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Winning coach

Winning coach
Portugal coach Hélio Sousa (left) and captain Diogo Queirós ©FPF

Winning coach

“We were stamping a Portuguese identity on matches; being strong defensively; pressurising opponents, creating a lot of chances and scoring goals. My players were positive, showed their qualities and demonstrated that we have a playing philosophy.”

©Sportsfile

Portugal are presented with their prize in Finland

Hélio Sousa’s words were spoken after he had led Portugal to the UEFA U17 title in 2016. In the intervening two years, his credo had not changed – even though, in Finland, his group had. Five players were missing due to club-release issues and one through injury. “The important thing,” he insisted in Finland, “is that, no matter what happened, we did not lose our identity. And it’s important to keep trying to develop that identity: to implement what we do in training and the knowledge we have acquired in these years together. All Portugal national teams work on the basis of a 1-4-3-3 structure. It can be modified as a result of the evolution of the players and their individual characteristics and you can sometimes glimpse us in 1-4-4-2 formation. That is the basis for all our work. My belief is that you can change the personality of the team by changing players rather than by changing structures.”

Nowhere was his positive philosophy more vividly illustrated than at the group match against Italy in Vaasa, where his side was reduced to ten after eight minutes. Unperturbed, Portugal pressed high in 1-4-2-3 formation, dropping only on a needs-must basis into a deeper 1-4-4-1 defensive block. Portugal scored twice. “We made few mistakes in that game – like not going with the runner in the move that led to the red card – but the lesson we learned was that we were punished for them. But the way Italy celebrated their 3-2 win was a tribute to our team.”

©Sportsfile

João Filipe celebrates one of his two final goals

Asked to name key elements in his continuous player development procedures, he has no hesitation in quoting ‘intensity’. “You must work on intensity in training,” he maintains. “When you have the group together for short periods of time, you mustn’t let them stay in their comfort zones. I believe that training without opponents, for example, is not training at all. I think that national team coaches in other countries also have to deal with the issue I have to address: the players at the top clubs are not very often stretched to their limits. This means, for example, that we need to focus on our out-of-possession play, as they so often don’t need to press hard to win the ball back. At international level, we encounter a lot of teams who are equipped to dominate possession for, at least, some periods of a game. So the players have to learn to cope with that and to be patient and efficient when the opponents have the ball.”

Other priorities include transition play and defensive structure. “The game is evolving and I think there’s sometimes too much emphasis on building from the back, for example. You have to accept that there is sometimes a risk element and you need to work on delivering a longer ball to an area where we can use it.”

“Winning was sweet,” he admits. “But it is also important not to focus exclusively on results. When you are working with these age groups, you have it in the front of your mind that this is the sort of competition that you want to give them. Memories are matches, but memories are also colleagues and shared experience. I know this from my own past at the beginning of my career. I still cherish the connections I made at that time. OK, only one team can be champion, but you have to remember that these tournaments represent an irreplaceable experience.”

https://www.uefa.com/under19/season=2018/technical-report/winning-coach/index.html#winning+coach