Portugal’s all-time record scorer at senior level – with 47 international strikes to his name – Pauleta is currently lending his experience and expertise to his countrymen taking part at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013. And though he never appeared in the competition during his own playing days, the man responsible for youth development at the Portuguese FA (FPF) since 2012 is thriving as Portugal’s head of delegation on their Turkish adventure. Indeed, his presence provides A Selecção das Quinas’ starlets with a figure able to act as both a mentor and example to follow.
What's more, Pauleta is not averse to occasionally getting his hands – or in the case of a training session last week, his boots – dirty. “In this squad I see players with the potential to be future senior internationals,” the former Paris Saint-Germain sharpshooter told FIFA.com in assessing a Portugal U-20 crop that won Group B winners and were the first-phase’s top-scoring team. Also on the agenda were issues including his impressions of Turkey 2013 and his role at the FPF.
FIFA.com: From what you’ve seen of this FIFA U-20 World Cup, how would you rate the standard of football on show?
Pauleta: I’ve only been able to watch the teams who played in Kayseri, but all the sides here have quality, particularly Nigeria, who are strong and skilful but who could perhaps be a touch better organised. We also played against Korea Republic and I still think that they’ve got a good and well-balanced team, while Cuba were clearly the weakest side [in Group B]. In general, it’s been an enjoyable competition, with a good standard of football and a few surprise packages, such as Iraq. I think that Portugal are going to get even stronger as the competition progresses, but it’s only now that the tournament really begins
Can you tell us about your new role in the Portugal delegation?
I’ve been working as the FPF’s head of youth development for a year and a half now. My role is to follow our youth national teams, and here [in Turkey] I’m the head of our delegation at this World Cup. Everything’s going well so far. I’ve taken part in World Cups as a player, but being here as an official is something new and different. But at the same time, the experience I gained as a player helps me tackle it differently – it helps me anticipate certain problems that might arise and to try and solve them. In a national squad, what matters most is unity and team spirit, so that’s where the rest of the delegation and I have been trying to do our bit.
Having Pauleta along in their FIFA U-20 World Cup party must mean a lot to the players. And seeing how Portugal scored more goals in the group phase than any other side, do you think you’ve given them a bit of inspiration?
Well, they were already quality players but, of course, the fact that I was a striker means that I can get certain things across to them – even though that’s not what I’m here to do. But I often end up chatting with some of them, whether it be in their free time, in the cafeteria or during a training session, and I get the chance to pass on a few tips. In any case, everything that’s happened here so far is the result of the hard work they and the coaching staff have put in. Portugal have a good team and they’re scored a lot of goals, but we’d also like to avoid being put through the mill quite so much, and I think that’s something we need to work on. But we’re also hoping to carry on doing the things that are going well.
Hints and tips aside, you might also be able to show them a few things out on the pitch, like when you trained with them the other day. And from what I hear, you grabbed a load of goals, didn’t you?
Yes, one day last week I trained with the lads, but it was only a recovery session – I’m not going to train with them everyday, of course, as they’re the priority here. But I do think it was quite good for the atmosphere in the group and it is important to get out there with the players, so they don’t just see me as an official. It did me good too as I got a bit of training in and scored a few goals. It was enough to give me my ‘football fix’ and, who knows, maybe I’ll get involved again some time in the next few days.
How would you compare this U-20 generation with those of years gone by?
This is a good generation of players, which perhaps has even more quality than the squad that finished second last time out in Colombia [in 2011]. That squad had a very strong team spirit and a good mentality but, in individual terms, this group clearly has some very technically gifted players. What’s more, in this squad I see players with the potential to be future senior internationals. But, if we want to achieve that, we need to keep working hard to make sure they become a mentally strong group of players too.
Going on the evidence of the group phase, who are your favourites for the title? Would you include Portugal in that list?
The favourites are nearly all the same as before the tournament began. Spain and France are two strong, top-quality sides and have both begun their campaigns well. But then you’ve got those other sides that always pop up, that you could tag as surprise packages, such as one of the African teams. Ghana, our next opponents for instance, are a side that deserve respect. Mexico, for their part, had to work hard [to qualify from their group], despite everyone thinking how strong they would be, but they could still go far. It’s hard to predict, there’s a big pool of contenders, but we Portuguese want to be in that group too.