The attack, in mid-May 2018, at the Alcochete training centre 20kms south of Lisbon, marked a new low in a turbulent season. Up to fifty hooligans forced their way into the locker room where they punched, slapped and kicked senior players in what the court said was a premeditated attack.

The Dutch forward Bas Dost, who had scored 34 goals for the club that season, reportedly suffered cuts to his head in the attack. Jorge Jesus, the team’s manager, goalkeeper Rui Patrício and midfielder William Carvalho were also targeted.

The weekend before the infamous incident saw Sporting miss out on a Champions League place after Patrício’s late error led to a 2-1 defeat at Marítimo (Madeira) which allowed their bitter rivals Benfica to leapfrog them into second place. Portugal international goalkeeper Rui Patrício, now with Wolverhampton Wanderers, told the jury that the assailants had threatened to break his jaw. “They told us to take off our shirts and said ‘you are a shame’ and ‘we are going to kill you’,” he recalled.

Manchester United signing Bruno Fernandes, who joined the Premier League club from Sporting for around €55 million in January, spoke of his terror in court, saying he had seen blood in the mouth of coach Jorge Jesus. “I had never felt this way before,” he admitted. “I feared more for the lives of my family than my own, especially that of my wife and daughter. I asked my wife to go to Porto to be sure nothing would happen to them.”

Nine of the attackers received five-year prison sentences and twenty-nine were handed suspended sentences of up to nearly five years. One of the defendants given a suspended sentence confessed in court to having hit Bas Dost with a belt during the attack. Three other defendants were ordered to pay fines.

Seven players, including Bas Dost and four members of Portugal’s 2018 World Cup squad, ended their contracts as a result of the rampage, citing “just cause” at the end of a season in which they had missed out on a Champions League place and would go on to lose the Portuguese Cup final.

Cristiano Ronaldo offered his support to the players after the attack at the club where he started his career. “I’m 100 percent behind them,” he told Portuguese TV channel RTP after the gang attack. “It’s a troublesome situation. I must always be on the side of the players and the coach. We are doing the same job.”

Responding in a statement, Sporting said the act of “gratuitous violence and crime” had been “the darkest day” in the club’s history.
Bruno de Carvalho, who was voted out as president in June 2018, often used social media to criticise his players but had denied inciting any violence. The month before the attack he had suspended nineteen first-team players after a row on social media. “I am innocent, they should have trusted me,” Carvalho told reporters outside the court in Lisbon after he was cleared. “I gave everything to Sporting, I often put the club ahead of my life, my family. No citizen deserves to go through what I went through.”

Subsequently Carvalho has criticised Frederico Varandas, the current President of Sporting, and taken a swipe at figures in central government.