A surprise appointment at Nantes in December, Sérgio Conceição has wasted no time in making a positive impact at the French club. When the former Portugal international took over, Nantes were in penultimate place in the standings. Fast forward three months, and an impressive series of results in 14 League 1 matches (W7 D4 L3) has catapulted the club from western France up to 10th in the table.
PortuGOAL has teamed up with the official @CoachConceicao Twitter account to promote a Q&A session with the Portuguese coach, which will take place this week. The exact time will be announced on this page as soon as it is known. To take part use the #AskConceicao hashtag to send a question directly to Conceição.
In the meantime, Tom Kundert and Tiago Estêvão chart Sérgio Conceição’s managerial career to date.
While compatriot Leonardo Jardim is turning heads all over Europe with his brilliant work at Monaco, Conceição is doing his bit to further enhance the reputation of Portugal’s ever expanding legion of coaches abroad. And his own standing for that matter. But looking at Conceição’s managerial record to date, his latest success should not be a surprise.
Brilliant playing career
After hanging up his boots on a distinguished playing career during which he accumulated 56 caps for Portugal, Conceição cut his managerial teeth as part of the coaching team at Standard Lièrge. The Belgian club was one of a long list of his former teams as a player. In total, the ex winger played for 10 clubs in five different countries, shining brightest for Porto and Lazio.
After a season as assistant coach at Standard, Conceição returned to his home country to accept the challenge of becoming head coach of Algarve club Olhanense in Portugal’s top flight midway through the 2012/13 season. He enjoyed success at the club of meagre resources, and did likewise at Académica the following season, earning another step up the managerial ladder as he was appointed Braga boss ahead of the 2014/15 campaign.
There, he guided the Arsenalistas to the Portuguese Cup final (Conceição fulfilling his promise to jog the 40 km from Vila do Conde to Braga immediately after winning the semi-final against Rio Ave), and his team were leading Sporting 2-0 going into the dying minutes, only to surrender the lead in a dramatic finish and lose the penalty shoot-out. The painful defeat led to a heated discussion with Braga’s fiery president, António Salvador, and Conceição was relieved of his duties.
Conceição has taken his own temperamental personality – a trait that often got him into trouble during his playing days – into his coaching career, with multiple sending-offs from the dugout after altercations with referees. As well as his rather predictable falling out with Salvador at Braga, he also left his first coaching job at Olhanense after a dispute with the board.
After Braga, Conceição switched to fierce local rivals Vitória Guimarães, and a strong start to the season led to speculation that he would be chosen to fill the Porto manager’s post when it became vacant, ironically just before Vitória de Guimarães hosted the Dragons in the league. Vitória won, but Conceição was overlooked for the Porto job and a subsequent slump in form saw the 42-year-old suffer his only “blot” on an otherwise impressive career as a head coach as he and Guimarães agreed to part ways at the end of the season.
Never less than colourful, Conceição gets his teams playing with the same passion for the game and desire to win he displayed throughout his playing career. He is a forward-thinking coach and especially adept at galvanising attacking players, with the likes of Salvador Agra (at Olhanense) and Felipe Pardo and Eder (at Braga) having their best seasons under the coach.
Immediate impact at Nantes
The Nantes chapter started with a 3-1 cup win over Montpellier, from which the team catapulted into a good sequence in the league. Four wins and 12 points accumulated in Conceição’s first four games in charge, without a single goal conceded, was a remarkable run taking in account that up until then the team had accumulated just 13 points in 16 matches.
When he took the reins, the Portuguese tactician encountered two defenders who had arrived in the summer from Portugal: the Brazilian duo of Lima (ex-Arouca) and Carlos (ex-Estoril).
Perhaps not surprisingly given the coaching style he showed in his previous clubs, Conceição appeared more focused on working on improving matters at the other end of the pitch. Since that first set of matches, Nantes have not kept another clean sheet, but have been scoring more often.
Changing the team’s front duo to the striker pairing of Stepinski and Sala, as opposed to playing with a single unit up top which was the team’s formation before his arrival – now they usually only add an extra man in midfield in matches where they are likely to be generally outplayed – has helped.
Conceição also took advantage of the January window to bring in reinforcements: Colombian winger Pardo, who performed superbly under Sérgio at Braga, arrived from Olympiakos, and later in January Nakoulma, an incredibly quick, versatile, forward winger arrived from Kayserispor after displaying his quality in the CAN – this duo brought different characteristics and versatility to the team’s attack.
Previously the team didn’t have many options for the wings/front and none of them with the characteristics of these two. So much so that Nakoulma has already bagged two goals in 180 minutes. Sérgio Oliveira was also picked up on loan from Porto, who could bring creativity to the Nantes midfield, but he seems to be suffering from his low amount of game time in recent seasons.
With the experience of Belgian midfielder Gillet balancing out what is a generally young squad, Conceição has already led Nantes to a safe spot in the table and could already be planning his first full season with the club who will be hoping to reach greater heights next season.
by Tom Kundert and Tiago Estêvão