Sporting Clube de Portugal striker Ricardo Sá Pinto, who was due to hang up his boots at the end of the season, has been forced into early retirement after being handed a ban by the Portuguese Liga's disciplinary body. The veteran received the two-match suspension for his sending-off during Sporting's goalless home draw against A. Naval 1º Maio last Sunday meaning that, with two rounds of the campaign remaining, Sá Pinto has played his final game.
The lion heart
It is an abrupt end to an illustrious career that earned the 33-year-old popularity and criticism in equal measure. Sá Pinto forged his reputation on the back of hard work, a love of the game and a professional attitude that won him nationwide admiration, although his temperament occasionally got him into hot water. His nickname, 'Ricardo the lion heart', both typified the man and suited the club (also known as the Lions) which he served diligently for nine seasons.
Sá Pinto came through FC Porto's youth system before moving to SC Salgueiros, where in the 1992/93 campaign, he made his debut as a 19-year-old. At the beginning of 1994/95, Sporting came calling and signed him for a reported €1m. The transfer was an instant success and the centre-forward made his international debut the following September. He would go on to win 45 caps for Portugal, scoring nine goals.
In March 1997, Sá Pinto's career took a turn for the worse after he was suspended from football for 12 months for assaulting Portugal coach Artur Jorge. He then spent two terms in Spain with Real Sociedad de Fútbol before returning to Sporting in 2000, where he was plagued by numerous knee problems. He was nevertheless an integral part of the team that won the league title and a Portuguese Cup and will be greatly missed by his adoring Lisbon fans.
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