Portugal’s No.1 will be at Molineux next season following a controversial free transfer which sees Jorge Mendes at odds with Sporting
Wolves will be restarting life in the top flight with one of the world’s best goalkeepers in their line-up; a player with 70 international caps to his name, a player with a European Championship winners’ medal locked in his safe, a player with his name on the list of candidates for the Ballon d’Or less than two years ago.
And right now it would appear that the Championship title winners are getting Rui Patricio – Portugal’s starting goalkeeper at this World Cup – for nothing.
It will be some time before the complexities of the 30-year-old’s free transfer from Sporting CP are unravelled. To understand why that is, the role of Sporting’s maverick president Bruno de Carvalho must be analysed.
Having taken over the role in 2013, De Carvalho takes credit for saving the club from financial oblivion but his abrasive, confrontational style has won him few friends in the corridors of power.
It culminated in the events of May 15 this year when Sporting’s players and staff were attacked by up to 50 ultras. Top scorer Bas Dost was left with cuts to his head and images captured on the day show the Dutchman perplexed with tears in his eyes.
The president had gained a reputation for lashing out at opponents, journalists, agents, the football federation and even his own fans on social media throughout his tenure and in April of this year he attacked his own players on Facebook after they had lost 2-0 in their Europa League quarter-final first leg against Atletico Madrid.
The squad – led by captains Rui Patricio and William Carvalho – responded saying that the president should make more attempts to support and lead the club.
From there, De Carvalho suspended 19 of them and described the players as ‘spoilt children’. The suspension was lifted after a crisis meeting but the atmosphere remained toxic. And on May 15 one of the most shameful days in the history of Portuguese football unfolded.
Armed with makeshift weapons, around 50 masked ultras gained entry to Sporting’s training facilities and carried out their assault. The attack was met with outrage in Portugal with prime minister Antonio Costa formalising a national body to combat violence in sport. A couple of days later, Sporting lost the Portuguese cup final having earlier seen their Champions League ambitions washed out.
Rui Patricio and others had by that stage resolved to leave the club. The goalkeeper enlisted the services of Jorge Mendes and his Gestifute agency – heavily involved with Wolves – to find a new place to work. A move to the Premier League newcomers fell through at the end of May with De Carvalho blaming Mendes for asking for a high commission.
Gestifute hit back, saying “nothing could be further from the truth” and claiming it did everything in its power to secure an €18 million (£16m/$21m) fee for the ‘keeper. It claimed that an 11th-hour request from the Sporting president for another €2m scuppered the deal.
Rui Patricio, William Carvalho and five more senior players have since taken the extraordinary step of terminating their club contracts invoking ‘just cause’ stemming from the training ground attack. Coach Jorge Jesus is also gone.
The goalkeeper released a 34-page statement detailing the reasons for his exit from his boyhood club. Through the passages he lamented the fact that the club could not guarantee his physical and psychological safety.
Some Sporting fans have since criticised Rui Patricio for “betraying” the club that formed him and warned Wolves that a day in court would come. That’s because this week Sporting’s Board of Directors proclaimed that the contract terminations were “illegal.” The club maintains there was no just cause for the players to cancel their contracts and are seeking damages and losses in court.
For now though, Wolves may well have pulled off the transfer coup of the summer. It appears the club president – Bruno De Carvalho – will bear the brunt of the blame for his foul-up and his future could well be decided at a General Assembly on June 23.
Rui Patricio will be between the posts for Portugal’s second World Cup Group B match against Morocco having conceded three against Spain on matchday one. It was not an ideal start to the competition but the Euro 2016 winners will be expected to realign their campaign today in Moscow.
And at the conclusion of the campaign he will be off to Molineux for a new chapter. What else plays out remains to be seen.