THE THREE MUSKETEERS

Jaime Pacheco, Manuel Barbosa and Nelo Vingada all relaunched their careers at Chinese clubs after good results and a lot of media attention. Francisco Ferreira has more. 

The distance between Portugal and China might be over 9100 Km (around 5700 miles), but that didn't stop three Portuguese coaches from finding work in the Chinese Super League. One would think this move would probably kill their carreers, but, in fact, their choice proved completely right: Jaime Pacheco, Manuel Barbosa and Nelo Vingada are all relaunching their carreers in China, after seasons of disappointment and underachievement elsewhere.

Let's start with Pacheco. Back in 2002, he was widely regarded as one of the most talented managers in the country, after leading Boavista to the club's first-ever league title, and finishing 2n twice. It didn't take long to see his name linked with moves to Benfica or Sporting, and he was even invited to be in charge of the Nigeria national team. The golden years didn't last long, though. After a move to Mallorca (where an argument with Samuel Eto'o was enough to see him depart after a few matches), Pacheco struggled to get back to his old form. He spent a few seasons back at Boavista, where he was heavily criticized for unattractive and defensive tactics. He had brief spells with Vitória de Guimarães and Belenenses, but was fired before his contract ended in both cases.

Pacheco once said he didn't have much of an “emigrant mentality”. He looked more interested in managing smaller portuguese clubs, some of them with serious financial concerns, rather than look for a club abroad where he would collect a vast sum of money. In 2009, he changed his mind and moved to Saudi Arabia, where he was in charge of Al-Shabab. After winning the Cup, he was eventually sacked after a poor run in the AFC Champions League. 

The best was yet to come. In 2010, Pacheco was signed by Beijing Guoan FC, champions in 2009, but then already a bit far from their previous status. Last week, he revealed the board asked him to do his best, but they wouldn't be upset if he finished 8th or 10th, given the squad's lack of talent and the huge investments made by other teams in the league – namely Guangzhou Evergrande. Lead by an apparently motivated Pacheco, Beijing managed to finish the season in 2nd, and he was voted Manager of the Season. That obviously got the attention of Portuguese journalists, and that was an amazing oportunity for him to see his name on the newspapers again. He recently gave some interviews, and the general idea in Portugal now is that Pacheco is talented again. That certainly (re)opened some doors in the Portuguese League.

Pacheco recently renewed his contract, and will stay in Beijing until 2014. Some say that he's already thinking of taking over the Chinese national team after that. Time will tell. Right now, it seems he's quite popular in China, and bearing in mind how much he's earning in Asia – reports say his contract his worth €1,000,000 a season – and how this success is helping him relauching his carrer, there's no way he'd think he didn't do the right thing. 

But Pacheco's success is perhaps unsurprising. He won some silverware before, and in a young league, his experience is crucial. But what about Manuel Barbosa? That's a name most Portuguese fans probably never heard of. Once a one-man-club with Boavista, his coaching carreer was limited to some seasons in charge of Os Axedrezados. But after that, he didn't manage a team for more than 20 years. Again in Boavista, he was in charge of the Youth Department, and he was also busy running his own Football School in Porto. In 2011, he was appointed as the new Shandong Luneng's Youth Department Director and Coordinator, a suitable role for a man with his experience. Besides, Barbosa's connection with Chinese football wasn't new: a few seasons ago, Boavista had 3 Chinese players in their U19 squad, thanks to a partnership with the Chinese FA, arranged by Barbosa.

In the summer, Shandong fired their Croatian coach and surprisingly invited Barbosa to replace him until the end of the season. The 60-year-old agreed, and not only made the club climb a few places in the Super League (finishing 5th) but also made it to the Cup Final, where Shandong eventually lost to Tianjin. The club recently announced Dutch manager Henk ten Cate, a former Barcelona and Chelsea assistant, as their head coach. But Barbosa’s mission was done: he not only got some media attention in Portugal, but he was actually voted as the third best coach in the Chinese League. Not bad for a veteran with little experience on the front line.

Nelo Vingada is probably one of the most experienced managers in Portuguese football. He was involved with Portuguese Youth Teams for almost a decade, and then started his club career as an assistant at Benfica in 1997. Then he became a nomad, managing clubs in Portugal, Egypt – Zamalek, for example -, Jordan, Iran and South Korea.

His last spell with a Portuguese club, Vitória de Guimarães, was a disappointing one. Vingada didn't last more than four months, as he quit after a succession of poor results. It was time to move abroad again, so he signed with South Korean giants FC Seoul, where he won the League and the League Cup. That wasn't enough for him to stay: he wanted an improved contract, and the board didn't share his thoughts on that, so he resigned. That's when Dalian Shide started to think Vingada was the right man to keep the club away from relegation danger.

When Vingada took over Dalian, the club was just three points above the relegation zone, and things didn't look bright. “The players are too nervous and the squad is far from brilliant”, he complained. In the end, the club managed to avoid relegation, and finished five points clear from the red spots. Vingada will stay another season, in a club that once was China's most successful outfit, with eight national titles.

It's obvious the Chinese Super League's improvement is directly proportional to the clubs' recent investments. Anelka made the headlines after a lucrative move to Shangai Shenhua, where he'll earn around €200,000 a week. Champions Guangzhou Evergrande won't bother spending more money to retain their league title. Jaime Pacheco complains his clubs has no money to spend on international stars, and he's afraid of losing his best local talents to other teams. But if he still does well this season, he surely can dream of taking over the national squad in the future. Manuel Barbosa quietly moved to his position in Shandong's Youth Departmant, but it's obvious things won't be the same for him. His cv is certainly a little more interesting right now, and that'll help him if things go wrong in China. And even Nelo Vingada, whose team will probably struggle again if the squad isn't properly rebuilt, probably won't have to wait much time before he signs for another club if he wants to leave (or the club wants him to leave). 

Who would have thought that three Portuguese coaches would relaunch their carreer in exotic China? Few would believe that would happen, but, surprisingly enough, it did. 

For more from Francisco, visit his blog. 

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