On Wednesday 16th November 2016, it was revealed that Benfica President Luís Filipe Vieira had been handed a fine and a sixty-day suspension by the Disciplinary Council of the Federação Portuguesa de Futebol (FPF), in response to his criticism of Portuguese referee Manuel Oliveira.
The controversy began on Sunday 21st August, when Benfica hosted Vitória de Setúbal at the Estádio da Luz on Matchweek 2 of the Liga NOS. The referee who officiated the match was 39-year old Manuel Oliveira. Benfica’s President was less than satisfied with Oliveira's performance during the 1-1 draw, and is alleged to have aired his views after the game in the Presidential box, in the presence of João Ferreira (Vice-President of the FPF's Refereeing Council), Luciano Gonçalves (Head of the Portuguese Association of Football Referees), and referee's observer Natálio Silva.
Vieira reportedly said: "It is a disgrace! How is it that you nominate this type [of referee]?"
Benfica do not dispute this turn of events, but question what was said next. According to some, Vieira continued his diatribe as he ascended the steps and entered the catering area, complaining: "We don't want this type here anymore! Was it not enough what he did here last year?"
The latter comment - if indeed it was uttered - is thought to have been a thinly-veiled reference to Manuel Oliveira's poor performance during Benfica's 3-1 win over Rio Ave at the Estádio da Luz in December 2015.
João Ferreira, one of the targets of Vieira's wrath, hit back by declaring: "There are 24 [top-flight] referees and all of them can referee all of the clubs!"
The FPF reacted to Vieira’s alleged outburst by issuing him with a sixty-day suspension, and forcing Benfica to pay a fine of €3,445. According to the FPF’s Disciplinary Council, Vieira’s comments regarding Manuel Oliveira’s performance fell under Article 136 of their disciplinary code, entitled “Lesão da honra e da reputação” ("Injury of honour and of reputation").
Soon after the decision was made, Benfica released an official statement in response to the ruling. Their statement was divided into eight sections, paraphrased below:
1) The sanctions will immediately be appealed by Vieira and the club.
2) The sanctions were imposed even though Vieira’s alleged declarations remain unproven.
3) The sanctions were imposed based almost exclusively on the testimony of one witness.
4) Vieira maintains that he did not use any insulting or abusive language, nor did he claim that Manuel Oliveira “had robbed Benfica of three penalties last season”, as has been reported in some circles. He merely questioned the criteria used by the FPF in deciding to appoint Oliveira as the referee for the game.
5) Last season, Manuel Oliveira was given a score of 2.5 by the FPF for his arbitration of a Benfica match. According to the organisation’s own criteria, such a score is only given when a referee has “committed grave errors that influenced the final result”. This constitutes reasonable justification for questioning the appointment of Oliveira for the game against Vitória de Setúbal.
6) Vieira’s comments were made without any rudeness or improper gestures, and were not made in a public arena, in contrast to the recent conduct of other leading figures in Portuguese football.
7) Although surprised and outraged by the decision, Vieira was pleased by the speed with which the FPF concluded their disciplinary process. He suggests that the same swift action should be taken in response to all other pending disciplinary cases concerning the Liga NOS.
8) Vieira and Benfica eagerly await a conclusion to the disciplinary proceedings relating to statements published on November 30th 2015 [presumably the interview given by Sporting President Bruno de Carvalho to Portuguese newspaper Record]. These declarations could be considered a serious breach of sporting ethics, which offended the honour of Benfica and several professional sports agents.