Sack him, obviously
1 One of the rules of conduct I believe in is the one that says nothing in life is ‘just for fun’. Things that are our responsibility have to have consequences, like in a game: if we win, we’re entitled to the prize; if we lose, we have to pay the price. It’s the principle of meritocracy and accountability. This goes particularly for a game like football and for top coaches and managers, paid sumptuously (I repeat, sumptuously) in return for results … and not proclamations.
Two thirds of the coaches present at the World Cup in Brazil left their positions afterwards: some because their contracts expired, but the great majority because the respective teams’ results were less than expected or desired. It’s obvious that in a competition like the World Cup, only very few can claim victory and a good performance; the vast majority are losers. But that doesn’t prevent those responsible for the losers paying the price for failure; that’s the rule of the game. Paulo Bento must have been the only one of the defeated who remained in his job, unscathed – despite the fact that everything, I mean everything to do with the Seleção failed, leaving the undeniable sensation that in every single aspect we were absolutely unprepared for Brazil. After a long, silent and, as always, thorough analysis of what had happened, the president of the FPF [Fernando Gomes] concluded that we’d failed because of “a lack of competence”. Not having clarified whose the incompetence was, he fired the whole of the medical department, keeping to a man the directors, and even reinforcing the powers of the coaching staff and Paulo Bento. We saw the result last Sunday, in the humiliating defeat [0-1 at home] against the 70th country in the world [Albania], who had been classified by us beforehand as “a difficult opponent”.
After having said, following the World Cup, that the “renewal” demanded could not be allowed to harm his own personal debt of gratitude and loyalty [to certain players], Paulo Bento made it clear that as far as he was concerned, there was essentially nothing to be changed; he’d learned no lessons from Brazil. In the end, pressured by opinions from all sides, he decided to go ahead with a semblance of “renewal” but done with such a lack of criteria in the choice of new faces, with such a lack of strategic sense (what essentially was he changing with Ivan Cavaleiro and André Gomes?), that it was obviously just a ready excuse in the event of failure – so that it couldn’t be said that he hadn’t changed anything.
But as we all saw once again (how many more times?), the main problem of Paulo Bento’s Seleção remains unchanged: they don’t have game plans, they don’t know how to play into space and at speed, they can’t construct scoring opportunities, there’s no ability to react, and between the players and the coach there’s not the slightest sign of understanding – either he doesn’t understand them or they don’t understand him. The main problem isn’t Paulo Bento the selector (although there are grounds for criticism in that respect, too); the main problem is Paulo Bento the coach. People can continue to insist – and it’s true to a certain extent – that the current recruitment base is exceptionally weak, but even if they gave him two more Cristiano Ronaldos right out of the blue, Paulo Bento could never make it work.
[note: two days after this column was published, Paulo Bento left the Seleção]
2 Over the last few weeks I’ve been watching Julen Lopetegui’s new FC Porto being formed and taking its first steps. Here are my first observations:
- I can make out only a few players. Once again, the flood of new signings (17!) leave me slightly dizzy, trying to understand who is who and what will come of it all;
- I note with great sadness that there are practically no Portuguese players or players from the youth teams, with the notable exception of the very young Rúben Neves. And it seems probable that Quaresma is going to be put to one side;
- Lopetegui’s signings are going to have priority over those who were already there, and sometimes without obvious advantages. The clearest case of lack of protection is Quintero, who is also on his way to the ‘B’ Team … or out. On the other hand, the most flagrant case of a player being protected by the coach is that of Casemiro: he seems to have his place assured, but what we’ve seen of him so far is just a rough sketch of a clogger who is slow and a bad passer of the ball;
- But overall and individually, it’s obvious that the team has improved a lot, as it had to with so much money invested. Oliver, Brahimi, Martins Indi and Tello are so far those I can single out as being top quality signings;
- Although he has the players, Lopetegui doesn’t yet have a top class team that plays exciting football. There’s a lot of possession, a lot of safety play (too much), and an immense and odd lack of creativity going forward (in midfield and attack) – precisely the area that was reinforced the most. Of the 90 minutes in each game, 20 are of domination and attacking play, generally good, sometimes very good; 20 are of consolidation of the result, without making sure to kill the game; and 50 are of deep tedium. The public, who have flocked to the Dragão, showing just how much they want to believe in this new team, deserve and expect much more than they’ve seen so far;
- On the other hand, the balance of the first five official games could not have been better: five wins, no goals conceded, equal top in the league, and straightforward qualification for the Champions League. But I remember that last season the start of Paulo Fonseca’s team was also brilliant: seven wins and one draw in the league and an away win in the first Champions League game. And then, at the moment of truth, we saw that it was all built on sand. I don’t want to foretell doom or start criticising prematurely – as I did last season and justifiably so as it turned out, unfortunately. I’ll just say that this team is incomparably better and has a lot more solutions and that, for just this reason, much more is demanded of it. And it’s been far from satisfactory. Guimarães [on 14 September] is going to be the first real test.
3 As he was leaving for a little-known meeting about football in Manchester, Bruno de Carvalho [president of Sporting] did not beat about the bush. “People,” he said, “want to hear us because they consider that Sporting is an example of the management and modernity that’s needed for football. … A Sporting that’s innovative and thinks about football differently, that’s invited [to conferences] and seen as an elite, word-class club in terms of its management.” Without wasting time on false modesty, rather, claiming “competence, rigour and know-how”, Bruno de Carvalho went off to make a presentation entitled ‘How to manage a successful club’. I just hope that there’s no one in the audience that asks him to list his so-called ‘successes’ – in Sporting, the Liga [de Clubes], or anywhere. This is what I like about Sportinguistas: they’re it before they’re it. Generations of brilliant directors, endowed with “competence, rigour and know-how” have passed through Sporting and they’ve all left a foundation of ‘success’ for posterity. [Former player] Liedson – like the many other players and coaches that have passed through Benfica and Sporting and then FC Porto, arrived at a different conclusion: after seven years at Sporting during which time he won nothing, and five months at FC Porto, where he played for half an hour and won a champion’s medal, he said, when asked about the difference between the two clubs: “At FC Porto, there’s professional organisation.” This must be what Bruno de Carvalho is referring to when he talks about “to win, anything goes”, which, according to him, is the rule in force at FC Porto. It’s easy to talk.
(courtesy of Miguel Sousa Tavares)