When Fernando Santos was appointed as coach of the Portugal national team in September 2014, many doubted whether he was the right man for the job. Santos’ club managerial career had seen him coach the likes of Estoril, Porto, AEK Athens, Panathinaikos, Sporting Lisbon, Benfica, and PAOK. On the international scene, he had only managed Greece.
Although Santos was extremely experienced, he had never coached in any of Europe's top four leagues. This, coupled with Portugal's disappointing exit from the 2014 FIFA World Cup at the group stage, meant he had a huge task on his hands.
Six years down the line, it is safe to say that Fernando Santos' time with the Portuguese national side has been a tremendous success.
The 66-year-old led the Selecao to their first major international trophy when they beat France to win Euro 2016. He went one step further by leading Portugal to victory in the inaugural edition of the UEFA Nations League in 2019.
In the last six years, Portugal have gone from perennial underachievers in international tournaments to one of the favorites. Santos may not be the most vocal, but he’s certainly one of the best man-managers in the world.
It is easy to credit Portugal's recent success to the brilliance of their captain, Cristiano Ronaldo. While the Juventus star has played an important part, the assumption isn't entirely true.
Under Fernando Santos, Portugal have moved from being a one-man team to a side that plays as a collective unit. They are unbeaten in over a year, with their last defeat coming in October 2019.
Ronaldo played a key role in the Selecao’s triumph at Euro 2016, but it was Santos’ tactical brilliance that led the team to victory in the final against France after the skipper's early injury.
During Portugal’s victory in the 2019 UEFA Nations League, Ronaldo was absent for most of the tournament and joined the party for the last two games. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner was on a hiatus from international football but the team still made it to the semi-finals of the tournament.
Cristiano Ronaldo eventually joined the squad for the semi-final and final, as Portugal went on to win the tournament. The team’s progress in the absence of their star man points to Santos’ own managerial shrewdness.
The former Porto manager has managed to build a team that no longer depends on Ronaldo for goals. Portugal have won each of their last eight games, keeping seven clean sheets.
After Portugal's extended trophy drought and decades of falling short in international tournaments, Santos has delivered two trophies in six years. The veteran manager deserves enormous credit for transforming the Selecao into one of Europe's finest sides.Published 13 Nov 2020, 03:19 IST