Portuguese managers are in vogue. Leonardo Jardim, Sérgio Conceição, Marco Silva and Rui Vitória, just to name the most obvious examples, all greatly enhanced their reputations this season, at a time when, after a decade and a half of almost unbroken success, some argue José Mourinho has lost his magic touch.
Who deserves the title of the best current Portuguese football manager? PortuGOAL looks at the top six candidates and their credentials.
1. Is José Mourinho still the Special One? Mourinho’s brilliant work at FC Porto launched him on a career that has so far earned him 2 Champions League triumphs, 1 UEFA Cup, 8 national championships (in 4 different countries) and a host of domestic cups. No other Portuguese coach (and almost no other manager of any nationality for that matter) even comes close to matching Mourinho’s CV.
But a rare poor season at Chelsea last year has been followed by a mixed campaign at Manchester United. Having won the Community Shield and League Cup, should United beat Ajax in the Europa League final, thus qualifying directly for next season’s Champions League, it will go down as a successful season. Failure to beat the Dutch side in Stockholm next week, though, and his detractors will point to a disappointing league campaign and a 6th-place finish despite a heavy summer of investment, to lend weight to the notion that he has been overtaken by some of his compatriots.
2. Leonardo Jardim has just been named Manager of Year in France after his sensational season at Monaco. It is a richly deserved accolade. Jardim’s exciting young team are practically certain to win the French championship (a point at home to St. Etienne tonight will officially clinch it) and enjoyed a thrilling run to the semi-finals of the Champions League with the supremely talented Portuguese duo of young star Bernardo Silva and veteran João Moutinho shining brightly.
Monaco’s rip-roaring football this season has earned admirers throughout Europe and surprised those who have followed Jardim’s career where his teams have displayed solid and somewhat defensive football. But one thing links all the Venezuelan-born coach’s sides – excellent results. Jardim has left clubs in better shape than he found them every step of the way as he makes his way up the football ladder: Camacha, Chaves, Beira-Mar, Braga, Olympiakos, Sporting and Monaco. No wonder rumours are rampant that his next stop will be PSG, one of the Milan clubs or Arsenal.
2. Sérgio Conceição arrived at Nantes with a solid body of work behind him, having impressed in each of his first four head coaching jobs at Olhanense, Académica, Braga and Vitória Guimarães, getting his teams to play vibrant attacking football while obtaining positive results.
Conceição coaches with the same passion and volatility as he played, frequently earning him admonishment from match officials, but most importantly, he transmits his fierce will to win to his players. When he was appointed at Nantes the Ligue 1 outfit were languishing in the relegation zone and struggling desperately for goals. Conceição quickly addressed both issues. Ten goals in 17 games prior to his arrival transformed into 31 in 20 with the former Portugal winger in the dugout, as Nantes shot up from 18th to 7th in the standings.
No wonder Conceição is loved by the players and the fans at Nantes, as can be plainly seen in this video clip on the club’s official Twitter account.
4. Rui Vitória had big shoes to fill when he took over at Benfica following the acrimonious walk-out of Jorge Jesus to Lisbon rivals Sporting. Jesus had guided Benfica to 3 titles in 6 seasons (the Portuguese giants had won only one in the previous 15 years) and two European finals.
After a stuttering start to life at the Estádio da Luz, Vitória’s team embarked on an incredible run of results (25 wins, 1 draw and 1 defeat in 27 league matches) to pip Jesus’s Sporting to the Portuguese title and he followed up that success by retaining the crown this season. Throw in two commendable Champions League runs and the successful integration of a host of young players from the club’s academy into the team, and there is no doubt Vitória has proved himself up to the job of commanding the fortunes of Portugal’s biggest club.
5. While we’re in Portugal, time to give a shout out to Vítor Oliveira. “Who?”, comes the cry from those reading this who are not familiar with Portuguese football. The 63-year-old Oliveira has an extensive CV. Just look at the list of clubs he has coached =>
Oliveira is known as the “king of promotions” in Portugal, and it is a well-earned epithet. He has led no fewer than 10 teams from Portugal’s second tier to the promised land of the Primeira Liga, almost always abandoning the club straight away. And he shows no sign tiring of his very specific one-year assignments; quite the contrary. In each of the last five seasons he has led five different teams to promotion to Portugal’s top flight: Arouca, Moreirense, União da Madeira, Chaves and Portimonense.
Thanks to Oliveira, Algarve will again be represented in the upper echelons of Portuguese football next season, but there is still no word as to whether Oliveira will be sticking around in Portimão… or busy elsewhere plotting his sixth in a row.
6. In England, Marco Silva took on what was considered by all and sundry as a lost cause when he agreed to become manager of Hull City, eliciting the now infamous rant by former England footballers Paul Merson and Phil Thompson about his credentials for being given the job. Hull were seemingly spiralling towards certain relegation, and a difficult job became even harder when two of the team’s better players, Robert Snodgrass and Jake Livermore, were sold in the January transfer window.
Silva simply got down to work, achieving a series of notable results and narrowly missing out on pulling off a miracle to keep Hull City in the Premier League. The former Estoril, Sporting and Olympiakos coach certainly seems to have made a positive impression in England, with strong speculation that he will be given the reins at Southampton or West Ham, while a move back to Portugal to take over at FC Porto has also been mooted.
So there you have it. Six of the best of the current crop of Portuguese coaches, in a list that could easily be extended to encompass managers who have enjoyed success in 2016/17 abroad and at home, such as Paulo Fonseca (Shakhtar Donetsk), Carlos Carvalhal (Sheffield Wednesday), Pedro Martins, Nuno Manta and Daniel Ramos (Vitória Guimarães, Feirense and Marítimo respectively).
Curiously, the fad for Portuguese managers could conceivably lead to a glut of them duking it out together in the world’s most high profile league in England next season – Mourinho, Jardim, Silva, Carvalhal. The evidence is there for club chairmen and presidents when pondering over who to choose as their new coach. If you want success, you can do far worse than calling up a Portuguese.
By Tom Kundert