"I'm at the peak of my career, but it wasn’t easy," the midfielder tells UEFA.com.
Article top media content
Hero of Porto’s UEFA Champions League round of 16 success against Juventus with two goals in Turin, Sérgio Oliveira's status at the Portuguese team wasn't always so secure. A club member from infancy, he had several loan spells elsewhere, even leaving permanently for Paços de Ferreira at one point, before finally finding his footing under current boss Sérgio Conceição.
Now, in the face of Porto's impossible-looking quarter-final task against Chelsea, following their 2-0 'home' defeat in Seville last week, the 28-year-old midfielder is well placed to argue for hope amid adversity.
On the round of 16 win against Juventus
When you’re on the pitch and something like that happens, I don’t think you realise just how big a deal it is. Of course, we were ecstatic about making it to the quarter-finals – especially [because] we beat Juventus, a remarkable team that has the best player in the world [Cristiano Ronaldo]. For an hour, we had one player less and we still succeeded.
It was a match played in the usual FC Porto style. We went in strong and fought for it, and it was an epic moment. Given the circumstances and this pandemic, I think it was a message of hope to everyone to never give up and that anything is possible.
On his long road to the Porto first team
I’ve practically been a club member since birth. It was an uncle of mine who enrolled me – he was a die-hard Porto fan. When that uncle took me to the youth trials [at Porto], he parked illegally in some place and he was fined, and I’m never going to forget that moment.
Not everyone can be a [Kylian] Mbappé. He has been playing at the highest level since he was 18, and that's not the norm – the norm is perhaps a career like mine, with difficulties, loans, developing both personally and professionally. When I was playing for Paços de Ferreira [from 2013–15], I wondered how I would ever get back to Porto. But I made it.
Once a teacher said to me "What are you going to do with your life?" and I said "Be a footballer", and they replied "Do you think you can make a living off this?" and I said "I think so". It's a pleasure to have a job that doesn’t feel like one, but at the same time I had some difficulties when I'd say to myself "this won't work out". Now I'm 28, I can say I’m at the peak of my career, but it wasn’t easy!
On Sérgio Conceição
The first time I met the boss was in France [on loan with Nantes in 2017, where Sérgio Conceição was coaching]. He looked at me and said, "You’re fat! You have to lose four or five kilos." I looked at him and said "OK". Over time, I started adapting to a style of play which he loves, which is really physical, going for 50/50s, playing with quality – an expansive style. The next season he went to Porto and I asked if I could go with him, and he said it was best that I left for better opportunities, because at Porto I'd play less, but I said, "No, I want to go with you because I want to find my space in the team." He said, "OK, but you should know you’re not my first choice."
I wasn’t involved in pre-season, then I was on the bench for nine games, and my first game was my Champions League debut in the group stage against Monaco [in September 2017]; he called me out of nowhere and said I’d play and that he totally trusted me – it was an unforgettable moment. We've had our differences as we've both got strong personalities, but we've got total respect for one another and we've got a great relationship today.
On the possibility of winning the UEFA Champions League
It’s an objective that is tough to achieve, but we won't stop believing – it’s our dream. We obviously have to work every day, but as time goes by, you start believing that it is possible, you keep believing that with hard work you can really achieve those objectives.