club and creating what has been dubbed the "Onda Verde" (Green Wave) among Sporting fans, energising the institution from top to bottom in the last 20 months.
Upon handing Marco Silva a 4-year contract in the summer, the club seemed to have hit upon a winning combination. A hard-nosed gunslinging president fronting a calm yet ambitious and highly competent coach gradually making the team increasingly competitive, both in Europe and domestically.
Perhaps it is inevitable two such sharply contrasting personalities would eventually clash. For now, Carvalho deserves credit for showing the intelligence to go back on a course of action he apparently initially had in mind in relation to the coach, i.e. to sack him, which would have led to more instability, and which surely would have undone much of his good work at the helm of the club's fortunes over almost two years.
Will the team be affected? Judging by yesterday's performance, the soap opera may actually bring the squad closer together.
Estoril blown away
From the moment the match kicked off, it was evident the players were 100% behind their coach and fully committed and focused on the job at hand. Against a dangerous Estoril side that were unbeaten in their previous 8 games and had lost only once away in the liga all season, the Lions dominated from start to finish.
Attacking with creativity and verve - with André Carrillo outstanding - and defending solidly, the hosts put in arguably their best collective performance of the season. Adrien Silva got the ball rolling with a thunderous 20-yard volley in the first half, Slimani doubled the lead in the second half, before Adrien finished the scoring from the penalty spot.
Sporting face Famalicão at home in the Portuguese Cup in midweek before a crucial match away at Braga, a direct competitor for a Champions League spot, next Sunday. The relative importance of both games was shown by the yellow-carded Nani getting himself deliberately sent off in stoppage time on Saturday, thus ruling him out of Wednesday's game but leaving him clear for the trip up north.
Three points in Braga could definitively set up Sporting for a strong second half of the season, perhaps even allowing the club to entertain thoughts of re-entering the title race. Defeat at the Quarry, though, will be a major test of whether underlying tensions at the Alvalade have truly been put to bed or not.
by Tom Kundert