(Photo by Action Images / Ed Sykes)
by Chris Dunlavy
CARLOS Carvalhal was once asked by a Portuguese website who was better – Carvalhal the player or Carvalhal the coach.
“Look at it this way,” said the new Sheffield Wednesday manager. “Carvalhal the coach wouldn’t have put Carvalhal the player in his team. I think that says everything!”
Let’s be fair. Having spent his playing career largely in the Portuguese top-flight with hometown club Braga, Carvalhal the player was no rank amateur.
A short but technically adept centre-half (only 5ft 10ins), he even donned the colours of Porto, albeit for a single match in 1989.
Yet greatness – or simply wider recognition – would always prove elusive for the defender.
“He read the game well and was a good organiser,” said Manuel Jose De Jesus, his head coach at Braga and the man who sold him to Porto. “Tactically he was a top player, but his physique held him back.”
As a player, Carvalhal begrudgingly accepted mediocrity. As a coach, however, he had no intention of doing the same.
“I gave myself a period of four, maybe five years to reach a good level,” said Carvalhal, who retired in 1998 at the age of 32. “My life outside of football was stable. I had other skills. I gave myself a deadline to understand this profession. If I could reach a good standard, I would continue in football. If not, I would walk away.”
That he remains on the touchline 17 years on should tell you that the self-imposed deadline was emphatically met.
Having stuttered at second tier Espinho and Freamunde, Carvalhal was named manager of Leixoes in 2001, a fallen giant of a club languishing down in third division anonymity.
Two years later he became the first manager in Portuguese history to lead a third tier team to the final of the Taca de Portugal, losing to Sporting Lisbon but winning a place in the UEFA Cup – the club’s first entry to European competition since 1969.
“Together we revived a monster that was dying and completely discredited,” said Leixoes president Jose Manuel Teixera. “Carlos helped us make history and for that he will always be remembered here.”
When promotion to the Segunda Division in 2003 was followed a year later by promotion to the top flight with Vitoria Setubal, his star was on the rise.
Yet the intervening decade has failed to match the glittering promise of the first, when Carvalhal was widely regarded as the heir to good friend Jose Mourinho. Indeed, not since the glory days at Leixoes has he managed to last more than a single season at any of his ten clubs.
Partly it is bad luck. At Beira-Mar, he was sacked after a boardroom takeover. At Braga, he joined a club close to his heart but in a state of chaos, leaving when his family became the subject of abuse. Even the great Sporting Lisbon, his home from 2009-10, had their weakest team in years.
Yet Carvalhal has also suffered from an insatiable wanderlust; Asteras Tripoli in Greece, Turkish side Besiktas, a stint as technical director of Al Alhi in the UAE.
“I wanted to travel the world,” he says. “And I wouldn’t change it. I loved all those clubs.”
This desire to learn new skills and broaden his experiences is typical of Carvalhal.
As a player, he was noted for bringing books to training and spending every spare moment nose deep in autobiographies or coaching manuals.
As a manager, he would do the same, eventually finishing with a UEFA Pro Licence, degrees in sports science and physical education, and even penning a dense, self-published book on coaching, called ‘Soccer: Developing A Know-How’.
It was an approach fully endorsed by a coach of the calibre of Mourinho, who has regularly called for Carvalhal to be given the opportunity to take on one of Portugal’s top jobs.
Indeed, there are many who have likened Carvalhal’s analytical approach to management to that of the Chelsea boss, though it is a comparison he rejects.
“I have no model,” says Carvalhal, who was appointed by Wednesday in June following a recommendation from Mourinho. “Only people I admire – like Jose. He is very close to me, but I do not follow anything related to his work. I have my own idea of what I want from a football team and it is mine alone.”
That idea sees players subjected to individual video analysis, urged to adopt certain in-game, situation-specific ‘behaviours’ and study the opposition.
Carvalhal is a scholar of the game and demands that his players are too.
Not everyone likes it. Portuguese hothead Ricardo Quaresma once flung a water bottle at Carvalhal and branded him “worthless” on live TV.
But others have found his guidance more beneficial.
“I enjoyed working with Carlos,” said Sandro, his captain at Setubal. “It was a new philosophy for us, but very clear and we could all see that it worked.
“He was a good man and a good friend, and we were all sad to see him go.”
And Lee Bullen, now a coach at Hillsborough, concurs.
“Carlos is very approachable and his work ethic is right up there,” Bullen said. “He likes to get in amongst it and work closely with the players.
“He is constantly reviewing videos of our past games and preparing closely for the opposition coming up, analysing what their strengths are and trying to find weak points.
“He’s a man who leaves no stone unturned.”
*This article was originally published in the FLP on 30 August 2015