Paulo Sousa has stunned Polish football by making clear his intention to leave his job ahead of their World Cup qualifiers in March, after agreeing to join Brazilian giants Flamengo.
Poland, who along with Portugal are vying for a place at Qatar 2022 in the play-offs, have refused to allow Sousa to leave easily, while star striker Robert Lewandowski’s agent released a statement revealing the Bayern Munich striker is disappointed by the news.
The story of Sousa’s impending departure broke on Sunday afternoon, with various Portuguese outlets informed that Flamengo’s extensive search for a Luso coach had finally been fulfilled. The Rio de Janeiro club have spent the last week speaking with various candidates, including the heavily favoured Jorge Jesus – a club hero at Maracanã owing to a glittering spell in 2019.
The likes of Carlos Carvalhal, Paulo Fonseca, André Villas-Boas and Rui Vitória were all thought to be on Mengão’s shortlist. However, the much-travelled Sousa was the man chosen to take the job ahead of the 2022 season, much to the surprise and displeasure of the Polish FA and widespread online reaction.
Cezary Kulesza, president of the Polish football federation, declared: “Today I was informed by Paulo Sousa that he wanted to terminate the contract with Poland by mutual agreement because of an offer from another club. This is extremely irresponsible behaviour, inconsistent with the manager’s earlier declarations. Therefore, I firmly refused.”
Poland’s star striker Robert Lewandowski is “shocked and disappointed” by Sousa’s actions according to his agent, who added “this is something he did not expect to happen” in a statement on Sunday evening. Meanwhile, Poland’s daily sports paper Przegląd Sportowy labelled Sousa a “deserter” on their front cover for Monday morning.
Despite the backlash, it appears likely Sousa will terminate his contract and head to Brazil, where he will continue a managerial career which has spanned a wide range of countries. The former Seleção midfielder began his ventures abroad in British football with Queens Park Rangers, Swansea City and Leicester City, before enjoying stints in Hungary, Israel, Switzerland, Italy, China and France.
With Flamengo routinely a strong candidate for the Brazilian championship, Sousa would be aiming to win the league title in a fourth different country, having been national champion in Hungary (Videoton), Israel (Maccabi Tel-Aviv) and Switzerland (Basel).
Spells with Fiorentina in Serie A and Bordeaux in Ligue 1 are other notable stops as Sousa has built a wealth of coaching experience to add to a playing career which saw him win back-to-back Champions League titles with Juventus and Borussia Dortmund, as well as various trophies with Benfica.
By Sean Gillen