• Official language: Portuguese
  • Interesting facts: Romance family, strong Arabic influence, three new letters – k, y, and w – added to in 2009

In Portuguese there is a single word for the language of football. This is indicative of the esteem in which the country holds both things, and we heartily approve.

The word in question is futebolês. Portuguese uses the suffix -ês to denote languages – português, francês, inglês – and here it neatly describes the country’s lyrical obsession with the game, which produces some outstanding turns of phrase and the occasional verbal mishap.

Choice phrases

One of the most popular phrases in Portuguese football is to put “all the meat on the barbeque” (por a carne toda no assador). This was made famous by well-travelled former player and coach Quinito, and refers to when a team is chasing the game and throws everything forward.

A lumpen clogger of a player is said to have “feet made of lead” (ele tem pés de chumbo), but they can get away with it if they are willing to eat grass (comer relva), or give it their all. Even if they do, though, they could still end up on the receiving end of um banho de bola, which literally means “a shower of balls” – which is quite the image – but figuratively means to be completely outclassed.

Contrary to popular belief, Mourinho didn’t invent the phrase “to park the bus”, but he did bring it into English use. Estacionar o autocarro was already well-known in Portuguese, and is used to describe the ultra-defensive, men-behind-the-ball approach that Mourinho himself has been known to use on occasion.

Finally, to hit a ball into the top corner is rather prettily known as hitting it “where the owl sleeps” (onde a coruja dorme). Although, if there were an owl sleeping there, they might feel differently about how pretty the whole thing was.

Rivals

Portugal reserve special pleasure for beating the English, or os bifes (the beefs). This goes back to 1966, when they felt they were robbed in the semi-final by a homer of a referee. Neighbours Spain, meanwhile, are known in Portugal by the Spanish words nuestros hermanos (our brothers), which may seem to reflect a certain inter-Iberian cordiality, but is often also used sarcastically.

Generally, though, Portugal doesn’t go in for insulting nicknames for their international opponents. There is a thoroughly polite streak at the heart of Portuguese society which may explain this, although that idea is immediately countered by the nicknames the big three domestic clubs have for each other: Lampiões (Lanterns) for Benfica, Lagartos (Lizards) for Sporting, and Tripeiros (Tripe eaters) for Porto.

Nicknames

Parents in Portugal have to select from a list of approved names for their sproginhos. These limitations mean that it’s not uncommon for more than one player to have the same name. With this in mind, nicknames abound.

For a while, there was a tradition of borrowing the name of a player you admire. Nuno Gomes (of Euro 2000 fame) is called Nuno Ribeiro but took his name from Gomes, a Porto striker from the 1980s. Mourinho-favourite Maniche – also called Nuno Rebeiro – thefted his nickname from Denmark and Porto striker Michael Manniche.

Colemanballs

So many, so good.

  • João Pinto, ex of F.C.Porto

– “My club was at the edge of a precipice, but they made the right decision and took a step forward.”
O meu clube estava a’ beira do precipício, mas tomou a decisão correcta: Deu um passo em frente.

– “It was nothing special, I kicked with the foot that was closest to hand.”
Não foi nada de especial, chutei com o pé que estava mais a mão.

– “My heart is only one colour: blue and white.”
O meu coração só tem uma côr: azul e branco.

  • Derlei, ex of Porto, Benfica e Sporting

– “We’re humans, just like people.”
Nós somos humanos como as pessoas.

  • Journalist and commentator Gabriel Alves

– “The national team didn’t play well or badly, quite the opposite.”
A selecção não jogou nem bem nem mal, antes pelo contrario.


With thanks to Tom Kundert, writer at Portugoal and author of A Journey Through Portuguese Football. Thanks also to Dr André Barrinha at Canterbury Christ Church University, Dr Gareth Stockey, Dr Rui Miranda and Dr Rúben Serem at the University of Nottingham and Olivia Short da Silva at inlingua Porto.