Lessons of democracy from FC Porto

Things start off with a scuffle and little improves from there. There have been a series of arrests over the past five months or so. Allegations of drug trafficking and money laundering. Dark whispers of illegal data breaches. Vague accusations of intimidation. And several accused them of financial fraud, dishonesty and betrayal.

At least 64 countries around the world will hold elections this year. The same could be said of the European Union. The campaign will be fierce. Often they can be poisonous. But few people would be more sinister, or provide a more instructive case study on the state of democracy in 2024, than those who decide who becomes president of FC Porto.

Like dozens of clubs across Europe, Porto, one of the three great houses of Portuguese football, is owned by its members. That number is now over 140,000. Every few years, clubs hold elections for a president and board of directors to determine who will represent and run the club.

Usually these are just paperwork. Only a small percentage of members vote. When there is a choice, the choice is usually between two essentially indistinguishable old men. Until the final elections in 2020, Porto was only a nominal democracy.

Since 1982, Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa has been Porto’s president. During that time, he saw the team become European champions twice (in 1987 and in 2004), establishing themselves as Portugal’s preeminent team. Porto have won the Portuguese title 23 times under coach Pinto da Costa, nine more than their closest rivals at the time, Benfica.

As a result, there was usually little appetite for change. In many cases, club elections were designed to appeal to influential figures elsewhere in the former Soviet bloc. Pinto da Costa was re-elected almost unopposed, and the vote was little more than a tick-box exercise, a parade of bureaucracy and all the excitement that came with it.

This year was completely different. About 35,000 members are expected to vote on Saturday, a much higher turnout than usual. They will be asked to choose one of the three presidential candidates on their ballot.

They include Pinto da Costa, who is now 82 years old, and Nuno Lobo, a 54-year-old businessman and defeated challenger in 2020.But even more eye-catching is Andre Villas-Boas, still a boy at the age of 46, a young upstart who previously coached Chelsea and Tottenham, but who also coached Porto itself. tripled in 2011. He was appointed as Pinto da Costa’s successor at the age of 31.

Villas-Boas announced his candidacy at a lavish presentation in November attended by former Porto players, saying that as a lifelong member, it had always been his dream to become club president.

He then attempted diplomatic negotiations with the man who had given him a chance. The message, clearly partly due to political expediency, was that while we had been grateful to Pinto da Costa, it was now time for a change. (Vilas-Boas was less generous to the manager he made famous; Jose Mourinho was conspicuous by his absence in a moving montage of Porto’s great victory.)

However, by challenging a powerful incumbent, Villas-Boas quickly found it increasingly difficult to maintain that particular course. At the club’s general meeting in November, members of Porto’s largest ultra faction, Super Dragoes, reported to have attacked Those who spoke out against the club’s leadership.There were about a dozen people was then arrested, among them was the group’s leader, Fernando Madureira. Police later searched his home and found drugs, weapons and thousands of euros in cash. (Mr. Madureira remains in prison awaiting trial.)

That set the tone. All three candidates have spent the past few months touring various parts of the city, visiting fan groups and encouraging people to vote, as any self-respecting presidential candidate would do. The rhetoric has become increasingly splenic. “I feel like I’m a laundress, washing dirty clothes almost every day,” Lobo said.

Pinto da Costa was clearly distressed by his former pupil’s betrayal, and at one point compared Villas-Boas to his own dog. He accused Villas-Boas of being surrounded by “enemies of FC Porto” and suggested he was just someone else’s pawn. He emphasized Villas-Boas’s upper-middle-class pedigree, cast him as an elitist snob, and suggested his campaign had illegally obtained voters’ phone numbers.

Meanwhile, manager Villas-Boas has been relentless in speaking out about what he sees as Pinto da Costa’s mismanagement of the club. Porto’s latest financial figures show more than $700 million in debt and debt, evidence of what he calls a “dysfunctional structure.” He said the club was effectively in “bankruptcy”.

He said Pinto da Costa had allowed Porto, which was once a model for how clubs navigate transfer windows, to be used as a “negotiating warehouse”, giving control of transfer strategy to a small number of favored representatives. He claims that he has essentially given it to someone else. Villas-Boas said: “The club’s authority has disappeared in favor of the interests of certain intermediaries.”

He has called for guarantees of transparency in elections, and has called the violence in November (which led to accusations that the ultras were protecting a supposedly beneficial relationship with the club’s current leadership) into “Porto’s history.” “One of the darkest days of my life.” All this proves that reform is urgently needed, Villas-Boas argues.

It is completely unclear how Saturday’s election will turn out. The predicted record turnout bodes well for Villas-Boas, but football teams are inherently conservative places, wary of drastic change and quick to grasp the comfort of the familiar. Porto was a fief of Pinto da Costa for 40 years. It may be difficult for fans and members to imagine a world where this is not the case.

What’s even more obvious and more disheartening is the line between all of this — the accusations and allegations, the easy-to-reach conspiracies, the dire threats of real violence — and what actually happens. It is not particularly difficult to draw. Further stages of the election will begin in the coming months. This seems to be how democracy will work in 2024, whether it’s the future of a club in jeopardy or the future of a country.

It’s hard to argue that Arne Slot doesn’t deserve a chance. In his three seasons at Feyenoord, he has only helped the club win their second title of the century, lift the Dutch Cup and lead them to their first European final since 2002. And he rallied his team to accomplish all of that. It had a much tighter budget than its domestic rivals.

It is therefore no surprise that he has emerged as the front-runner to replace Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. (As of this writing, the coach and club are discussing compensation; this momentum seems likely to end with the appointment.)

Liverpool have promised to take a forensic, data-driven approach to finding Klopp’s successor. Slots tick most of the boxes. Liverpool may be betting that the biggest hole in his CV – his experience dealing with the kind of talented players he finds at Anfield – is due to a lack of opportunity rather than ability.

But Slot’s biggest challenge may not be his team. That would be the fan. For many, it is not him who seems to feel that Slot is the overwhelming choice, but rather the person entrusted to replace him, who has won almost every trophy he could win in his nine years at Liverpool. Not only did he acquire the club, but it was also due to Mr. Klopp. but also established an iron bond with the crowd and many people in the city.

If hired and given the time, Slott might be able to replicate that, and maybe even surpass it. However, it is unlikely that enough time will be given. The big challenge for Slott will be the same no matter who replaces Klopp, but if Liverpool are eighth in the Premier League with just a few months left until next season, they are already desperate to pick up the pace. I wonder what would happen if that happened. Slots are a reasonable and logical choice. Klopp’s subsequent test will be an emotional one.

There was no doubt that Chelsea’s victory in the Women’s Champions League semi-final first leg against Barcelona last week was something of a surprise. After all, Barcelona Femeni hadn’t lost a game all year and hadn’t lost at home before the game. The pandemic hit and the European champions once again became the overwhelming favorites to win.

Still, the idea of ​​Emma Hayes’ Chelsea team as Mighty Ducks-style underdogs doesn’t quite fit reality. After all, Chelsea have broken world transfer records at least twice, employ some of the highest-paid women’s players in the world, and won the last four editions of the Women’s Super League, Europe’s richest women’s tournament. Each has won.

Of course, Barcelona are under pressure to overturn a one-goal deficit and reach the Champions League final for the fifth time in six years when the teams meet in the second leg in London on Saturday. . However, Chelsea also have certain expectations. The fact that he has yet to win a European title is something of a omission from Hayes’ impeccable resume. She would never want to leave England without rectifying the situation.

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