Friday, December 02, 2005

The ‘a bola’ interview

In part 10 of my global interview series we travel to the Iberian Peninsula. For such a small nation, Portugal is producing top footballers like Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United, Ricardo Carvalho from Chelsea, and Luis Figo from Inter Milan. The Euro 2004 finalists are primed for a great performance at World Cup 2006.

Bruno Ribeiro, an avid FC Porto fan, writes a blog called “Lugar Cativo”. The web log focuses on all things football and pays special attention to the Portuguese league and Portuguese players abroad. My thanks.

FC: Portuguese football was famous for it's 'Golden Generation' of the 90's but, to me, it seems like today's Portugal squad is even better, what do you think of this team's chances for the World Cup?

BR: Agree with you on this one. Portugal as a more balanced team and more depth in squad nowadays. In the last 4 to 5 years we've seen some great talents emerge and I can say without arrogance that we have one of the most powerful teams in the world. If I take in account the fact that we seem to fail when everyone expects the best from us, I'll say that a quarter/semi-final spot is a good deal; but with the players we have I believe we can go all the way and bring the title (finally) home. My biggest concern is Scolari, whom I think is not the right men to do the job; he's very good at motivating and creating a good atmosphere in the group, but fails miserably at the tactical level. And he chooses the players according the relationship he has with them, not because they're the best available.

FC: In the national team Luis Boa Morte of Fulham, to me, would be a better striker than Pedro Pauleta, first, do you agree? Second, why do you think national coach Luis Scolari doesn't gives Boa Morte a better chance?

BR: With that I'll have to disagree! Boa Morte never performed at the level he does in Fulham when he's called to the national squad, and with our system of play we need a powerful forward who can fight the defenders, and Pauleta is much better than him at that job. And, responding to the second part of the question, Boa Morte was never seen as a striker in Portugal, more of a second forward or a winger. In terms of competition for a spot he has not only Pauleta to compete with, but also Postiga, Nuno Gomes and Hugo Almeida. So is a though job for him, and I always thought he was underrated by Portuguese supporters!

FC: For a country with such a small population, why does Portugal produce so many top players?

I'll say that 50% is genetic, and the remaining 50 cultural! We Latinos have a predisposition to play football, it runs in the family! And of course because, just like in Brazil or Argentina, the first thing you offer to a boy here in Portugal is a ball and that's all we need to play... I think the greatest factor is that parents instigate kids to play since young age in one of the many (very) small clubs that we have all over the country. So, albeit we have a small population, a great deal of it plays the game, and it's natural that among the thousand of kids, ten or twenty have what it takes to be a pro, and about 5 of them are world class players.

FC: We know about FC Porto, Benfica and Sporting Lisbon as being the big 3 in Portugal but what other clubs deserve mention as up and coming? Can the 'big 3' ever become the 'big 4'?

BR: I don't believe that another team can menace the dominance of the 'big 3', at least not in a consistent way - maybe if Abramovich gets tired of seeing Chelsea win. The problem is that the 'support your local team' culture doesn't exist here; people prefer to support a winning side than help is local team to come up the ladder which is shameful!But we have some good medium teams, and Sporting Braga is starting to become a top one: last year they finished 4th and they held hopes of gaining the title for the first time until the two last games. They started well this year with 3 wins out of five, and drawing with FC Porto in the one of the others games. But they lack depth in the squad to compete at the same level. Boavista and Belenenses (the only other two teams who managed to snatch a title) are also capable to do some serious damage, but not to contend for the silver.

FC: Who are your top 5 Portuguese players at the moment? How about ever? How about 5 that we have never heard of but you think will become stars?

BR: I'll make 4 lists:

5 top Portuguese players ever:

1. Eusébio (striker)
2. Paulo Futre (left winger)
3. António Oliveira (offensive midfielder)
4. Mário Coluna (offensive midfielder)
5. Paulo Sousa (defensive midfielder)

5 top Portuguese players at the moment:

1. Deco (FC Barcelona)
2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Man Utd)
3. Luís Figo (Internazionale)
4. Ricardo Carvalho (Chelsea)
5. Jorge Andrade (Deportivo La Coruña)

5 top Portuguese players in Portugal outside the big teams:

1. Zé Castro (Académica Coimbra, center back)
2. João Tomás (Sp. Braga, striker)
3. Miguelito (Nacional, left back)
4. José Pedro (Belenenses, center midfielder)
5. Manuel José (Boavista, right winger)

5 top Portuguese prospects:

1. João Moutinho (Sporting, center midfielder)
2. Manuel Fernandes (Benfica, center midfielder)
3. Paulo Machado (Estrela Amadora on loan from FC Porto, defensive midfielder)
4. Bruno Gama (FC Porto B, right winger)
5. Ivanildo (FC Porto, left winger)

FC Follow-up: I've heard of Paulo Futre but I don't really know anything about him, since you rate him so highly, can you tell us about him?

BR: He was a fast and skilful left winger, who also had great tactical awareness which allowed him to play more at the centre in the end of his career. He started at Sporting, in 1982, with only 16 years; he then joined FC Porto were he became a symbol, staying until 1987 when he moved to Atlético Madrid, rapidly growing as an afficcíon favourite. Atlético, and the rest of Europe leading clubs, became interested in him after the European Cup final which Porto won against Bayern München; Madjer's back heel is the moment that everyone remembers, but Futre was the one who caught the eyes of the football world. Particularly in a play were he emulated Maradona's goal against England (the one were he dribbled everyone) only failing to score.

After Atlético he played for Benfica, Marseille, Reggiana, AC Milan and West Ham. At these two sides however he was rarely a choice (I doubt if he even played a single game with the Hammers) because of a serious injury in one of his knees. He returned to Atlético in 1997 to become part of the board, but as a request from the coach Radomir Antic, he came back to play 10 games in that season, retiring for good at the age of 32.

At national level he won 47 caps for Portugal, being part of the team who played in 1986 World Cup were Portugal failed to past the group stage even though winning the opening game against England. He's that kind of player that you feel that could have gone further in his career, especially in individual level although he was second in the Ballon d'Or of 1987.

FC: Jose Mourinho is the hottest manager in the world at the moment, (personally I rate him the best coach in the world) how is he viewed in Portugal? Do you think he will ever coach the national side?

BR: That's a question that could generate a thesis! If you think that he's controversial in England, you can't possible imagine how it was when he was still here. Back in the days at Porto he was 'Public Enemy Number One', as any successful coach at Porto is! Now he's a national hero, everything he says, it's right, even if he says that the World is square!!! Don't think I don't like him, because I do think he's the worlds best coach, and as Porto supporter I appreciate what he's done back here. And English papers are making the same mistake the Portuguese ones have done in the past: they do as he wishes, even though they don't realize it. If you pay attention he only says one of his explosive sentences at a time when is team could be criticise, this way people will fall over him not over the team's failures.I'm pretty sure he'll be coaching the national side because he said he would in about 10 to 15 years. And as a friend of mine said 'can we put it on paper right now? '

FC Follow-up: Does Mourinho have a 'dark side' when it comes to the way he deals with his players?

BR: Well, if the players abide by the rules he'll protect them and stand by them until the end; but he doesn't have any problem to drop them out if they fail to be full-time pros. Back in Portugal, and on his first job with Benfica he had a problem with Abdelstar Sabry because he didn't play for the team, so he came to public criticising him and left him out of the team. In Porto he had a argument with Baia on the start of 2002/03 season, suspending him for some weeks; they sort it out and remain good friends.

One thing that he won't tolerate his players who are lazy; in the summer of 2004 Porto bought Serginho, left winger from a smaller club (Paços de Ferreira), when he arrive for pre-season work he weighted 10 kg plus his recommended weight, even though the club medical department advised him to loose weight before the vacations. Mourinho didn't blink nor had second thoughts; Serginho was ruled out of the squad and loaned to Nacional.

*Please email if you'd like to conduct an interview (over email) or if you know the name of a weblog in your country.



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hey, great work, keep it up!

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