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The Saltillo Affair (from the Portuguese Caso Saltillo) was a player uprising in the Portugal national football team during the Mexico '86 FIFA World Cup, named after the Mexican city of Saltillo, Coahuila, the team headquarters for the competition.
Before the World Cup
Having achieved third place in the England '66 World Cup, several years elapsed before Portugal qualified again for a major football competition. This happened when they reached Euro 84, where they advanced to the semi-finals, being only beaten in extra time by hosts and soon to be champions France.
While not making a brilliant qualifying campaign for the Mexico World Cup, Portugal qualified one point ahead of Sweden thanks to a last-game victory against already-qualified leaders West Germany in Stuttgart. Nicknaming them Os Infantes, with an anthem sung by Estebes (a fictional Porto native sports reporter with a stereotypical deep accent and fondness for wine, created by Portuguese humorist Herman José), the Portuguese had high hopes for their national team.
One of the key issues initially tackled was how to deal with altitude. While only three matches of the group stage were played in altitude – two games in Monterrey (537 m) and one in Guadalajara (1600 m) – it was argued that the team should also prepare for games in Mexico City (2238 m), and so decided that the headquarters should be in Saltillo, neighbouring the England team.
The final 22
With problems scoring goals during the preparation matches, national team manager José Augusto Torres wanted to call up Rui Jordão, one of the key players two years before in France, who had not played the whole season due to a quarrel with his manager. On the other hand, Manuel Fernandes, who made one of his best seasons, scoring 30 goals, was not a viable option for Torres, to the dismay of Sporting fans. The team was eventually announced on 19 April:
- Goalkeepers: Manuel Bento, Vítor Damas and Jorge Martins
- Defenders: João Pinto, António Morato, Pedro Venâncio, Augusto Inácio, António Veloso, José António, Frederico Rosa, Álvaro Magalhães and Sobrinho
- Midfielders: Jaime Magalhães, Carlos Manuel, Jaime Pacheco, António André, António Sousa, Paulo Futre and José Ribeiro
- Forwards: Diamantino Miranda, Rui Águas and Fernando Gomes
Hours before leaving Portugal on 10 May, Veloso tested positive for Primobolan, an anabolic steroid. This led to initial tensions between players, the FPF, and Benfica, Veloso's club, between claims of innocence and accusations of improper player care, woke Fernando Bandeirinha at 2 o'clock in the morning and rushed him to the airport as a substitute.
After a questionable decision about the air trip to Mexico (it was decided that instead of flying directly to Mexico City, the team should pass by Frankfurt and Dallas before), on arrival it was clear that the Portuguese organization cared too much about altitude training, neglecting other aspects. The hotel, although suitable, had no safety measures, which meant it was often crowded with national and foreign reporters; the training field was sloped and poorly treated; and local amateur teams were invited for preparation matches. Presented as a peaceful city, Saltillo proved to be anything but that. As the city was close to Laredo, Texas, in the United States, many players wanted to use their days off to shop there. A local organization delegate (grandson of a politician, known for being a small-time con artist) offered to go there and purchase the goods for the Portuguese, but after helping himself with the money, never returned. A game that was staged against a team composed of local workers (presented as a "good challenge" by the Mexican authorities) ended in a comical display where Diamantino even conducted an interview during the match while playing. Chile was willing to play, but the fee they asked was not met by Portuguese federation delegates. Rumours that the players were "jumping the fence" broke in Portugal, which led to their wives flooding the telephone lines for clarification on the issue. By then, the authority of Amândio de Carvalho, vice-president of the Portuguese Football Federation was undermined, and president Silva Resende refused to leave Mexico City.
While the first days increased the tension between the elements of the national team, the worst was yet to come. The players first threatened to strike unless the prizes were increased, beginning a war of press releases between them and the federation. On 25 May the players dropped the bomb, refusing to play in a preparation match and further matches unless the situation was dealt with. The protest backfired, as in Portugal nobody stood with the players (press, fans and club directors included) and the international press tagged the incident as "ridiculous", but still took sides with the players due to the situations described by the players, which included being forced to advertise certain products (Adidas and a brand of beer named Cristal) without being paid.
The World Cup
After withdrawing some demands (and working around others, like wearing their training equipment inside out so that they did not display any brands), Portugal played their opening game against England, beating the odds and winning the game with a single goal of Carlos Manuel, the Hero of Stuttgart (and said to be the head of the protesting players), which apparently opened the road to the knockout stage.
Futre, expected to be the revelation of the World Cup, did not play due to Torres wanting to keep a balance between clubs in the starting eleven, and calling him the "secret weapon". Days later, Bento broke a leg during practice playing as a forward, ending his career there. He was replaced by Damas, one of the best goalkeepers in Portuguese history, but he was not prepared and fell into depression. The much celebrated victory was followed by a defeat against Poland.
This left the decision to the last game against Morocco, knowing a tie would qualify both teams, but the game ended with a humiliating 3-1 defeat. As the Portuguese team, last in their group, returned home, the press was already tearing apart the whole institution of Portuguese football, from management to players.
José Torres quit, and was replaced by Ruy Seabra for the Euro 88 campaign, while removing several players from the national team – Diamantino, Jaime Pacheco, João Pinto, Sobrinho, Fernando Gomes, Paulo Futre and Carlos Manuel. This "team of change" did not endure much, as after a compromising home draw against Malta (which Seabra considered, although ironically, to be a "good display for those who like football") roughly a year after, Seabra was dismissed and replaced with Juca Pereira, which progressively recalled some of the suspended players. The damage, however, was already done, and Portugal would not qualify again for an international competition until Euro 96.
History repeats itself
The next time Portugal would play in the World Cup, in 2002, saw many parallels to the country's experience in 1986:
- The previous European Championship also saw a strong result by Portugal—in Euro 2000, Portugal again reached the semifinals, where they were again beaten by France in extra time.
- Although Portugal had less trouble qualifying in 2002, finishing atop their qualifying group, they suffered a similar compromising result during pre-World Cup friendlies, being thumped 4–1 in Porto by Finland.
- As in 1986, a player on the original World Cup roster was suspended for doping, this time Daniel Kenedy.
- Shopping sprees by players, this time in Macau, were also widely reported in the Portuguese press.
- The 2002 preparation also saw questionable managing choices and some amateurism, including the same lack of agreement on prizes.
- Like in 1986, Portugal and its last group rival (South Korea this time) only needed to draw in order to both accomplish qualification to the knockout round. Portugal lost 1-0 and was eliminated.
The end result in Korea/Japan was the same as in Mexico—Portugal failed to go through the group stages. Since 1986, the word Saltillo has become synonymous with poor management at the higher levels of Portuguese football.
- História de 50 anos do desporto Português (1994), Sunday collectible from newspaper A Bola, texts by Vítor Serpa