Sporting Lisbon president backs off plan to suspend 19 players

LISBON, Portugal -- Sporting CP are in chaos as president Bruno de Carvalho said he was suspending 19 first-team players after a public war of words, only to apparently back down hours later.

In the wake of a 2-0 defeat at Atletico Madrid in the Europa League on Thursday night -- when individual errors from centre-backs Sebastian Coates and Jeremy Mathieu proved costly, as Atletico Madrid stars Koke and Antoine Griezmann scored -- De Carvalho took to Facebook to express his displeasure at the display, singling out several individuals for criticism.

This had the effect of triggering an unseemly public war of words between the players and the president, all played out on social media platforms, the latest episode of which led to De Carvalho saying he was suspending 19 members of the first-team squad.

However, Sporting manager Jorge Jesus said on Saturday that after a meeting between him, De Carvalho, and players that "there were no suspensions," and he is still free to choose his squad for Sunday's league match against Pacos Ferreira.

In a lengthy piece criticising the team after Thursday's defeat, Carvalho tore into Coates and Mathieu, saying they did the work of the Atletico forwards for them, and that Sporting were playing the game with nine men.

"Our 11 men should have doubled efforts on the pitch to become 22," he wrote. "Coates and Mathieu did what the Atletico forwards couldn't do on their own. Instead of 22 it was if we had nine players."

He also offered his advice on how young Portugal winger Gelson Martins should have finished a chance when clean through, and suggested left-back Fabio Coentrao and star striker Bas Dost collected yellow cards, triggering a suspension, because they didn't want to play the return match.

The next day, the club were forced to officially deny rumours the first team had refused to train. But later in the afternoon 18 senior players shared a text on Instagram expressing their disapproval of the public criticism and "the absence of support from he who should be our leader."

Among the group who posted the message were practically all of Sporting's most important players, such as captains Rui Patricio and William Carvalho; fellow Portugal internationals Coentrao, Bruno Fernandes and Martins; and experienced campaigners such as Bryan Ruiz, Coates and Montero.

However, De Carvalho took to Facebook again in a now-deleted post, and said he was suspending the players: "All the players who wrote the message cited below are suspended with immediate effect and will face disciplinary procedures... These spoiled children think they'll go far, but this time my patience has worn out for those who think they are above the club and any criticism."

As it stands, Sporting are set to play their Primeira Liga clash at their Alvalade home on Sunday against Paços de Ferreira with their B-team.

The Sporting president has a history of wearing his heart on his sleeve and infamously took to Facebook to lambast the players after a 3-0 defeat at Vitória Guimarães three years ago, when Marco Silva was manager.

Last season he stormed into the dressing room to slate the team after defeat at Chaves, subsequently forcing captains Adrien Silva and Carvalho to record an unconvincing "calls to arms" broadcast on the club's in-house TV channel.