Portuguese football to return amid uncertainty as much as excitement

MADRID (AFP) – Portuguese football is due to resume at the end of the month as the country’s relatively low number of coronavirus infections may allow Primeira Liga to make a swifter return than some of its European neighbours.

But the urgency to restart is also a reflection of the structural and financial problems confronting the game in Portugal, where even the leading clubs face uncertain futures.

After seeing just over a thousand deaths from a population of around 10 million, the Portuguese government gave the green light last Thursday for the remaining 10 rounds of the season to be played, as well as the final of the Portuguese Cup.

League leaders Porto and their closest challengers, Benfica, who trail by a point, both began training again on Monday, while respecting recommendations for physical distancing.

Yet even if the return of sport is a welcome checkpoint in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic, in Portugal it also uncovers the fragility of football clubs, who are desperate to pocket money promised by broadcasters.

Sporting Lisbon have been forced to reduce the players’ wages by 40 per cent and the club placed almost all of its employees on furlough in mid-April.

“Portuguese football simply doesn’t survive financially without football matches,” sports commentator Luis Freitas Lobo told AFP.