When 38-year-old managerial novice Artur Jorge was appointed Porto’s coach in 1984, it was considered an extremely risky move. In 2002, 39-year-old Jose Mourinho’s appointment as the manager too was met with reasonable doubt, even though it was later seen as a stroke of genius. In 2013, 40-year-old Paulo Fonseca was hired as Porto’s manager but barely an eyelid was batted.
The appointment of these three managers over the last three decades represented a paradigm shift in Portuguese coaching and Mourinho has been the man at the centre of it, quite literally. The Chelsea manager’s unprecedented success has ushered in a new era in football coaching, with several young aspirants – who were not successful players –now slowly starting to make a mark.
One of them, Francisco Neto, is currently the coach of Goa-India at the ongoing Lusofonia Games. At 32, ‘Professor’ Neto – as he is called back home – is regarded as one of the most promising young coaches in Portugal, having acquired UEFA’s pro license by scoring second highest score in his country. He works as a technical coordinator with Portuguese national youth teams as well as Football Association of Visseu.
Neto, who comes from the same university as Mourinho’s trusted lieutenant Rui Faria, says the former Real Madrid and Inter Milan manager’s success story has paved the way for ‘thousands of young Portuguese people to become coaches’. Mourinho was Bobby Robson’s interpreter at Sporting Clube de Portugal, Porto and later Barcelona. In the process, he learnt tricks of trade by observing the Englishman and then went on to coach Porto himself, leading them to European glory.
The story is now famous but his impact on the minds of club owners and presidents was unmistakable. “He has busted all the myths. For many years, the thinking across the football world was that you need to be a good player to become a good coach. They said you can’t tell the players how to react during crunch situations unless you have experienced it; that unless you have experienced what it is playing in front of a packed stadium, you can’t get players ready for the occasion,” Neto, who started ‘learning’ coaching 12 years ago, says. “But Jose has shown the world that it’s possible to become a world-class manager without having played at the highest level.”
As a result, the search for a new Mourinho began. Theses were prepared and books were authored, scrutinizing his tactics and laying down the blueprint for other young aspirants. They were made readily available in public domain and virtually became part of the coaching syllabus, including top Portuguese universities. ‘Forensic’ coaching, they call it. “It’s become very scientific and in depth. He has shown how to apply best scientific knowledge and take advantage of all the rules and flaws within the system to win a game,” Neto says. “Under the Mourinho way, diligence and discipline are equally valued as creativity and flair.”
Mourinho’s philosophy mirrored in the way Neto structured the young Indian side in their win over a higher-ranked Mozambique at their Lusofonia Games opener on Monday. The Indians had no hesitation in playing the waiting game, taking on their physically-stronger opposition through counter-attacks while defending deep. It wasn’t necessarily pretty, but it was effective. Goa had lost all their matches and conceded 18 goals at the last Lusofonia Games. This time, they are on the verge of winning a medal. “When you have someone to learn from, things become slightly easy. Look at Andre (Villas-Boas), Paulo Bento, Paulo Fonseca…all of them are so young and so successful. Mourinho has changed the picture in Portugal,” Neto says.