For the past week, with there being very little else to plaster over the tabloid back pages, I have read endless articles about (now former) Swansea manager, Brendan Rodgers, and another ex-Swansea manager, Roberto Martinez, with both heavily touted to take up the vacant Liverpool managerial post. Many papers have discussed the pros and cons of both managers, with both columns almost identical for both managers: both Rodgers and Martinez set their teams up to play excellent passing football, but both men have little ‘big club’ experience. I’ve read various pieces discussing how Martinez implemented the ‘tika-taka’ culture that now exudes from Swansea’s play and how Rodgers embraced and developed the philosophy when he arrived at the club, taking Swansea to the next level.
After all the paper talk, discussion and debate, Rodgers eventually prevailed to be unveiled as the new manager at Anfield on 1st June 2012. With the papers’ ceaseless rhetoric about both former Swansea managers, it is almost as if they have been the only 2 managers in Swansea’s history! Obviously this is not the case and in fact many people forget (including some Swansea fans who have tried to erase the memory) that there was even a managerial reign sandwiched in between the two prospective Liverpool managers’ stints in South Wales: this was the successful, yet equally unsuccessful managerial tenure of the legendary Portuguese midfielder Paulo Manuel Carvalho de Sousa.
Paulo Sousa was an incredible footballer. He commanded midfields throughout Portugal whilst playing for Portuguese giants Benfica and Sporting Lisbon. In recent years, Sousa has cited Sven Goran Eriksson as the biggest influence on his career from his time at Benfica. Whilst manager at Benfica, Sven converted a young, relatively untested Sousa from a right winger to centre midfielder having recognised his combative attributes and his excellent eye for a pass; this was to be the making of Sousa’s playing career. His success in his homeland led to him leaving Portugal to play for European giants such as Juventus, Dortmund and Inter Milan. Sousa was the first and still one of only two players to ever win the Champions League back-to-back with two different clubs, as he achieved the feat with Juventus in 1996 and Dortmund in 1997 (the other player is Samuel Eto’o – Barcelona 2009/Inter 2010). His time at Dortmund was disrupted by various injuries which would hinder him for the rest of his career. He completed short spells at Parma, Panathiniakos and Espanyol before hanging up his boots in the summer of 2002, aged 31. He ended his career with 51 caps for the Portuguese national team and was a key component in what many dubbed as the nations ‘Golden Generation’.
Sousa took a break from the game before emerging again to join up with the Portuguese national team’s backroom staff. He initially worked with coaching the nation’s U15 and U16 teams before becoming Carlos Queiroz’s national team assistant in 2008. However, Sousa’s role as assistant was short-lived as in November 2008 Sousa had a chance to join one of football’s most promising “projects”.
Sousa was appointed manager of Queens Park Rangers in November 2008 – a time when many were claiming QPR were one of the richest club sides in Europe and maybe even the world, thanks to the takeover of the club by Formula One tycoons, Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone. Sousa’s appointment came just as the Flavio Briatore era was just getting into full swing, although the only thing had really swung so far, was the axe towards the club’s managers. For anyone that has seen the eye-opening and utterly bonkers football documentary “The Four Year Plan”, you will know all about the sheer madness of Briatore’s time as QPR owner with his bumbling General (Chairman) Gianni Paladini as his frightened lapdog alongside him.
The documentary follows the story of QPR, and more specifically their owners, and their unperturbed desire to get the London club back into the Premier League from the Championship. The viewer gets to witness Briatore repeatedly interfere with managerial decisions and get constantly infuriated by almost anything and anyone at the club. Sousa took over as manager from Iain Dowie, who would be the first of 7 managers to be sacked throughout the film in the two years at the club documented by the film crew. There are many moments that could take the accolade, but perhaps the most cringeworthy moment of the documentary is Paulo Sousa’s entrance speech in front of a canteen of players and Briatore and Paladini; Sousa attempts to deliver a rousing, inspirational speech to his new footballing cohorts, but all look disinterested and only really acknowledge their new manager with a tepid round of applause as his speech concludes.
Briatore thought he knew it all on and off the pitch; many suggested that Sousa was brought to the club as the mere managerial face of the club and that he was to be used as a puppet to deploy Briatore’s ideas on the pitch. As Sousa’s QPR career got underway this did not appear to be the case, as Sousa forged a reputation as a defensive-minded coach with a speciality for 0-0 draws. As displayed in “The Four Year Plan” Briatore began to become more and more irate with QPR’s lack of goals and there is one amusing scene where Paladini confronts Sousa’s assistant Bruno Oliveira at half time demanding him to bring strikers on at half time to ensure there are some goals – a command sent out from a frustrated Briatore sitting up in the stands. It soon became apparent that Briatore was getting frustrated with his manager (again) and that Flavio was searching for a way to get rid of his 4th manager since he took over the club 18 months previous.
The opportunity would arise after another goalless draw against London rivals Crystal Palace, when Sousa revealed to the press in the post-match press conference that the club’s top scorer, Dexter Blackstock, had been loaned out to Championship rivals Nott’m Forest without any input from himself and purely because of a boardroom decision. Sousa was soon called to see Briatore and eventually sacked for ‘divulging sensitive information’, 26 games (won 7, lost 7, drew 12) after his reign had begun. Some QPR supporters bemoaned the sacking, claiming Paulo might have come good with more time, but most fans were just happy to find another reason to slaughter the owners of their club some more. Sousa would disappear into the background of football again until a surprising day at the end of June 2009….
Several jobs had cropped up towards the end of the British football season and Sousa’s name had not been linked to any of them. Even when Martinez suddenly left Swansea for Wigan, the name Sousa did not really crop up amongst the list compiled by bookmakers. Martinez’s assistant Graeme Jones was heavily linked with the job as was Gus Poyet, Gary Speed, Exeter’s Paul Tisdale and ex-Swansea defender Chris Coleman. Then, from nowhere Sousa was unveiled as a surprise appointment, but also a generally welcomed appointment by the fans who believed that such a cultured footballer could continue the continental football vibe created under Martinez’s regime – although I think many fans were just impressed by the stylish grey-chequered suit he wore at his unveiling. Sousa would also bring along his loyal assistant Bruno Oliveira, a coach who would later become a figure of ridicule amongst Swansea fans.
There were some warning signs of things to come under Sousa, when preseason began to come to an end with Swansea not making any much-needed signings for their second season in the second tier. It soon transpired that Sousa plus the comical Oliveira had very little knowledge of players in the Football League and very few decent connections to help Swansea at all. This lead to Swansea panic buying Craig Beattie, a decent player but certainly no replacement for the free-scoring Scotland, and ex-legend Lee Trundle, who was beginning to look past it at Bristol City. Cedric van der Gun and Besian Idrizaj signed on free transfers, as did Jordi Lopez, joining on a free transfer from QPR (Sousa signed him for them) with an impressive CV, including 2 UEFA Cup medals from his time at Sevilla. After making his debut away at Leicester, many Swansea fans amusingly started to call him Jennifer (Lopez) for his feeble performance on the pitch – I don’t think he ever played a half-decent game for the club.
Sousa’s first three games in charge were disastrous with a 2-1 loss away to Leicester City ,a 3-0 hammering at the hands of Middlesbrough at the Liberty Stadium and an uninspiring 0-0 draw at home to Brendan Rodgers’ Reading. Swansea’s first 3 points and goal would come in a tight 1-0 victory against Coventry at the Ricoh Arena. Goals would never be the order of the day under Sousa as Swansea stuttered their way in mid-table until the build up to Christmas, when even to the shock of Swansea fans, the team’s pragmatic style had found them lurking just outside the playoff places.
Sousa had maintained Swansea’s impressive passing football from the seasons before, but he had toughened up Swansea’s defence (a slight weakness under Martinez) making Swansea a tough team to beat rather than a team that would take the game to the opposition. Players such as Ashley Williams, Alan Tate and Fede Bessone (a player that was truly awful under Martinez) began to flourish, although this may have been because they were in control of the ball more than any other of Swansea’s players as the team opted to pass the ball around defence for long periods.
Sousa’s finest hour would come in the notorious South Wales derby against Cardiff City at the Liberty Stadium. Sousa had embraced the rivalry and bigged the game up in the build-up, unlike his Cardiff counterpart Dave Jones (Jones' 'just another game' approach to South Wales derbies would irritate Cardiff fans throughout his tenure).Swansea took an early 2-0 lead over Cardiff through a Nathan Dyer header (yes, a header) and a Darren Pratley volley; Swansea utterly dominated Cardiff, but two silly mistakes lead to Cardiff clawing it back to 2-2 before half time. The second half was a much tighter affair, but Swansea eventually scored the winner after the impressive Bessone darted down the left wing and whipped in a perfect ball for Pratley to score a side-footed volley for his 2nd goal of the game and Swansea’s decisive third. Sousa was a hero.
The Cardiff game would be Swansea’s 10th game in a row without losing (Swansea would go 12 game undefeated until a 3-0 defeat at Newcastle.) As 2009 became 2010 Swansea were a constant fixture in the Championship playoff places and with their amazing defensive record, their place never really looked like changing.
Scottish attacker Stephen Dobbie was signed by Martinez from Scottish side Queen of South at the end of the 2009/2009 season just before he departed Swansea to manage Wigan; thus Dobbie was landed with a manager that did not sign or necessarily want him. Dobbie did feature in Swansea’s opening fixtures and despite not scoring, Swansea fans were immediately impressed with him. A slight injury would lead to him dropping out of the team and although he got back to full fitness, he would never feature under Sousa again. Dobbie was a short tricky, flair player who perhaps did not fit Sousa’s football ideology – but he certainly fitted in with the impressive rebuild project Ian Holloway was overseeing at Blackpool. Amazingly, Sousa let Dobbie join Blackpool, one of Swansea’s playoff rivals, on a loan deal to the end of the season. Dobbie excelled at Blackpool and was a large factor in propelling them towards the playoff places. After (a Dobbie-less)Blackpool destroyed Swansea 4-0 at Bloomfield Road, Blackpool were closing in on a floundering Swansea in the 6th and final playoff place.
At one point Swansea were 12 points clear of 7th place and were looking towards automatic promotion rather than the chasing pack behind them. Swansea entered a massive habit of struggling in second half of games, something that many people began to suspect that Sousa was largely to blame for. There were rumours coming out of the club that Sousa was not putting any emphasis at all on the fitness of the players leading to many of the squad completing secret fitness sessions behind Sousa’s back; when Sousa learned of these sessions, he reacted angrily and forbid the players from putting them on or face massive disciplinary sanctions. Swansea legend Lee Trundle also revealed in his autobiography the stubbornness of Sousa and his reluctance to make changes when things were not going Swansea’s way, just like they were not in the closing months of the season:
"He'd (Sousa) done brilliantly to begin with, but when things started to slide, he didn't change anything. We'd be to reluctant to go for it in games and it cost us.....At Sheffield United, Chris Morgan, their centre back asked me if we were going to start putting them under pressure, seeing as it was a win or bust game for us. We didn't. In my opinion, Paulo could come across as stubborn and appear difficult to deal with because of that."
Club captain, Garry Monk has recently revealed that Sousa’s ignorance towards fitness training was very true, with Monk pointing the finger at Sousa for Swansea’s massive meltdown at the close of the 2008/2009 season. Monk reflected on Sousa’s time at the club:
"It was frustrating in terms of training going from working intensely hard (under Martinez) every single day to practically not even getting a sweat on. "Every manager is different, everyone's philosophy is different. Paulo was a lot more laid back than other managers and you take each one as they come. As a group of players that I know and have trained with, every single day I know that's not what was best for us. Everyone agreed that we need to be pushed and pushed. In training we need to be going over the edge sometimes to get your fitness where you need it in the last five minutes, where we are being pushed to the limit in the game. That's kind of where we let ourselves down but it was difficult as well because we weren't allowed to do extra training.”
Swansea blew the whole 12 point gap and were eventually overtaken by a Stephen Dobbie-inspired Blackpool on the one-but-last game of the season. There was still a chance for Swansea to grab the final playoff place they had had for most of the season in the final game, if they could win and Blackpool drop points. Fortunately for Swansea, Nott’m Forest would defeat Blackpool on the final day; all Swansea needed was a goal and they would secure their place in the end of season playoff mix, but there inlaid the problem – Swansea did not do goals under Sousa. A frustrating afternoon at the Liberty as chances were wasted and a Doncaster Rovers defence, with nothing to play, for blocked everything as if they lives depend on securing a clean sheet. In the final seconds, the fairy-tale ending happened with Trundle scoring the winner with the last kick of the game; unfortunately it was not a kick, but a hand and Swansea soon slumped back to reality as the final whistle went – the last one of the Sousa era.
Despite being in the playoffs for the majority of the season, Swans fans were not happy with Sousa. The defensive football had irritated the fans all season long, but it was endurable if the team was successful –w hen the team finally failed, it was no longer acceptable. Although Swansea finished the season with a record amount of clean sheets with 25 clean sheets in 46 games, the team would only manage a measly 40 goals in 46 games – less than a goal a game and the worst of all 92 teams in the Football League. There were talks of Sousa having repeated rifts with players, in particular club legend and fan favourite Leon Britton, so much so that Britton who loved the club, left for Sheffield United at the end of the season at the thought of spending another season with Paulo.
There were even talks of Sousa rowing with chairman, Huw Jenkins. Despite finishing 7th (Martinez only managed 8th place), Swansea’s highest league position in over20 years, Sousa was a very unpopular figure at SA1. Unfortunately, there appeared to be no way to get rid of him as Swansea could not really afford to dish out the money it would cost to release him from his contract. Thankfully for the club, Milan Mandaric, chairman of Leicester City was actually impressed with Sousa and offered him the chance to step into the recently vacant managerial post at his club. Jenkins jumped at the chance to get rid of him and to even get some compensation for Sousa. The feeling amongst Swansea fans was ‘good riddance.’
Garry Monk displays his distaste towards Sousa in his recently published autobiography by claiming that on reflection he is happy that Swansea did not make the playoffs under Sousa, probably a sentiment felt by most Swansea fans; Monk even dubbed the season under Sousa as a waste of time:
“Looking back now, I'm glad we didn't get into the play-offs with Paulo, as he did not deserve to be the one to take us to the Premiership. He had not earned that right... In terms of the progression Swansea City had made under Kenny Jackett and then Roberto, I saw Paulo's time in charge as a wasted season. Yes, we finished seventh, which was one place higher than the previous season, but I put that achievement down to the attitude of the players rather than anything Paulo Sousa gave us.”
Sousa was met with further ire from Swansea fans when in his unveiling at Leicester City he did not once acknowledge the club that had been a stepping stone to ‘bigger things’. The final sly parting shot by Sousa was the claim that Swansea were not big enough to meet his ambitions:
"When I make steps it is because I feel it is a better step than before. For that, I think it is the right club to achieve what I expect from myself."
When offered the chance to send a message to the club that had recovered him from QPR’s ever-mounting managerial scrapheap Sousa replied:
"We are talking about Leicester now. Swansea is already in the past — it's not the moment."
Sousa repeatedly referred to Leicester as a future Premier League club; ironically his successor at Swansea, Brendan Rodgers, would lead Swansea into the Premier League in his first 12 months and have them finishing in 11th place in the top tier by the end of his second season in charge before leaving the club for Liverpool – Sousa was sacked by Leicester by the first day of October, 3 months after his appointment, with the club rooted to the bottom of the Championship. Another touch of irony would kick in, as he would be replaced by the man who kick started his playing career: Sven Goran Eriksson.
The whole issue of player fitness under Sousa, arose once again at Leicester when Sven claimed after his first game in charge:
"We could not sustain our energy for the full 90 minutes. Is there a fitness issue? Maybe we'll see, starting tomorrow."
As Swansea, the team that Sousa dubbed not big enough for his ambition, began to be lauded for their impressive playing style in the Premier League, Sousa decided to leave these shores and headed for Hungary to manage the brilliantly named Videoton.
Videoton became the champions of Hungary at the end of the 2010/2011 season under manager Gyorgy Mezey – the first championship title in their history, clinched after finishing runners up in the league for the prior two seasons; when the 69-year old manager did not renew his contract, Sousa was headhunted as his replacement.
Sousa arrived at the club and immediately began strengthening the squad in preparation for defending their Hungarian Championship title; with the reinforcing of the squad, anything short of another Hungarian League title would be a disappointing season for Sousa and Videoton. As champions, Videoton had a place in the qualifying stages of the Champions League, fixtures which would be Sousa’s first competitive games in charge. Unfortunately, Videoton would scupper their chance to play in the Champions League ‘proper’ after losing 4-3 to Austrian team Sturm Graz over two legs.
Despite a stuttering start, Sousa led his team to second place in the league with the team winning 66 points throughout the season - a club record points total. Unfortunately for Sousa and Videoton, Debrecen finished the season strongly with 74 points. Videoton also scored 58 goals in the season, the second highest in the league – a massive contrast to Sousa’s Swansea who finished bottom of the 24 championship teams in the goalscoring stakes. At the beginning of the season, a second place may have been met with protestations, but the general feel was that Sousa, despite a slow start, had done well at the club and he is now looking to strengthen the squad ready to challenge again next season.
Sousa’s dark times of managing in the UK were a stark contrast to his glittering playing career, but now working in Hungary he appears to have found a project in which he can embrace and enjoy. It certainly looks like Paulo will be at the club next season to hopefully win back Videoton’s league crown. If Sousa can win it back, who knows, he could be gracing British football once again in the near future, a lot more experienced and much relaxed than his previous managerial guise on these shores.