Once a central defender for SC Braga, SL Benfica and FC Porto, Eduardo 'Dito' Mendes is preparing to lead Braga as hosts at the finals of the UEFA Regions' Cup; the world's top tournament for amateur sides. Capped 17 times by Portugal in the 1980s, the 49-year-old told UEFA.com how he has adapted to coaching at amateur level and how the Braga players have been able to benefit from his experience, and SC Braga's success in reaching the UEFA Europa League final.
UEFA.com: How did you come to take charge of the Braga amateur team?
Dito: I was invited back in September when I was out of work as a coach. I thought it was interesting and I took it on in a very passionate way. It is not as simple as people may think. We had limited time and had to set up a scouting network and watch every game in the district to build up a team. Now we have started working as if we were a club.
UEFA.com: Tell us a bit about your team?
Dito: They are all good players. I am absolutely certain that some could be playing for professional teams. They are really enjoying playing in the Regions' Cup. It gives them a chance to be recognised, as they usually play club football in the local amateur divisions. In December, during the intermediary round, I told the players to take everything very seriously even though I knew most of them are normal workers and students and we could not demand too much. We created a good standard and they took the work very seriously. They worked almost like professionals for those two weeks.
UEFA.com: SC Braga reached the UEFA Europa League final this year; is that something that will inspire your team at the Regions' Cup?
Dito: It was an inspiring season. Even last season's second place in the Portuguese Liga was inspiring. We took advantage of this great season to motivate the players, to make them realise it is always possible to do better. Regarding Braga's campaign and the Portuguese football this season, I think it was mainly due to the work of coaches and club officials – although we must not forget about the players. Our clubs have modest resources, but Braga, for example, were able to beat big European clubs.
UEFA.com: Can you remember how it felt to pull on the Portugal jersey for the first time?
Dito: It was a fantastic feeling. The first time I wore the Portuguese jersey, at youth level, I was only 16. It was the highest moment of my career until then. The senior team came later when I was only 19 and I am one of the youngest ever to play for Portugal's senior team. That was an even more amazing feeling. Fortunately my career did not stop there and I managed to keep going. It was very important for me.
UEFA.com: Do you think your side will feel similar representing their region in the finals?
Dito: It is a different dimension, although we are in fact representing our country too. However, this is a regional competition and even our shirt is different from the Portuguese one. This occasion is very important and I think the players feel very proud.
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