Euro 2020 is rapidly fading into the distance as supporters of 23 nations continue to ponder what went wrong. Fortunately, there is just over 16 months until a chance at redemption at the 2022 World Cup.

Many Portuguese ‘supporters’ are hoping that the likely campaign in Qatar will be undertaken without Fernando Santos. The Seleção head coach has come under severe criticism from all corners of the football world.

With a contract running until July 2024 and the support of the squad, there is next to no chance Santos won’t be on the touchline in Qatar. That won’t stop many from persisting with the relentless criticism aimed at the most successful manager in the history of Portuguese football.

PortuGOAL’s Matthew Marshall argues the case for sticking with Santos. 

Long wait for a trophy

Portugal had to wait a long time to win their first major trophy. Otto Glória couldn’t get it done at the 1966 World Cup despite Eusébio scoring nine goals, the third placed finish in England remaining their best effort at the big dance.

Who would have predicted then that Portugal’s next two excursions to the World Cup would be in 1986 and 2002?

The European Championship was always going to be Portugal’s best opportunity to break the duck. Semi-final appearances in 1984 and 2000 were followed by the 2004 debacle when Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side couldn’t beat Greece in the final in Lisbon, despite an attack featuring Luís Figo, Deco, Ronaldo and Pauleta.

Paulo Bento’s side reached the semi-finals at Euro 2012, beaten in a penalty shootout by Spain who went on to beat Italy 4-0 in the final.

The man who got it done was Fernando Santos. Few picked Portugal to beat France in the Euro 2016 final, especially after Ronaldo’s early injury in Paris, but a spirited performance and Éder’s moment of magic secured the long awaited silverware.

In the two major tournaments since, a 93rd minute penalty to Iran at the 2018 World Cup saw Portugal forced into the tough side of the draw. They more than matched Uruguay in the Round of 16 but Edinson Cavani inspired the South Americans to a 2-1 win.

Euro 2020 saw Portugal suffer another Round of 16 exit. Once again they fell into the wrong side of the draw, more than matched Belgium but succumbed to Belgium’s only shot on target.

The defeats to Uruguay and Belgium were like millions of football matches that could have gone either way.

Thanks for Euro 2016

Despite the success at Euro 2016 and the 2018-19 UEFA Nations League, it appears the majority are lining up to say adeus to Senhor Santos.

They say he is too pragmatic, too defensive and unable to get the best from one of the most talented squads Portugal has ever produced. They gorged themselves to the brink in 2016 and are still rocking up to the buffet every major tournament expecting a banquet.

It’s like 2016 never happened. The failings of the teams featuring Eusébio and Luís Figo long forgotten.

Bloated on Portugal’s success, the pack mentality has kicked in and the bandwagon is bursting at the seams, Santos a victim of the expectation that he himself largely created.

Football mirrors life

The reason most of us love football is because it mirrors life. Much of the pain, heartbreak, anticipation, joy and excitement we experience in life is replicated in football. Memories of watching special matches live with us forever.

In football and life people generally make mistakes, attempt to learn from them, bounce back and move forward with optimism.

Another similarity is the camaraderie between families and football teams. We stick by our family through good and bad and it’s the same way with our football team, especially when it’s a national team.

Mistakes and criticism

Every manager makes mistakes, what defines them is their ability to recognise and correct them. Santos has shown time and time again that he has that ability.

Santos made adjustments in 2016. From the Round of 16 to the final Cédric Soares replaced Vieirinha at right-back and José Fonte replaced Carvalho in central defence.

André Gomes started the first four games and was replaced by Renato Sanches from the quarter-finals. Adrien Silva started every match from the Round of 16 after staying on the bench for all three group games.

In short, Santos shuffled the pack significantly at Euro 2016, and that undoubtedly was a huge reason for the eventual triumph.

Santos’ biggest blemish in charge of Portugal was the disastrous display in the 4-2 defeat against Germany in Munich a month ago. There is no doubt about it.

The magnitude of the match, an apparent abandonment of assessment and preparation. It was a horror show for most of the 90 minutes and the main stain on his record in almost seven years in charge.

Does he deserve to be sacked for that match? Paulo Bento lost 4-0 to Germany at the 2014 World Cup, going out in the group stage and lasted one more match.

But once again Santos made adjustments. We saw Danilo and William together, then Danilo, then Palhinha. We saw Bruno Fernandes twice, then Renato Sanches. João Moutinho started the last two matches. Santos gave João Félix 34 minutes to make a difference.

Portugal bounced back with credible performances against World Cup champions France and FIFA World No.1 ranked team Belgium. The football Gods were not smiling on Portugal in the 1-0 defeat Sevilla, that’s just how the game works.

You could argue André Silva deserved more than 36 minutes, and Sanches should have started every game. You could say Félix should have been recovering from surgery instead of in the squad.

Félix clearly was not 100% at Euro 2020, but must have given Santos some indication that he could come off the bench if required in an attempt to change a game.

It’s easy to see why so many slaughter Santos for failing to get more from Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes. English managers struggled to get the best from Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

You can bet that getting the best from Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, Sanches, Jota, Ronaldo, Félix, Pedro Neto and André Silva has been and will continue to be at the forefront of Santos’ mind.

As regards the continual attack on Santos’ perceived style of football, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

My memories of Euro 2016 are dominated by continually advancing in the tournament, the anticipation building for each successive match and the celebrations after beating France in the final. They did what they had to do to win and that’s it.

Luck

Luck plays a big role in international tournaments. Not only in individual matches, but the draw and route to the final. Portugal enjoyed such luck in 2016, but not in 2018 or 2020.

There is luck with injuries, which players are available and which players can keep their momentum going after long and demanding seasons with their clubs.

Were Italy lucky to play inferior teams in the group stage, all in Rome? Were they lucky that Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci were on the pitch from the quarter-finals to the final? Were they lucky after beating Austria in extra time and winning two consecutive penalty shootouts against Spain and England?

Were Portugal unlucky that João Cancelo and Pedro Neto missed out, that João Félix couldn’t recover from injury to make a meaningful impact? Would Portugal have reached the final if they were in Germany’s side of the draw?

Germany, Joachim Löw and parallels

I wrote about Joachim Löw after the 2018 World Cup and suggested the best thing for German football would be his resignation. Germany were woeful in Russia.

From the opening defeat to Mexico to the defeat against South Korea, they were so bad in transition and so easily hit on the counter-attack, it was painful to watch. Löw showed absolutely no ability to recognize the mistakes or correct them and they were embarrassingly eliminated in the group stage.

After being given a new contract shortly before the World Cup and his belief that he could turn it around, Löw held on for another three years.

After Germany’s exit at Euro 2020, Löw said: “I take full responsibility. Every coach makes mistakes and I’m no exception.” After 15 years in charge, he will ultimately be remembered for delivering the 2014 World Cup.

An interesting point to note is what team manager Oliver Bierhoff said about the transition from Löw to Hansi Flick. “We're looking forward to seeing how the team develops under Hansi Flick's tutelage. We’ve all seen how Bayern Munich played football and we'd like to see that too, but the most important thing is to be successful.”

The difference between Löw 2018 and Santos 2020 is that Portugal had one shocker, but they recovered and held their own against two elite teams favoured by many to win the title.

Germany had three shockers in 2018 and didn’t even reach the knockout rounds. Their third game was equally as bad as the first.

Other Euro 2016 managers

Gareth Southgate has come under similar criticism to Santos for playing pragmatic, defensive and boring football. Do you seriously think Three Lions supporters would have been criticising his style of football had the penalty shootout produced a different outcome at Wembley?

What about Frank de Boer. Netherlands win all three group games before Matthijs de Ligt was sent off in the 55th minute against Czech Republic with the match goalless. Frank may or may not be a good manager, but at Euro 2020 was he unlucky?

Roberto Martínez. Belgium go 3-0 in the group stage, playing Russia and Denmark on home soil. Beat Portugal but lost Eden Hazard and had Kevin De Bruyne diminished. A narrow defeat to Italy. Should Martínez be sacked?

Luis Enrique. Spain dominate Sweden and Poland but can’t win. Thrash a sloppy Slovakia 5-0, blow a 3-1 lead against Croatia before two extra time goals. Penalty shootout win against Switzerland despite playing against 10 men for 43 minutes. Penalty shootout defeat to Italy. Should Enrique be sacked?

Careful what you wish for

Changing a coach can also bring problems and ruin chemistry built over years.

There is no guarantee another manager could replace Santos and instantly turn it around. Despite the disappointments, there is no sign of Portugal completely falling apart like at the end of the Queiroz and Bento eras.

The coach appears to retain the backing of the players, and that factor cannot be underestimated. I strongly believe that if the Portuguese Football Federation gathered Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe, José Fonte, João Moutinho and Rui Patrício in a room and discussed any potential plans to sack Santos before Qatar, there would be a complete outrage from Portugal’s elder statesmen.

If it makes you happy to blame Santos every time Portugal don’t perform to your expectations, go ahead. If you think he is finished and another manager could do a better job, that’s your right.

But my suggestion is to treat your national team like family, stick with the players, Santos, and have faith that he can take Portugal to the 2022 World Cup and win the trophy. Let’s reconvene and reassess after Qatar.

Related: PortuGOAL EURO2020 podcast: Portugal dream ended by Belgium

Comments (41)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I would compare Santos to Luis Aragones before Low. Both straight shooting and no frills types of managers who knew the football landscape in their respective countries, inside and out. They also installed a belief and a spirit around their teams...

I would compare Santos to Luis Aragones before Low. Both straight shooting and no frills types of managers who knew the football landscape in their respective countries, inside and out. They also installed a belief and a spirit around their teams that they could beat anyone and were successful in getting their country over the hump.

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I agree! People are so dumb for wanting our only coach to bring us trophies out! He can’t get the best out of the inexperienced players it takes time for them to adapt and grow but he definitely makes them work like a strong team!

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Im sorry but I have to respectfully disagree. Santos should be nowhere near this team. Portugal is not Greece. Or some small club that needs to park the bus and hope for a miracle. And Im sorry to break it to you but thats what 2016 was. That...

Im sorry but I have to respectfully disagree. Santos should be nowhere near this team. Portugal is not Greece. Or some small club that needs to park the bus and hope for a miracle. And Im sorry to break it to you but thats what 2016 was. That tournament could be replayed 100 times and portugal would never win again. Softest draw of matchups i have ever seen before and even then we could only manage to win one game in 90 minutes. Not to mention in all those games you could argue we got outplayed in 75 percent of them. Worst thing to happen to Portugal was winning with this pathetic style of soccer because all its done is give vindication to these coaching decisions. Now after Quiroz and Beto and finally Santos its been 15 years since we have been able to watch a Portuguese team who actually plays soccer the right way considering the talent we have in this country. Portugal should aspire to play soccer the way its meant to be played. Its called the beautiful game for a reason and frankly its embarrassing with all the talent we had on this team we go and park the bus and play like were Tondela going into the Dragao .I have much more respect for Spain who may not have won but atleast they stuck true to there identity which is playing free flowing football. Not to mention they had half the talent this year they usually do. I would rather lose and enjoy watching my country play the game then win and watch this nonsense. We have the same quality as every top country in the world. Including Germany. No reason to be playing these teams scared. Its a joke. We never won in the Figo years but wow do I miss watching a Portuguese team who actually came out believing they were the better team and played to win instead of playing not to lose. And no its not the same thing.

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I fully agree with you.

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Bingo, spot on....have been saying the same thing. He's won 3 games in tournaments since 2016, THREE...all against bad opponents. Sorry, miss that 2000, 2004 and 2006 team - we have never come close to playing like those teams, since. Sad with...

Bingo, spot on....have been saying the same thing. He's won 3 games in tournaments since 2016, THREE...all against bad opponents. Sorry, miss that 2000, 2004 and 2006 team - we have never come close to playing like those teams, since. Sad with people like Ronnie and Silva and all of these forward thinking players.

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Interesting article. Some good points made to steady the ship and stick with a successful coach. Football is tight margins and somewhat about luck in major tournaments but you mostly make your own luck other than penalties.

Cycles in football...

Interesting article. Some good points made to steady the ship and stick with a successful coach. Football is tight margins and somewhat about luck in major tournaments but you mostly make your own luck other than penalties.

Cycles in football are constant in both players and how the game is played. We see that throughout the decades.

Your article is slanted towards the points that advocate for keeping Santos but without the most obvious argument for change.

After failing to make wc 2018, Italy changed to Mancini and since that point have been building identity and style that one, suits his players and two, the modern game. He also went against 80 years of identity including a world cup as recent as 2006 from pragmatic defending and waiting for your chance which we know Italy for; that is even considering more talented Italian teams of those times. And there is zero argument that they were the team of the tournament and other than Spain which they fought for victory, they dominated with a team that does not have the quality of others.

I look at that example and think to myself, hmmm, is Santos capable of playing that way? History would suggest no, mentality would suggest no, and choices would suggest no.

Germany actually points to what happens when history dictates the way forward. Because of 2014, low kept his job despite 2018 and you see what happened when he should have been moved on because Germany are a very talented squad.

If Santos squanders another tournament in 2022, we will be speaking in hindsight about how an incredible generation at their peak was wasted and the talk will about identity and progressive football. Santos is not and I repeat not the most tactically astute manager in world football...be real.

There is no guarantee of success if we move Santos on but alternatively there is no guarantee of success if he stays.

We talk about luck a lot and thus 2016 was luck on our side....finished 3rd in the group with no wins....in previous tournaments we would be out in the group where we were the clear favourites by a long shot. And like England this tournament, we got the easy side of draw, period.

In 2018 and 2020 where we had to play very good teams Santos got knocked out with better teams at his disposal. Uruguay, please, and after watching Italy beat Belgium, I'm not impressed....both winnable games.....if you can't beat the big teams then you can't win the tournament typically...do we want to be a Greece 2004 or Denmark 92....no we want to be a Spain, Italy, France and constantly be one of the favourites and with our squad we should be.

In a nutshell, losing Santos is no big deal, it's not like losing guardiola or klopp....give me a break...if fpf avoid low quality type appointments...they will be fine with a tactically astute and progressive manager. If it was me, I would be going for Setien or valverde out of Spain. Fonseca will not want to manage national teams at this point which is the same as other top Portuguese managers.

I will be impressed and shocked if Santos modernized his tactics from minute 1 and not reactionary.

I will be fine if he stays but my hope is they move on for Qatar 22 and definitely for euro 24.

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Changing coach at this stage of the qualifiers is not a good move.After the World Cup would make more sense.

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Nicely said,but the players need to take responsibility as well ie Bruno, Bernardo, Raphael

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Portugal fans have very, very short memories...

They've forgotten the mediocrity and incompetence of Scolari, Queiroz and Bento. Forget the fact that Santos won our first international trophy, we lost 1-0 to FIFA's #1 ranked country after having...

Portugal fans have very, very short memories...

They've forgotten the mediocrity and incompetence of Scolari, Queiroz and Bento. Forget the fact that Santos won our first international trophy, we lost 1-0 to FIFA's #1 ranked country after having 29 shots and hitting the post. They had 6 shots and scored a beautiful goal.

We were also the only country to defeat Hungry and we completely outplayed France, who were lucky to get a draw.

Mistakes were made in the Germany game, but those mistakes were not repeated and that's commendable. The fact is that the majority of our players play for different clubs, so that lack of chemistry and cohesion is always going to work against us.

Similarly, England fans want to fire Southgate for drawing 1-1 to Italy in the EURO final and losing in a shootout. It's ridiculous.

We're taking Santos's abilities for granted. He has deep understanding of Portuguese football culture/style, he gives young players a chance/confidence while still respecting the experience of older players and he's tactically astute.

Unless Mourinho is available, I have ZERO interest in the chaos that comes from firing the national team manager only to then replace him with someone of equal/lesser talent.

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omg jose ,he would be the last coach i would want ges lost it mate,boring tactics ....

i would like Leonardo jardim or conte lol

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"Boring tactics" but then you suggest Conte? Is that a joke?

No foreign managers. The language gap is massive obstacle.

I respect Jardim a lot but as I said earlier, the difference between him and Santos isn't worth the chaos.

And Mourinho is...

"Boring tactics" but then you suggest Conte? Is that a joke?

No foreign managers. The language gap is massive obstacle.

I respect Jardim a lot but as I said earlier, the difference between him and Santos isn't worth the chaos.

And Mourinho is about 100x the manager that Roberto Mancini is and he just won the EUROs fairly easily. Most International Managers aren't even close to the level of Mourinho on his worst days.

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lol jose maybe
10 yrs ago mate ,he ruined manchester united and spurs and he will ruin roma too...

Hes done,i wouldnt like to see him any where near the national side...

mancini deserves credit fir what he done with a weak italy team...

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Euro 2016 was the first tournament that UEFA modified the game to allow 3rd-placed teams to qualify out of the group. In truth, Portugal wouldn't even have made it through the group stages in 2016.. (vs. "star-studded" Austria, Iceland, and...

Euro 2016 was the first tournament that UEFA modified the game to allow 3rd-placed teams to qualify out of the group. In truth, Portugal wouldn't even have made it through the group stages in 2016.. (vs. "star-studded" Austria, Iceland, and Hungary)

Sorry but relying heavily on being placed in 'luckier' side of the bracket for KO's to advance past the Round of 16 is the objective of someone with a loser mentality. We can't just whitewash the team's overall performance whenever they find themselves in the tougher end of the bracket. And while you'll say we went toe-to-toe with Belgium, there is a better counter-argument out there. We never attacked until we're down and when you go back and analyze that 2nd half, our attack looked shambolic. Portugal tossed up more prayers from long range than they showed as being cohesive in the final third. Wasn't hard to tell many of those players had barely combined during the training sessions. So no, I don't think we gave Belgium our best punch. Portugal came out with no clear intent and were out of sync and this falls on the coach. Plus many had circled Portugal & France as possessing the most depth of any squad prior to opening kick-off. Hence, with a reliable coach we should have won this game. (Italy spotted Belgium's weakness and made them look average scoring twice in the first 45')

Is it fair to bring up a 93rd minute equalizer for Iran in 2018 while failing to mention how we snatched 3 pts off Hungary from an 84th minute deflected shot? Luck happens to be a factor in every tournament and can be equally applied in both success and failure. And an objective person will still confidently say our team has fluked out more in the last 5 years than we've been harshly done by. Even the sole win vs. Morocco we should have lost.. and anyone who watched that game knows this isn't an exaggeration.

Btw - 7 goals in 4 matches. (Incl 3 penalties) is not cutting it. Some things I've already mentioned like Ronaldo free-roaming with no target man in the box. Jota sprinting three quarters of the field before Sanches can release the pass on that 5th minute breakaway. These are things that a child can spot and a result of an overly cautious coaching approach which hurt us.

P.S personally this has nothing to do with "pack mentality".. so anyone who disagrees with coaching style is automatically labelled a bandwagoner? I was probably one of like 3 people on this site calling for Santos' resignation possibly even before the end of World Cup 2018. It's bewildering how a journalist with good out reach is even slower to adapt to the reality of what's occuring than the general population itself. As if making your spotlight a little brighter is worth another 1.5 years of wasted star talent and miserable outcomes. Sad if true. Enjoy watching the best collection of players we've produced since the golden generation fade to dust.

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100% agree

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I also 100% agree... watch the WC qualifiers.. Will we win the group and take top spot or stumble and bumble into the 2nd spot?

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@supremogino, Justin and Joe

You guys are 1000% right and I really can't even add much to your opinions. I didn't post once during the euros because quite frankly everything that was happening was already what I warned about before the...

@supremogino, Justin and Joe

You guys are 1000% right and I really can't even add much to your opinions. I didn't post once during the euros because quite frankly everything that was happening was already what I warned about before the tournament. Why did that happen, oh it's because of Fernando Santos, I had zero doubt in my mind that we'd lose the way we did.

To the people on here who continue to say things like "have some respect for Santos" " Santos won us our first trophy" "Santos made a couple substitutions" bla bla bla. Just save that bullshit because it's pointless. I don't live in the past, Santos can't coach a group of players like we have, he's not capable of getting the best out of them. I could cite why but it would take me an hour of typing and I'm not going to waste my time. Just like during the euros I wanted to type all of these reactions but I just didn't even bother.

Sports are similar to businesses, companies that don't change with the competition and utilize the best strategies to compete and out grow their competitors, those businesses will fail. Believing that Santos has to stay because he started our winning company is ridiculous. He needs to go, simple as that.

In closing, I will say this although it doesn't matter anymore. I genuinely believe that if Cancelo and Neto were available then I think we could have won the euros or at least made the semis. SANTOS OUT.

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Honestly dont care if he stays or leaves, what needs to change is the mentality. Santos believes Portugal to be inferior at times to the opposition and this sets us up for failure from the start. A few moves i dont understand, I don’t understand...

Honestly dont care if he stays or leaves, what needs to change is the mentality. Santos believes Portugal to be inferior at times to the opposition and this sets us up for failure from the start. A few moves i dont understand, I don’t understand why Nuno mendes was not used when cleared from injury. I dont understand why Joao cancelo was not allowed the option of coming back? When other covid positive players did so during this euro , why the insistence on Bernardo silva on the wing? His characteristics dont match the position. I feel a midfield made up of Renato, Bernardo silva and spearheaded by Bruno fernandes would be better suited for all. Ronaldo shouldve started in a front three with Andre silva and Pote. They were our most in form attackers throughout the club season and yet we never saw them play together? Jota is and should only be a super sub for this team nothing more, hes a less clinical Simão and that says it all. The reason for the outrage is that Portugal has players that rival the depth of France, yet we allow Santos is weak mentality to get into the heads of our players, he is not picking the best 23 we have let alone the best 11, and yes he won us a cup but since he has taken charge we have no identity, we have no chemistry we played desperate counter attacking football to win that cup and that in itself is more up to the players than the coach.In 3 years Mancini has made a great but not world class italy punch above their weight, all by playing to the characteristics of the players at his disposal, not by forcing a tactic that inhibits what makes all of our Portuguese players great, their creativity, and attack minded football. One that we all miss and loved to see.

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Agree 100% on the mentality.

Heck, even Greece won a Euros. So why keep to a style that has been found out.

The first phase was the Golden Generation(that wasn't). Beautiful, fun, exciting, choking in big games.

The second phase was the Santos...

Agree 100% on the mentality.

Heck, even Greece won a Euros. So why keep to a style that has been found out.

The first phase was the Golden Generation(that wasn't). Beautiful, fun, exciting, choking in big games.

The second phase was the Santos era( that WAS Golden). Solid, ugly, defensive and winning in big games. Solid in defense, great in quick transition to attack(counter attacking). That era is over.

The third phase, ATTACKING football, that also can defend. Defending primarily by dominating other teams, and solid in transitioning to defense(counter defending).

The third phase is necessary, and the only acceptable alternative. We must finally step and take our place as a POWERHOUSE.

We have the talent, now we need a coach to lead us forward.

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