Sport Lisboa e Benfica’s club members have indirectly approved club’s toxic culture mostly out of fear from the past, at least that was the clear message sent out in last month’s club election.
Now that the club’s presidential elections are out of the way, like it or not Luis Filipe Vieira was the overwhelming choice of the club’s membership. A Portuguese club record of just over 38,000 socios voted and re-elected the incumbent president to an unprecedented 6th term by a nearly two-thirds majority on October 28th.
Believed to be the third highest ever voter turnout for any sport club’s election anywhere in the world sent a statement loud and clear to the world. That there’s simply more supporters of the president than there are detractors, much to the disappointment of many of us in the digital content creating community that cover the club independently. I made the decision before the election that as a provider of information and opinion on my various platforms (podcast, blog, and social media) that it would not be appropriate to officially endorse a candidate. As happens in the political world I find it wrong that publications and sources with the duty of reporting honestly and accurately officially endorse candidates for office, and I have come to the belief that those endorsements undermine the integrity of the information and opinion published by the various media entities. How can I believe that someone is being honest when they have publicly declared the outcome they wish for in an election? That led me to decide that my personal policy is and will be going forward that Mister Benfica will not endorse candidates or positions in club elections or assemblies. I will simply do my best to accurately inform the reader, listener or viewer on the different stances that are on the table.
With that out of the way, it is fair to say that this 6th term has not started well. Off the pitch there’s more investigations and searches for evidence of corruption going on at the Estadio da Luz. While on the pitch Benfica dropped six points in the League, two points in the Europa League and allowed an absurd nine goals in the first full week since the election between the two concurrent competitions. The President’s “all in” choice for manager has been left scratching his head and looking very uncertain on how to resolve the issues within the squad. What was sold to supporters was that Jorge Jesus was here to solve all of our problems. However as I stated here on this platform some months ago Benfica’s biggest problem is cultural and the truth is the new manager has not yet changed the losing culture in the team and to a larger degree in the club as a whole. The results of the election told us that most fans are still influenced by the misery and embarrassment of the “Vietnam” era of the mid to late 90’s and early 2000’s and many swear that Luis Filipe Vieira is the only reason we got out of that difficult time. The fear has to have been that an unknown candidate would take us right back there. The belief must be that at least we’re fighting for titles. And even though we’ve struggled against severely weakened rivals that must be better than the unknown. The fact is that two thirds of the members are willing to accept a pitiful record of late in Europe, premature sales of our young budding stars and losing two out of three Championships and a Cup final to a Porto side decimated by the possibility of FIFA Financial Fairplay violations rather than take a chance on the unknown is a sign that the culture I spoke of is not just in the locker room. ( I won’t even get into the modalidades here but with the exception of a few of the teams the culture manifests in the other sports as well.)
This team desperately lack a winning attitude (or any attitude at all for that matter). Every time we take on our bitter rival from the north we resemble a scared fighter ducking and moving backwards and sideways throwing only safe and ineffective jabs in hopes we avoid the knockout blow. Rather than coming out of our corner and pressing forward and throwing hooks and combinations of our own, we instead cower. This boxing analogy sums 90% of Classicos we play against Porto and what happens on most occasions is they pick us apart with rights and lefts, overhands and upper cuts. Porto doesn’t fear going on the offensive because we don’t have the attitude to take our shots when they leave themselves exposed. We self-destruct many times without our opponents even forcing it out of us.
Once again last week we had the change to open an eight point lead on our rivals, we instead as has become accustom let our guard down and took it easy. Predictably we found ourselves with our backs on the canvas staring up at the lights as Boavista and Braga picked up deserved wins against us. We gave away a penalty in one match, saw a player sent off in the 19th minute in another, and had our goalkeeper give away a charitable goal that ultimately ended up being the difference against a legit title contender in the third match. A week from Hell is what I called it on the podcast (Episode 96). These types of mistakes are the result of a losing culture that cannot be fixed by simply spending 100 million Euros and bringing in a new manager. Those are steps to the solution but cannot fix the culture alone. A true leader needs to emerge from this group and find a way to begin changing the thinking of his teammates. Rui Costa as newly appointed Vice President needs to roll up his sleeves and address this hands on. Players need to be held accountable for not putting forth the right effort until they are behind 3-0. Players need to know how to simplify their game on nights when things are not going right. Slumps can only be overcome by playing through them and when technique and tactics are not working, old fashioned grit and determination is needed to make up the difference. We saw a glimpse of that in the final quarter hour of the Rangers match. The manager is responsible for pulling that effort out of them, that’s why he’s earning twice the salary of his predecessor. I remain hopeful that when the players get back together as a whole next week that this international break will have done them well, I have hope that the time away from the toxicity will strengthen and rejuvenate them. I hope that they’ll come back ready to work and get another good string of performances and results started.
There’s no question this group as a unit is incredibly weak mentally, like a house made of cards, when the slightest wind come along it knocks the whole thing down. Mental toughness is something that must be trained and those who train it must also be held accountable. Again the losing culture and mental weakness is consistent through the different layers of the club and is not just a product of the football team. The first thing that needs to be done is it needs to be recognized and called out, I’m calling on Rui Costa again, a former Champions League winner to recognize it and to begin to have the necessary conversations with not just players and the manager but with experts on the topic such as mental health professionals, holistic nutritionists, motivational speakers, former club greats, and everyone in between to iron out a mental training regimen and finally exercise these ghosts haunting the club. Benfica are far and away the most talented team in LigaNOS and if they can overcome these self-imposed demons. If they do this, then there’s no one in Portugal that can stop them until that happens though it will be a struggle even against the weaker teams in our League. Our biggest rival is ourselves.