When English Championship outfit Reading found themselves deep in relegation trouble at the halfway point of this season, the club turned to a Portuguese duo to help their fight against the drop to the third tier.
José Gomes took charge of the club in late December, leaving Rio Ave to replaced sacked boss Paul Clement, and the Portuguese added countryman Nélson Oliveira when the January transfer window opened. The former Benfica man, who had been frozen out at Norwich City, joined The Royals on a six-month loan deal.
Since then, Reading have gone from being three points adrift of safety to one point clear of the dreaded bottom three. The impact of Gomes has been felt throughout the club, while Oliveira scored three goals in six games before a recent injury cast doubt over his involvement during the remainder of the season.
Oliveira’s absence is a huge blow to Gomes, who last week spoke to Sky Sports about the key factors behind his quick adaptation to the English football managerial scene. "First of all, the club has been very supportive with us ever since we came in and they have helped us to make some changes in different areas, on and off the pitch, which we now hope will bring results,” he said.
"Of course, the team was in a very difficult position in the league so confidence was always an important aspect to work on too. We have tried to get the squad to enjoy working on our system, the tactics and the brand of football that we want to play.
“I think that they are enjoying things and come into training every day feeling motivated. That is crucial because we still have a very tough battle on our hands and our mentality will be key right until the end of the season."
Possession is key
The change in Reading’s style is evident in the statistics. Having ranked 17th for possession prior to Christmas, Gomes’ side have quickly become a top four club when it comes to retaining the ball, with the 48-year-old insisting it has always been an important aspect of his ideology.
"Right from when you play as a kid with your friends until you compete professionally, the one thing that you always want to do is score goals," he says. "And to score goals you have to have the ball and focus on link-up play and controlling possession. That is my idea.
"I like my teams to control games, dominate possession and force the opponent to move out of position to regain possession. This then creates space for us to exploit with our quick players.
"Of course, there are many different situations that you have to adapt to and you have to dominate the physical side of the game to earn the right to have the ball. But our players have the technical ability to play and follow our ideas and that's what we're trying to do."
It started with Sir Bobby
The road to English football began for Gomes over twenty years ago, when as a university student he spent time watching FC Porto training sessions under former England boss Bobby Robson. Since then, Gomes has worked under Jesualdo Ferreira at the Dragão, before embarking on managerial stints in Greece, Hungary, Saudi Arabia and UAE as well as his home country.
"I have always wanted to work in this country and feel the passion that Sir Bobby Robson displayed when I used to go and watch him taking those sessions," he told Sky Sports.
"I have gained many experiences in different leagues that have really helped me to be ready for this," he explains. "I have managed different dressing rooms, I have worked to limited budgets and I have been in charge of teams in delicate situations in the league table."
Oliveira set for return
The injury to Oliveira has been a setback, with Reading failing to score in both their subsequent games without Portuguese striker. Initially feared to be out for the rest of the season, Sky Sports News has reported that the forward is in line to return for the last few matches.
Such a scenario fits in with Gomes’ recent comments, in which he refused to give up hope that Oliveira would return this campaign. “The doctor talked about 10 weeks at the time of his scan, so it means he cannot play again until the end of the season,” Gomes said. “That's what the doctor said, but he also said Oliveira had good genes so maybe he can recover and help us in the last games.
"He did very well for us and I think he will help us. He is working very hard to be ready. With treatment and a lot of work, I really believe he will help us."
By Sean Gillen