Euro 2016: Fernando Santos - An underrated genius or just lucky?
Taking an objective look at the roles played by luck and tactical acumen behind Portugal's progression to the finals of Euro 2016.
Euro 2016 has thrown up a lot of potential topics for heated debates. Endless conversations have occupied fans over the course of the tournament, but the major talking point has been Portugal’s progression to the final. Portugal will take the field for the showpiece final against hosts France, tonight, having won just one match within 90 minutes of play.
The change in the format of the European Championships has allowed Portugal to achieve this feat. 3 draws out of 3 in the group stages meant Portugal qualified as the 3rd placed team from their group, a unique addition to Euro 2016. Qualifying in 3rd place meant Portugal went into the comparatively easier side of the pool in the knockout stages and encountered Croatia, Poland and Wales, successively, in the knockout stages to reach the final.
While most conversations around Portugal tend to centre on their talismanic captain Cristiano Ronaldo, a lot of the headlines have also been hogged recently by their coach Fernando Santos.
Fernando Santos was born in 1954 and forged a playing career as a defender for Portuguese side Estoril. Having been in the coaching circuit since 1988, Santos has built up a sizeable tactical acumen over the years. He has won 5 major titles with Portuguese giants Porto.
He spent a lengthy period of time in Greece as well, coaching AEK Athens and PAOK. He has also coached Greece’s national team in the past, leading them at a World Cup and a European Championship. Santos was made the coach of Portuguese national team in 2014 after previous manager Paulo Bento was sacked due to a string of poor results.
After 50 matches in different cities, Euro 2016 will see its final showdown between France and Portugal. The Iberian outfit, having been written off as rank outsiders have definitely not been bet on by punters as serious contenders at any stage. Yet their coach Fernando Santos has stood steadfastly beside his team, refusing to believe the Portuguese were in any way deficient, be it in terms of quality of players, playing as a team or any other parameter, compared to other heavyweights in Europe.
Santos has always maintained Portugal deserve to be spoken of in the same breath as Europe’s big guns. Not afraid of speaking his mind, much like fellow Portuguese Jose Mourinho, it seems Portugal’s run of results has not perturbed him at all.
Speaking to the press, Santos said: "I want them to keep saying the same thing. "That we're this and we're that, that we won undeservedly. That's what I would like them to say – that we won and we didn't deserve it.
“That would be amazing. I'd be going home very happy if they said that. And I will be going home very happy." These are comments which prove he is not afraid to rile up onlookers, much like Mourinho himself. Santos has always maintained Portugal will be playing in the finals, insisting he had planned a family holiday for after Euro 2016 since he was sure his team would be competing till the last match.
So how much of Portugal’s run is due to Santos? And how much of that can be accredited to luck? One thing is for certain, Portugal would not have made it this far without the change in format for the Euro 2016. Having finished 3rd in their group, the Portuguese players would have been enjoying their holidays by now, if the format of the tournament was any different.
Having managed only draws against ‘minnows’, the likes of Iceland and Hungary in their group, Portugal scraped it through to the round of 16 whereas they should’ve won their group by a comfortable margin. While many pundits would have written them off against Croatia in the round of 16, an immensely dull encounter ended with Portugal stealing the plaudits in extra time.
A penalty shootout triumph over Poland in the quarter-finals was followed by their first victory in 90 minutes, over Wales in the semis. While a certain element of luck has prevailed in Portugal’s progression, as evidenced by their penalty shootout victory against Poland, all the results cannot be objectified to that extent.
Wales had come off a spectacular upset in the quarter-finals, having trounced world number two Belgium 3-1 and they were high on confidence.
While luck did play a part, in Aaron Ramsey being suspended for the semis, Portugal put up a disciplined display in the absence of Pepe, to win comfortably. Fernando Santos has brought discipline and hard work into a talented unit, for which he must be given due credit.
All in all, it has been a mixture of luck and good coaching on the part of Santos, that has helped Portugal reach the finals and the same holds true for all teams who run the full course.