Roberto Martínez on Portugal’s Euro 2024 hopes, young Seleção stars and Ronaldo’s elite mindset

Portugal coach Roberto Martínez was the guest of honour on Canal 11 show “Total Football” last night.

The amiable Spaniard, speaking perfect Portuguese, did not duck any question thrown his way.

He reinforced his optimism for the Seleção ahead of Euro 2024, reserved special praise for young stars João Neves and Diogo Costa, and explained why Cristiano Ronaldo remains a key component of the team.

PortuGOAL rounds up the main quotes. 

Can Portugal win the European Championship?

“Yes, we can. To win a tournament you have to dream big.

“There are a group of nations who can win. Spain, England, France, Belgium, Italy and now Germany, because they are playing at home and have a level of player to win tournaments, are the teams who can win the Euro.

“Portugal have players in the best changing rooms in world football. A game in a European Championship entails details and luck. If you work hard and work well it helps you have luck.”

Who impressed you the most?

“João Neves got his call-up to the Seleção at 19 years of age. He showed a personality and maturity that really surprised me. The best way to judge a player is to look at the reaction in the changing room. It either shows respect directly or it doesn’t. Certain things clearly make a player earn the respect of the changing room, or not. And João, at 19 years of age, earned the respect of the changing room in two days. I’d never seen that in my career. It was striking.”

Diogo Costa

“He’s a player at a spectacular level. I coached Courtois, who was the best goalkeeper in the world. Diogo Costa has the ability to get there. He’s very complete. In the home game against Bosnia he had two moments that showed he’s a top-level goalkeeper. You need to stay concentrated for one instant in 90 minutes. It’s something that’s innate. Against Braga (on Sunday) it was the same thing, with his save from Ricardo Horta. He’s got quality with his feet that allows the team to play short or long. He’s a modern goalkeeper who’s at the highest level.”

Cristiano Ronaldo

“I had the chance to talk to everybody before the first squad call-up. It was very important to see a person with so much hunger and respect for the Seleção, who was committed to helping. It was a positive surprise, because it was the start of the creation of a new group.

“For most players, when the body starts failing, the head accepts it. In Cristiano’s case, it seems to be the opposite. The body will only stop when the head says it has to stop. He does everything to remain in great shape. It’s incredible when a player is 38 years old and he has the habits and the desire of an 18-year-old. It’s an incredible capacity to repeat excellence.

“He has an elite-level mindset, and he has no limit. He’s just scored 53 goals in the year, and now he’s looking ahead to the next objective. It was important to have a player with this commitment, with this hunger.”

Intelligence of the Portuguese player

“I don’t know how many days of training are needed to implement a tactical plan, but it was a surprise to find out I can prepare a match without a training session. Our players are tactically intelligent and understand the idea with videos and working away from the pitch.

“This was a surprise, because it’s not normal. In a club you need 50 training sessions to get a smoothly working defensive line, to press correctly, to attack well. Visually the players are very intelligent. They are always watching games, at Champions League level, and this helps a lot. Players train less nowadays.”

Tactical evolution of the Seleção

“The evolution is ongoing. It’s important to take into account the form of the players. We had a time when Raphaël Guerreiro and Nuno Mendes were not fit. We were able to call up other players, but we know they are important for the future. Or we could add another forward, picking a player like Rafael Leão, João Félix or Jota. It’s important to have Cancelo and Dalot, who can both play on either side. We need tactical flexibility, but we can’t do everything different all the time. The players, the opponent and the game state define the strategy.”

Talent alone not enough

“It was a qualifying campaign in which all the players gave it everything. We know the talent we have. But talent alone doesn’t win games consistently. What does that is your attitude, commitment, clarity of thought.

“The passion for the Seleção is extremely strong. On the first day, I remember being at the airport and the fans showing their love for the Seleção. I saw and felt the love in the stadiums. I really like the atmosphere. The Seleção supporters feel they are part of the team. We need this to keep growing. It’s a very positive passion.”

By Tom Kundert