Tuesday 24 April 2018

Carvalhal manages, therefore he is

Swansea boss hopes for a miracle fuelled by Descartes philosophy and spinning classes

Carlos Carvalhal is hopeful of keeping Swansea in the Premier League Photo: Getty
Carlos Carvalhal is hopeful of keeping Swansea in the Premier League Photo: Getty

Jason Burt

"You know Descartes - the way that Descartes thinks?" asks Carlos Carvalhal. This is not the sort of question you expect from a football manager.

Fortunately, Carvalhal manages to live without my views on the 17th-century French philosopher, and swiftly offers his own, reflecting on "complex phenomena" and concluding that it would be a mistake to disregard the "connections" between them. This, in short, is how he sees a football team working, including his own at Swansea City.

"I think realising the simple thing about these connections makes the Portuguese different," Carvalhal adds, barely pausing for breath.

"I am not saying we are the best people of the world... but we are really very special people! We are special because we connect people, we understand very well the connections. And we understand football is about connections.

"It is not divided. It is not numbers. The connections are very important with the fans, with the journalists, with the people. The Portuguese like to do this - it's a characteristic. If you remember any Portuguese that you know, then maybe one time you will think, 'I talked to Carlos and this guy, in his communication, in the way he talks, is also like that'."

Proud

Carvalhal is indeed a proud member of his country's coaching community. He took his pro-licence with Jose Mourinho and studied at university with the Manchester United manager's assistant, Rui Faria.

He shares Mourinho's intensity, and desire to go "deep" into his job, an attitude that has already provoked an impressive response at Swansea since he arrived between Christmas and New Year, just days after he left Championship side Sheffield Wednesday.

"Listen, my father sold paint," Carvalhal explains, in his first interview since arriving in South Wales. "My mother worked at home, making clothes, trying to make some money. I had a plan. I played football professionally but I also studied at university.

"I had a one-month holiday from football, but I had an anatomy exam to do, and it was the most difficult exam. I said to my girlfriend: 'I am going to disappear for two weeks.' I had to study. No contact. I was in my apartment, I disappeared from everybody, I had a beard like Robinson Crusoe and at the end.

"I could have gone to the Bahamas on holiday that month but I wanted to study anatomy. And when I want something then I go deep into it. So, when I do this (Swansea), then I have that self-confidence."

Carvalhal, full of smiles, energy, determination, did not have time to "go deep" into Swansea. The club were - still are - bottom of the Premier League and in danger of being cut adrift. They have claimed seven points out of 12 since the 52-year-old arrived, and the two victories - against Watford and, last Monday, Liverpool - are the "big vitamins" ahead of tomorrow's crucial home fixture against Arsenal.

Carvalhal talks a lot about the "culture" of a club. "You can create a model like an architect drawing a picture of a house," he explains.

"So, we draw a picture of what we want as a team and will follow that - understanding that sometimes you might have to do a new wall or the kitchen is not like that and you have to change it. But the idea is to follow the plan."

Arriving mid-season is different. "It's an emergency plan," Carvalhal explains. "Sometimes, when you work, you are like the special rangers. The ones they call in for the difficult job. You must look at what you have in your hands, the good things they did in the past and try to attack the things that are crucial. There were a lot of mistakes, for example, between defence and attack and the team lost a lot of balls, a lot of goals, so we had to attack that problem."

Carvalhal gives good quotes - his likening of Liverpool to a Formula One car caught in London traffic was a recent vivid example - but he is no eccentric.

And neither is his lively personality a shtick. "We were the Mini Cooper alongside the Formula One car," Carvalhal reiterates. "But if you block the Formula One car, it's in the same place, it cannot go faster. It's a good analogy. I like analogies. They are a good way of communicating."

For a much-travelled coach - Swansea, with a contract to the end of this season and an option to extend, is his 17th job in 20 years - the Premier League was always a "wish".

"I feel like a fish in water. I am comfortable; this is my habitat. When you have had my kind of path, you take this opportunity with both hands, because this is the place where I want to be, where I deserve to be, where I will be many, many years after this."

Carvalhal has worked hard. Indeed, he is irritated by a Wikipedia entry stating he had "nearly three years of inactivity" before joining Sheffield Wednesday when, during that time, he was technical director of the Dubai club Al-Ahli.

He is similarly robust about his career at Wednesday, where he twice took the Owls to the play-offs. He could have left for the Premier League, he says, and had offers after he lost the Wembley final 1-0 against Hull City in 2016.

"Getting to the play-offs, two times, was not easy and maybe here at Swansea they saw that and realised I can change things very fast and do something special," Carvalhal says.

Romantic

"I feel a little romantic about football. I don't think too much about money. Maybe I already have 10 times more than I expected in my life.

"So, this is what I wish for in life: a good house - and now I have a house near the sea, so that is a bonus - a car. I like mountain bikes, not motorbikes, I like spinning exercise in the gym and going for lunch with my family."

He stresses his departure from Wednesday was effectively by mutual consent but adds: "If I have been fired in the past - and don't misunderstand me and think this is arrogance - I think to myself 'I gave everything for this club, I know we have quality, so it's the problem of the club. I will go to another club and give everything. So they are missing a good coach if they fire me'. I have my conscience completely clear."

That "emotional involvement" is intense. Carvalhal is "an Owl, I feel like an Owl". At Swansea, he will, therefore, be a Jack.

"First step, we will fight to stay in the Premier League," Carvalhal says.

"When I arrived, a lot of people in the press conference talked about a 'miracle'. I said it would not be a miracle because it's not something divine, it is something that can be done by man. It's the work of man. Not a miracle.

"I said we would try and do it but no one believed, everyone looked like 'what's this guy talking about?' Now you saw my last press conference and already the questions are different, more positive. But - I repeat - we are in a very difficult situation. We are focused on trying to stay in the Premier League.

"If we do it then it will not be a miracle. But it will be a kind of miracle." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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