Patrícia Silva Lopes
To mark the beginning of the new football season, we caught up with Patrícia Silva Lopes, lawyer of Sporting Clube de Portugal, to discuss her journey and the challenges she is facing in her role.
Please tell us a little about yourself
I am 46 years old and I’ve always lived in the village of Cascais, 30 kms from Lisbon. I am married with two teenage children. My passion for football has accompanied me since childhood. Weekend afternoons were spent at my grandparents house playing football with my uncle Paulo, who led me to become a Sporting Portugal fan, and later on with my brother who was a great companion, listening to radio reports. I also recall with great tenderness and some nostalgia the happiness of collecting panini football stickers and cuttings of sports newspapers.
At school, I was an average student as I never focused. My parents always tried to impress upon us the importance of an inquisitive mind, the depth of human relationships and a taste for travelling. I am very grateful and aware of how important my upbringing was in the achievements of my objectives. I managed to work for Sporting Portugal and be part of the board of the Portuguese Tennis Federation. I have always loved sports. I practiced swimming and riding from the age of 7, I’ve played tennis since I was 15 and at 30 I started to play padel. Following the footsteps of my father and great-grandfather I graduated in law, but always with football in my mind. I have been a lawyer at Sporting Portugal for 20 years where I deal with contractual, regulatory and institutional matters. For the last two years, I have represented Sporting Portugal in the Board of the Portuguese Professional Football League and since 2010 I’ve participated in the European Club Association´s meetings.
In your time at Sporting, you have overseen the development of some exceptional players. Which players stand out for you and what qualities do they possess that mark them out as being special?
Being at Sporting Portugal for so many years, I take particular pleasure when players enter the Sporting first team and later become international references. I remember Cristiano Ronaldo signing his first professional contract with Sporting - the club responsible for his training from the age of 12 to 18. His dedication, resilience and daring since his early years, together with his professionalism through his long career has made him one of the greatest football legends of all time.
A memorable moment, not only for Sporting, as a club, but Portugal as a whole, was Portugal's victory in the Euro 2016 Final. 10 of the players who took part in the tournament were ‘Aurelios’, meaning that they were products of the Alcochete´s Academy and named after the Scouter Aurelio Pereira. When signing their first contracts (training or professional contracts) I always remind the parents that it is important to let their children grow up and be happy in their environment as the true ‘life contracts’ are not formed at 16 and 17. I give the example of Adrien Silva. Chelsea intended to contract Adrien and two other teammates when they reached 16. Sporting managed to convince Adrien´s family that the best sporting project should not be to emigrate so early. The other two boys went to the UK and Adrien became Sporting captain and an international for the Portuguese main team. Eric Dier was another player who impressed me with his sporting knowledge and his link to the club and Portugal. In the Academy we have a mural with the name of each player who started their career in the main team, and I have in my mind the ‘stories’ of all of them. There are so many players with stories I remember, some happier than others, as with everything in life.
In what ways has the football industry changed since you started to work within it?
The football industry has improved a lot since 1998, the date when I started my career at Sporting as a trainee lawyer. FIFA is much more open and transparent nowadays. The Transfer Matching System (TMS), which has been operational for over a decade, has been perfected and is vital to ensure the transparency of transfers and to fight the ‘capitals whitening’. I observe with great pleasure the importance that is given by FIFA and UEFA to good governance, the financial sustainability of clubs, the respect for contractual obligations (licensing and FFP rules), and to solidarity and dialogue with the stakeholders.
There are paths with no return but there are others which are cyclical. Concerning intermediaries, FIFA is amending the Regulations on Working with Intermediaries, becoming stricter again with the criteria required for the exercise of the activity and gaining back the jurisdiction to hear contractual disputes involving intermediaries. With Third Party Ownership / Investment (TPO/TPI), since 2015 FIFA has prohibited this but I remember well the framing in 2002 of the first football players fund and the metamorphosis that followed which culminated with Sporting’s partnership with Doyen in 2012. Does the prohibition make sense ‘tout court’? I would say no. The rules should continue to forbid the interference in a club’s sports policy (TPO) and introduce regulation in order to ensure the integrity and transparency of investments and to fix limits to investors earnings (TPI). In my opinion, clubs should be more protected, also the training clubs, and we cannot forget that clubs are the employers that support players wages and all other contractual benefits and if they fail to honour those contracts they will not be licensed to the UEFA competitions and this would be a ‘debacle’. The investors, by contrast don´t have these kind of obligations.
Personally, I look with great reservations at the reformulation of the UEFA European competitions, mainly the Champions League, that can easily become a kind of Superleague favouring UEFA's ecosystem (with promotions and relegations of clubs in the UEFA competitions) instead of the usual qualification method, based on the final classification in their domestic leagues. I still have hope that it will not be put in practice. The creation of the Conference League, a third tier of the UEFA competitions will become a reality in 2021. To have football in Europe at three speeds does not seem a good solution in my opinion. I am a strong defender of sport’s specificities. Football is a game, it´s a business to some and a kind of ‘religion’ to others, but is also much more....
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected football and what impact will it have on the industry in the future?
The pandemic appeared in our horizon at the beginning of the year but only in March 2020 were we conscious of its terrible reality. The financial impact until the end of the season is identified and the impact on the society is huge and frightening. Until we have a vaccine available, we shall have moments of great uncertainty. Foundations need to be very solid in order to overcome the storms we foresee and we are well aware of the importance that the transfer market has for the financial health and even the survival of the clubs. The market value of the federative rights of a player can vary dramatically based on the players interest, demand from other clubs and the offers on the table. This value can change overnight. The clubs, as sport companies, should benefit from the state financial support initiatives related to this pandemic. Covid has also brought a different approach to the game, on all levels, with its empty stadiums. The Portuguese league and the clubs, jointly with the Portuguese FA are working on a gradual reopening to the public, with limited places and safety measures. Anyway, we need to be positive and do everything within our range to overcome difficulties.
What advice would you give to someone looking to work in football administration?
Those who work in the football industry should dignify it and treat with respect the several parties, regardless of divergent interests, mainly because we are dealing with people on the other side. Each one has to play their role and put aside their egos, which is a real challenge when we are speaking of an activity so powerful, with so much media interest and so glamourous. Besides, I also think it is fundamental to know how to balance one's distance and involvement in a club. I mean we should not lose the ‘sparkle in the eyes’ when we perform our activities but we cannot also become ‘blind’ and act in an irrational way when taking decisions. It is very important to always have our feet on the ground and not let ourselves be carried out in a trice by ‘the best and the beast’ or vice-versa - a Portuguese expression for ‘the best and the worst’. Football is so exciting but at the same time so voracious and so ungrateful. There is great joy in achieving an objective but that might last only a few hours but the following day the ‘show must go on’ with a series of knots to undo. The balance between the spirit of mission and of independence is something I also recommend. It is difficult for sure, but a quietness of mind is priceless!