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Benfica coach Roger Schmidt on the Champions League, mechanical engineering and dealing with language issues

"It's exciting and a lot of fun for me," says Benfica coach Roger Schmidt as his side head into the new year unbeaten in his 26 games in charge.

Roger Schmidt is thriving at Benfica despite speaking no Portuguese
Roger Schmidt is thriving at Benfica despite speaking no Portuguese AFP via Getty Images

Hired as Benfica coach in May, Roger Schmidt has made an extraordinary start to his time in Lisbon, his side topping their UEFA Champions League group and the Portuguese Liga after going unbeaten in 26 games this autumn (W22 D4).

Having played lower-league football while working as a mechanical engineer, Schmidt worked his way up as a coach, taking charge of Salzburg, Leverkusen and PSV Eindhoven before he took the Benfica job. The 55-year-old talked UEFA.com through his career.

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On settling in at Benfica

Watch all Benfica's Champions League group stage goals

The quality of life in Portugal and particularly in Lisbon is very high. I knew that already. What I didn't know is that the people welcome you very quickly and you feel at home very quickly. [Me and the players] got on each others' wavelengths very quickly, and we've made some good transfers. Success builds confidence, and with that you end up in the flow.

How do you put complicated ideas across to players in a new language? I can't do it! I wasn't able to learn Portuguese in such a short time. Of course, I'm working on it now, bit by bit, but I think English works very well in Portugal: the Portuguese almost all speak English, and in my experience of coaching abroad in recent years, translation has never been a problem.

On the Champions League group stage

Schmidt's Benfica edged out Paris to win Group H
Schmidt's Benfica edged out Paris to win Group HAFP via Getty Images

We were clearly handed a very tough draw with Juventus, Paris and Maccabi. To begin with, it didn't matter to us whether we finished first or second, but towards the end we obviously sensed, particularly after the two games against PSG, that first place was achievable. It was unlikely on the final matchday: Paris not beating Juventus and us winning at Maccabi. Obviously we had a bit of luck scoring the goals at the right time. It does make a big difference being first or second, in the draw and also in being at home for the second leg.

We have shown that we are capable of concentrating on one game at a time, and of course we will do that in the knockout phase too. All season, we've been thinking from game to game; in every competition we have always tried to give our best and deliver our best possible performance, and you can only do that if you treat the next game as the most important game.

On how his work as a mechanical engineer informed his football career

Schmidt led Salzburg to an Austrian double in 2013/14
Schmidt led Salzburg to an Austrian double in 2013/14AFP via Getty Images

You can take something from anything you do in life. As an engineer, it was a very different task, but the idea of working on projects and working together as a team to complete these projects and to make them work is very similar [to football]. I think such experiences always help in life and that's why I really enjoyed playing football back then and working as an engineer on the side.

It wasn't a disadvantage for me to start working as a manager professionally a little later – working at the different stages, starting as a coach in amateur football and gathering experiences. Down the line, that experience helps, especially when coaching professional football at the top level.

On mixing youth and experience

Benfica defensive partners Nicolás Otamendi and Antonio Silva
Benfica defensive partners Nicolás Otamendi and Antonio SilvaAFP via Getty Images

Our central-defensive partnership of Nico Otamendi and Antonio Silva is the reflection of our team: a player who came through the ranks of our academy and a player who already played for Manchester City and the Argentinian national team and who has achieved a lot. To bring all of them together is the challenge.

To master that challenge and to accompany these players and lead them has a lot to do with the fact that you already experienced these situations and that you can engage with such players and try to accompany them. Of course, a young player needs more information and tactical advice, and an experienced player only needs specific instructions. But it's exciting and a lot of fun for me.

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