Costinha will have an important role to play for FC Porto against Valencia CF in Monaco.
By Nuno Tavares
One of the driving forces behind FC Porto's majestic rise to the top is preparing for another long hard season. For Costinha, the memories of Portugal's painful defeat in the UEFA EURO 2004™ final against Greece are forgotten, and the midfielder is focusing on Friday's UEFA Super Cup against Valencia CF.
Ever-present during the 2002/03 UEFA Cup campaign, the 29-year-old proved an inspiration in last year's UEFA Champions League success, scoring the goal which both eliminated Manchester United FC and sent his team through to the quarter-finals. What came next was even more astonishing as Porto became only the second club in history to win the two main European competitions in successive seasons.
Costinha's road to success has been a challenging one. After playing lower league football at a number of Portuguese sides, he was bought by AS Monaco FC in 1997. He returned to Portugal four years later, making his top-flight debut for Porto at the age of 27. The tough tackler has since been a regular in the national team and this season seems more determined than ever.
'Ready for battle'
"We are ready for battle. We started well with a win over [SL] Benfica [in the Portuguese Super Cup] but now we have an even tougher match. Valencia are a very experienced team with good players and I'm looking forward to it," Costinha said. "Last year we lost this game to [AC] Milan because we showed them too much respect but this time things are going to be different. I'm confident we can win."
With José Mourinho joining Chelsea FC, and replacement Luigi Del Neri lasting less than a month, this has been a scorching summer at the Estádio do Dragão. Víctor Fernández's arrival seems to have taken the heat out of the situation, but it remains to be seen if there will be a price to pay in the future. Costinha, however, is unconcerned by these developments.
"It was obviously a difficult situation but we are all adults," he said. "Players are paid to play and not to comment on administrative decisions. I won't deny that clubs need stability in order to perform well, but look at what we have accomplished in just two weeks. The team has many quality players and I don't agree with people who say that we are weaker than last season. Just wait and see."
Given his performances over the last two seasons, it is no surprise that Costinha has interested some of the biggest clubs in Europe, Real Madrid CF and Juventus FC included. Despite an ambition to play in Serie A, however, Costinha has stayed at Porto and remains upbeat.
'Heart and soul'
He said: "I'm at a great club. I have two more years on my contract and I may well sign a new one. Transfer speculation is something I'm used to, and it doesn't worry me at all. What really matters is that Porto stay at the top. I'm here with all my heart and soul. Our fans couldn't be more supportive and enthusiastic, so why leave?"
One man who is surely happy with Costinha's decision is Fernández, especially after the departures of Deco, Paulo Ferreira, Ricardo Carvalho, Pedro Mendes and Dmitri Alenichev. Costinha's leadership and experience could well mean the difference between success and failure.