LISBON, Portugal -- The word "crisis" and Sporting CP have been largely synonymous in the past decade and a half, but the manner in which the Lisbon club have imploded over the last week is novel, even by the standards of an institution with a strange fondness for shooting itself in the foot.
"I've been involved in football since I was 14 years old, I'm 63 now, and I've never experienced anything like this before," said coach Jorge Jesus.
With the club president Bruno de Carvalho in open warfare with his own players -- threatening to suspend 19 of them last weekend for disagreeing with him on social media -- Thursday's Europa League second leg against Atletico Madrid (facing a 2-0 deficit) seems far from anyone's minds. Here is what has happened.
Social media storm
The storm was triggered when Carvalho took to Facebook to express his displeasure at Sporting's display in losing at Atletico last Thursday.
It should be pointed out that Carvalho has previous in this area. Ever since he became president in March 2013, he has frequently used social media to lash out at anybody he perceives as obstacles to Sporting's success. Benfica is his preferred target, having systematically accused Sporting's cross-city rivals of corruption, as well as fiercely criticising the football authorities in Portugal for what he sees as their failure to provide a level playing field.
His belligerent style has earned him bitter enemies, but had been widely applauded among the Sporting fanbase, who returned him to power for a second term with a landslide victory in the presidential elections last year, when he obtained 86.13 percent of the vote.
And, by sorting out the club's finances, refusing to be bullied and bossed by agents, and making the team more competitive, Carvalho has undoubtedly breathed new life into a previously failing club.
But Carvalho's refusal to bite his tongue is also his biggest undoing. Major problems have stemmed from his unhinged reproach of people within the structure of the club, and especially the team itself.
Three years ago, when Marco Silva was manager, he lambasted the players in a Facebook post after a 3-0 defeat at Vitoria Guimaraes. The angry backlash to this and other similar messages led Carvalho to announce he had decided on a self-imposed exile from Facebook.
Lighting the fuse
It didn't last though. Shortly after the full-time whistle had blown in Madrid, Carvalho singled out centre-backs Sebastian Coates and Jeremy Mathieu, Portugal internationals Fabio Coentrao and Gelson Martins, and star striker Bas Dost for criticism, triggering an unseemly public war of words between the players and the president, all played out on social media platforms.
Eighteen of Sporting's players simultaneously issued a message on Instagram repudiating the content of their president's message, which Carvalho responded to by announcing he had slapped 19 members of the first-team squad with suspensions -- again using Facebook to convey the message, although he subsequently deleted the post.
The Portuguese media reported that the B-team would be used against Pacos de Ferreira on Sunday, and inevitably the Twittersphere exploded with memes, such as a mock publicity poster for Sporting fans ahead of the game: "Promotion: bring a scarf for a 25 percent discount on your ticket, wear a shirt for a 50 percent discount, and bring your full kit for a place in the team."
An emergency meeting on Saturday between the president, coach and the players seemed to have calmed things down, but incredibly, just two hours before kick-off on Sunday, another bombastic Facebook post by Carvalho reignited the ill feeling. The president said disciplinary measures had not in fact been dropped and accused Sporting's most senior players of instigating a rebellion.
The players did play, but the stormy backdrop to the match on Sunday evening only intensified as they walked out onto the pitch to be greeted by a huge banner from the hard-line supporters group Juventude Leonina accusing them of being bereft of "love or feeling for the club," while Carvalho was loudly booed and insulted, with thousands chanting for his resignation.
Sporting won 2-0, the players making a point of celebrating the goals in a huddle together, substitutes included, in a show of solidarity that flowed to and from the stands.
At the final whistle, upon instruction from Jesus, the players did a lap around the pitch, receiving rapturous applause from the fans. The coach himself made it crystal clear in the flash interview that he was firmly on the side of the players.
"I've always been behind my players," he said. "This is a very united squad -- nobody can knock them down. Look at the dignity of these players. Supposedly with disciplinary proceedings hanging over them, they played in the name of Sporting."
In a poignant moment, Carvalho, who as usual had taken his place in the dugout during the match, was left isolated as the players and coach had their moment of communion with the crowd. The image of a man cut adrift was then starkly accentuated as the president was struck by what appeared to be intense back pain, requiring assistance from stewards to gingerly get up from his seat and make his way down the tunnel.
The drama did not stop there though. With journalists assembled in the bowels of Alvalade for the usual postmatch news conferences with the two managers, it was Carvalho who walked in and sat down in front of the television cameras and dozens of microphones.
Was he about to resign? Nothing could be further from the truth. Carvalho may have been physically debilitated, but his vigorous defence of his actions left no doubt about his energy and determination to continue to fight his corner, adopting a "fight fire with fire" strategy.
"For those who insulted me in the stadium, I say they lack gratitude, have a short memory, and I invite them to use those words to insult members of their own family," he said, insisting that he had no intention of stepping down. When asked whether he could continue as Sporting president in the current climate by Portugal's state broadcaster, RTP, he replied: "Can you continue as an RTP journalist with a question like that? I don't think so."
On Monday, the day Carvalho became a father for the third time, the calls for him to step aside began to gather pace. Senior director Jaime Marta Soares demanded he resign, while the club's largest shareholder who own around a third of the shares, the company A Holdimo, headed by Angolan Alvaro Sobrinho, called for an emergency EGM. The Portuguese press even begun speculating on possible successors to Carvalho, with Luis Figo's name mentioned, although the former Sporting and Portugal icon quickly ruled himself out of the running.
At the time of writing, he is still there and, with the club in turmoil, Sporting will attempt to overcome a two-goal deficit at home to Atletico to progress in the Europa League. Football is likely to be the last thing on the players' minds, but it certainly won't be dull.