Tuesday 16 January 2018

Porto boss draws on Mourinho lessons for trip to Foxes' den

Nuno tells Pete Jenson that Portuguese manager taught him the importance of unwavering belief

Porto boss Nuno Espirito Santo: hoping to outfox Leicester
Porto boss Nuno Espirito Santo: hoping to outfox Leicester

"It's all about belief," says Porto manager Nuno Espirito Santo, who will become the first visiting coach in Leicester's Champions League adventure on tonight.

He saw it at the King Power Stadium last season as Claudio Ranieri's team became unlikely Champions, but he had seen it long before as a goalkeeper under Jose Mourinho when Porto became European Champions in 2004.

"He (Mourinho) made a colossal impact on everybody," says Nuno of a man who he still counts as a guiding influence. "He really changed the club. He told us: 'We're going to win.' We just thought how sure can this guy be to say that to us?

"The importance of installing belief is what I took from him. I learned that if you go in to a new club, and you put down a big target, then everybody gets on board."


Nuno was on the bench when, under Mourinho, Porto won the Uefa Cup in 2003 against Celtic and the Champions League a year later. Before his spell at Porto he had been Jorge Mendes' first ever client. The pair still meet up to discuss players.

"We both love the game. Our TV screen when we are together is green because we go from a match in China to one in Brazil. He will say to me 'right, what game is on now?'"

Mendes first crossed paths with Nuno when he was starting out on the road to player recruitment world domination and Nuno was a promising young keeper who had impressed for Portugal at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.

Nuno was a young frequenter of Mendes' nightclub in Vitoria and the agent offered to represent the keeper, who was keen to leave Vitoria Guimaraes. Club president António Pimenta Machado promised them that if a club came in with a €1m bid Nuno could leave.

When Deportivo bid £1m and Pimenta Machado reneged on his promise - now demanding €5m - Mendes went to extraordinary lengths to make sure the transfer went through.

First there was the persistence: a five-hour round trip to La Coruña to keep the deal alive. "I remember him driving through the night just to get to (Deportivo president) Augusto Lendoiro," says Nuno.

"He knew the president would be coming out of the club at a certain time and walking to a certain restaurant. It was a 100 metres distance between the club and the restaurant and as he was walking Jorge appeared alongside him. He knew that 100 metres was gold. And then he drove straight back to give me the feedback on how it had gone. Five hours driving for 100 metres!"

Then came the cunning. It's now written into Vitoria football folklore that Mendes persuaded Nuno to 'play drunk' in his apartment during a visit from the president in order to scare the club into getting shot of their 'unstable' keeper.

"It's not quite like that but we did put on act," says Nuno. "The president came to visit me. And I was sitting down. And my behaviour was, let's say, not normal. I treated him like I was talking to a guy off the street. And he said: 'Is he drunk?'

"When they left the apartment the president said, 'take him tomorrow, just don't let them do any tests!'."

Nuno got his move and enjoyed a five-year spell in Spain before joining Mourinho's Porto. Later as a coach he took Rio Ave from obscurity into Europe for the first time and that earned him his chance at Valencia, where a little of that Mourinho bravado played off as the team got back into the Champions League.

They sacked him the following season after a shaky start and replaced him with Gary Neville. They were just four points from the top-four when he left. When Neville was sacked Valencia were closer to relegation and things got no better under Pako Ayestaran, who was sacked last week.


"The barrier of communication is terrible if you don't speak the language. You cannot reach a player with a translator," he says of Neville's difficulties at a club where the pressure to succeed does not always correspond with the financial reality.

Leicester did not let 'reality' spoil their title dream last season.

"Them winning the league was a surprise to everyone but it proved that a united and strong side can achieve big things," Nuno says.

Belief again, upsetting the odds.

Nuno hopes his team can do that tonight. The best team in England last season will be favourites against currently the third-best side in Portugal. "It's a fantastic challenge," he says, "to test our limits against the Premier League champions."

Independent News Service

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