News came today that Portugal National Team head coach Paulo Bento had been fired/let go/relieved of his duties. Whatever you want to call it, Paulo Bento will no longer serve as the team’s head coach, following dismal displays both at this summer’s World Cup and last weekend against Albania. Many Portuguese fans will feel that this announcement is long overdue; that Portugal’s quality of play over the past two years has declined drastically as a result of Bento’s stubbornness. This brings an end of Bento’s reign, which lasted almost four years.
Recently, there has been virtually nothing but negativity surrounding Paulo Bento, and for good reason. Portugal barely qualified for this summer’s World Cup, despite having a talented squad with some players playing for the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid. Once they reached the World Cup, the team looked even worse, just a shadow of what it had been. After failing to get out of the group, many fans called for Paulo Bento’s head, or at the very least a complete squad overhaul. The Portuguese Football Federation somewhat predictably announced that Bento’s job was safe, and that he would stay on until at least Euro 2016. And it appeared soon after that Bento staying at the helm may not be necessarily a negative thing when he announced a much more youthful and revitalized side for the team’s first Euro 2016 qualifying match against Albania. Bento was true to his word, giving two players debuts during the match, but the dismal brokenness of play that characterized the team in Brazil was evident once again. The team succumbed to a 1-0 defeat at home to Albania, which many will agree was one of the worst results from the team for some time.
It’s easy to dwell on the negative. It’s human nature to feel and remember in the present. Right now, many fans of the Seleccao have a negative opinion of Paulo Bento and his time leading the team. But there are plenty of happy memories that happened during Bento’s tutelage. Let’s take a look at a some of the good that Bento did:
Portugal 3-1 Denmark, Portugal 4-0 Spain
Carlos Queiroz (Portugal’s coach before Bento) led the team through a largely negative 2010 World Cup campaign. After qualifying via the playoffs, the team only managed to score in one game at the tournament finals (albeit a 7-0 victory). Following the tournament, Portugal began their Euro 2012 qualification campaign off terribly, drawing Cyprus 4-4 and losing to Norway 0-1. It was a dark time in the history of the team, and Queiroz was sacked soon after. With qualification for Euro 2012 seemingly in doubt, Paulo Bento took the helm, guiding the team to an impressive 3-1 victory against Denmark, the very same team that gave Portugal fits during World Cup 2010 qualification. After that impressive victory, Portugal faced European and World champions Spain in a friendly match, to be played to advertise the two countries’ joint 2018 World Cup bid. Though not expected to pose a threat, Paulo Bento led Portugal to an unbelievable 4-0 victory against the Spanish.
Euro 2012 Semi-Final run
After salvaging qualification for Euro 2012, many fans were eager to see what Paulo Bento could achieve during the tournament itself. Drawn in the tournament’s “group of death” alongside Germany, Denmark, and Holland, the team’s chances of progression were certainly not a definite thing. Despite a narrow 1-0 loss in the opening match against Germany, Portugal managed to progress to the quarterfinals, after successive victories over Denmark and the Netherlands. After dispatching the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals, Spain were the adversaries for the semifinal match. Spain narrowly defeated Portugal on penalties, and then proceeded to win the entire tournament, defeating Italy 4-0 in the final. Reaching the semi-final of any tournament is worthy of praise, and Portugal’s run was all the more impressive since they barely lost to the eventual winners.
Ronaldo’s improved performances
During Carlos Queiroz’s reign, many fans’ chief complaint was that he was not getting the most out of Cristiano Ronaldo. The team’s “golden boy” was much less impressive under Queiroz than he has been under Bento. The stats don’t lie. In Queiroz’s reign of 49 matches, Ronaldo only scored 2 goals. During Bento’s 46 game reign, Ronaldo scored 27 goals. Perhaps the team became too reliant on their star man, but it can be said that Bento truly got the best out of Ronaldo, making him Portugal’s most dangerous weapon.
Following any manager’s departure, there is usually speculation as to who will replace him. With Bento having been sacked today, we should expect an announcement of who the new manager will be in a short time. As Bento has been sacked just as the club season has started, it is unlikely that the likes of Andre Vilas Boas or Jorge Jesus will be considered. More likely are Vitor Pereira, who won Porto the league title during the 2012/2013 season or Fernando Santos, who recently finished a stint managing Greece after spells at Benfica, Porto, and Sporting. Former Porto coach Jesualdo Ferreira is also a possibility.
Many fans are also clamoring for a non-Portuguese manager to take the helm to combat the influence of third-party ownership interference. This remains unlikely, but still a possibility, with the likes of Luciano Spalletti, Otmar Hitzfeld, and Juup Heynckes all without a club.