For a country of little over 10 million people, Portugal has long punched above its weight in the world’s most popular sport when it comes to producing the finest players to grace the game. Eusébio, Paulo Futre, Luís Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo are just four footballers who enjoyed global acclaim spanning generations from the 1960s onwards.

A relatively new phenomenon, however, has seen Portuguese managers follow in the footsteps of the great players past and present to achieve incredible success both at home and abroad. In no particular order, here are five of the greatest Portuguese football managers over the past two decades. 

 

José Mourinho – the Special One

The best known and the most self-confident, José Mourinho’s epic run of managerial success began with leading FC Porto to UEFA Cup and UEFA Champions League triumphs in successive seasons, simultaneously winning two Primeira Liga titles and a Portuguese Cup, all in two glorious years at the Estádio do Dragão.

Mourinho then moved to one of the biggest teams in the English Premier League: Chelsea. During his first stint with the club, the Special One delivered five trophies, including the FA Cup once, and double victories in the League Cup, but most memorably topping the EPL itself twice. Mou has never lacked self-confidence and is outspoken but this character trait may also be something of an Achilles’ Heel, and it was reported that disagreements with Chelsea’s billionaire owner Roman Abramovich and some high-profile players led to him leaving the club.

At Inter Milan, his next team, he claimed the Serie A title in his debut season before enjoying a triple (Serie A, the Coppa Italia, and the UEFA Champions League) in 2010, the first occasion that such a feat had been achieved by an Italian club. Evidently, it won Mourinho the FIFA World Coach of the Year award.

He then won league titles with Real Madrid, and Chelsea again during a second stint, before a relatively fallow period at Manchester United where he had to content himself with a UEFA Europa League and League Cup trophy. He remains in England, where he is currently in charge of Tottenham Hotspur. Regardless of whether you love or loathe his personality, Mourinho has won a bucketload of competitions with multiple teams in numerous countries is one of the most successful managers of the modern era and one of the greatest of all time.

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André Villas-Boas

José Mourinho also played a major role in the managerial career of André Villas-Boas. AVB was Mourinho’s assistant during his years of glory at Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan. After cutting his teeth as a head coach at Académica de Coimbra, Villas-Boas was appointed coach of Porto and promptly led the Dragons to an undefeated season in the Primeira Liga (only the second time it had occurred in the league), racking up silverware in the shape of the Primeira Liga, Portuguese Cup and the UEFA Europa League. Another similarity with Mourinho was when Villas-Boas left Porto and headed for Chelsea. At Stamford Bridge he could not replicate his success in Portugal, but when he was let go by the club he stayed in London to take over at Tottenham Hotspur.

Under Villas-Boas Spurs did not win any trophies but enjoyed some notable highlights, including beating Manchester United at Old Trafford for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century. By the time he left Tottenham, Villas-Boas had the best winning percentage of any manager the club had employed in the Premier League.

His next move was to Russia and Zenit Saint Petersburg, where he guided the team to the Russian Premier League and also won the Russian Cup. The globetrotting coach then moved to China at Shanghai SIPG, where he hooked up again with Brazilian striker Hulk with whom he had worked at Porto, but silverware proved elusive.

AVB then took a break from football, indulging himself in another of his great passions, motor sport, as he participated in a number of off-road rallies, including the world-famous Dakar Rally in 2018. In 2019 Villas-Boas returned to football as he signed a contract at French club Marseille, immediately enjoying success as he led the club back to Champions League football.

 

Sérgio Conceição

As a player, Sérgio Conceição enjoyed a highly successful career as a fiery, unpredictable and often brilliant winger, amassing 50 caps for the Portuguese national team and playing for clubs in multiple countries. When his playing days ended, he decided to enter the managerial world.

After brief experiences at PAOK in Greece and Standard Liège in Belgium – two clubs he had represented in his playing career – he came back to Portugal where he began to truly construct his coaching career. Impressive spells at Olhanense, Académica and Braga revealed Conceição to be as passionate about managing as he had been as a player.

In 2016 he joined Ligue 1 club FC Nantes, with a brief to save the club from relegation (it was second from bottom at the time of his arrival). He achieved his goal and then some, overseeing a tremendous turnaround in the club’s fortunes as he took them close to European qualification.

The French club were keen for him to stay, but when Portuguese giants Porto (the club where he first made his name as a player) came calling, he could not turn it down. The club were lagging well behind bitter rivals Benfica at the time, and financial hindrances severely restricted Conceição’s ability to build a squad befitting of Porto’s recent history. The trying hand he was handed makes his success even more remarkable.

After leading a team made up mainly of recalled loanees and bereft of star players to its first national title for five years in 2017/18, Conceição repeated the trick two years later, also beating Benfica in the Portuguese Cup final to complete a memorable double. In the current season, at the time of writing Porto has won the Super Cup (beating Benfica again) are still in contention in all four competitions they are playing and were particularly impressive in the Champions League group stage, winning 4 and losing just one of 6 matches to qualify easily for the round of 16.

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Paulo Fonseca

Like all the other names on this list bar Conceição, Paulo Fonseca had a non-descript playing career. As a coach, however, it is a different story. Working his way up from the bottom, it was at the fifth club where he was head coach, Paços de Ferreira, that he made people stand up and take notice. An outstanding season saw the modest club from the north of Portugal achieve a best-ever finish of third place in the standings, including notable double-victories over both Braga and Sporting. Even at a club with meagre resources, a characteristic of Fonseca’s team was evident – the intelligent, easy-on-the-eye flowing football employed to outwit their opponents.

The impressive football and results earned him a chance at giants FC Porto, but such a big job came too early in his managerial development, as clashes with big egos resulted in a poor run of form, and a somewhat harsh sacking.

No bother, Fonseca went back to Paços where he immediately replicated his earlier success. The following season, now at Braga, he won his first trophy, the Portuguese Cup, beating Porto on penalties after a 2-2 draw in a thrilling final. Fonseca was then contracted by Ukrainian outfit Shakhtar Donetsk, where he enjoyed three years of non-stop success, winning consecutive league and cup doubles in 2016/17, 2017/18 and 2018/19.

Fonseca’s achievements at an all-conquering Shakhtar earned him a move to Italian giants Roma, where he is currently embellishing his reputation as a coach who produces teams that play eye-catching football in addition to winning football.

 

Leonardo Jardim

A fantastic season with Monaco in 2016/17 earned Leonardo Jardim the accolade of being named the Manager of the Year in France. Just to go toe-to-toe with a PSG team backed by a bottomless pit of money is an exceptional achievement, but to actually overcome the Parisian club over an entire season has to go down as one of the great David slaying Goliath football stories of recent years. As well as lifting its first Ligue 1 title for 17 years, Monaco’s bright young attacking side also reached the semi-finals of the Champions League, thrillingly knocking out Manchester City 5-3 on aggregate along the way.

Jardim’s astonishing success at Monaco should have come as no surprise given his steady rise up the managerial ladder. Starting his coaching career with a two-year stint at lower league side Camacha on the island of Madeira, the Venezuelan-born coach to Portuguese parents did successively good jobs at Chaves and Beira-Mar, to earn a shot at Braga. Another impressive season, including a club record run of 15 consecutive victories, saw Jardim next poached by Olympiacos in Greece.

Oddly, he was dismissed from the role with Olympiacos top of Greek league with a 10-point lead at the time (the Athens club went on to win the championship). It did not take Jardim long to find employment again, as fallen Lisbon giants Sporting came calling. Jardim instilled vibrancy and hope into a struggling team, leading the Lions to a second-place finish. It was somewhat of a surprise when he was allowed to leave after just one season. The move to Monaco would confirm Jardim as an elite-level coach.



This list could very easily have included other names, such as Fernando Santos, Jorge Jesus, Vítor Pereira, Nuno Espírito Santo or Rui Vitória as Portugal continues to produce more than its fair share of creative and in-demand managers achieving national and continental success in numerous countries. Long may this run of talented managers continue.

 

Comments (3)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Great article. As a Portista, I'm proud of the fact that 3 of these guys were made at Porto. Fonseca should be #4, but what happened to him was frankly wrong and should not have happened. Undermined and unappreciated by the administration (read:...

Great article. As a Portista, I'm proud of the fact that 3 of these guys were made at Porto. Fonseca should be #4, but what happened to him was frankly wrong and should not have happened. Undermined and unappreciated by the administration (read: Pinto's son), Fonseca made it in spite of Porto, not because of them.

Conceicao has done well, it was to do said. And while I don't appreciate his childish tirades, unsportsmanlike conduct and basic level of tactics, what he has accomplished non pure will and belief is astonishing. I think if Conceicao could actually learn to be a proper tactician, he could be at the top level of world footy.

Sadly, his greatest strength is also his greatest weakness; he's too stubborn to adapt.

My dream would be to one day see Jardim at Porto. Really good, underrated manager. Can't believe he's unemployed but guys like Jesus, Unai Emery and Mikel Arteta are gainfully employed. Crazy.

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What is most interesting and most out of pattern with managers being installed in other leagues is how few of the big name managers have a past footballing at high level themselves. Out of the five and the further shortlist at the bottom only 3...

What is most interesting and most out of pattern with managers being installed in other leagues is how few of the big name managers have a past footballing at high level themselves. Out of the five and the further shortlist at the bottom only 3 out of 10 have played football at the highest level. This only strengthens the argument that playing football and managing a football club require completely different skill sets.
Which only makes it more astonishing how clubs in places like England and the Netherlands keep on appointing former players in the hope that they can have success as managers as well. I mean, Lampard, Solkjaer, now Rooney, Frank de Boer, Marco van Basten, Koeman, Ruud Gullit, etc. The main limited successes these guys enjoy are really just because they are immediately given clubs with extraordinary players. I would like to see any of them taken on the challenge of proving themselves at a lower level club with limited resources.

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Great comment Stanislas. I agree with you entirely that not being a great or even a good player does not mean you can't be a brilliant coach.

I also find it interesting that in Portugal a big emphasis has been put of formal/academic education...

Great comment Stanislas. I agree with you entirely that not being a great or even a good player does not mean you can't be a brilliant coach.

I also find it interesting that in Portugal a big emphasis has been put of formal/academic education of coaches in the last couple of decades, and judging by the results you have to say that it has resulted in very well prepared managers.

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