Sousa: Ronaldo merits the recognition
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As one of just three players to win successive UEFA Champions League titles with different sides, Portugual midfielder Paulo Sousa enjoyed a club career to rival many in the game.

Now the former Borussia Dortmund and Juventus man is five years into a career on the touchline, in charge of reigning Israeli champions Maccabi Tel Aviv, having taken over the side at the end of last season.

With his team riding high so far this term domestically and in Europe, Sousa took time out to speak with FIFA.com on building on his side's success, his growth as a coach and on fellow countryman Cristiano Ronaldo's chances at claiming the FIFA Ballon d'Or.

FIFA.com: Into the knockout stages of the UEFA Europa League and top in Israel gives the impression of a good start, but how do you rate your first six months in charge?
Paulo Sousa:
The first half of the season has been really fantastic, getting to the top of the table but also competing in two difficult competitions, which is really different for the players because they are not used to it. As a manager I am always positive, but of course when we planned our season in Maccabi our main target was always to win the league. For a club that has not won it for ten years and to achieve it last year it's always very difficult repeat that task as all our opponents have reinforced themselves and are looking for a way to beat us.

Was it a daunting prospect taking over a side that had just been crowned champions, as there is obviously a lot of expectation right from the start?
Fulfilling the expectation is the main target for myself and the team, as well as trying to bring about some continuity in the Israeli league. We want to be winning leagues at every opportunity, as well as giving us the chance to appear in Europe and hopefully improve as we go.

You have Basel next in the Europa League. How do you feel about that, as they put in some impressive performances in the Champions League?
They are a huge club. [They have] a lot of balance and regularity throughout their side, and players with a lot of ability. It will be a fantastic match for us and I think we have a great chance from my point of view. Firstly, since we faced them at the start of the season [losing 4-3 on aggregate in Champions League qualifying] I have had more time working with my players. Following that we now understand that we can take a creative approach against them. Also, we have the first game at home and we will hopefully be able to bring in some players during the winter market to improve us to hopefully give us the chance at a historic result.

The development of a coach, like any person, always comes down to their approach on a daily basis.
Paulo Sousa

 

This is now your fifth senior coaching role at a club, how do you think you have progressed since taking charge of Queens Park Rangers?
I'm always progressing, first of all because it's desire I have within myself and daily experience brings that about. I prepared really well before taking the decision to become a coach and I have been doing the same ever since. The development of a coach, like any person, always comes down to their approach on a daily basis.

Having been coached by esteemed figures such as Sven Goran Eriksson, Bobby Robson, Marcelo Lippi and Ottmar Hitzfeld during your playing career, is there any particular figure that has shaped your coaching style?
I think all of them. The style of football that I go for, practically, is defined by the quality of the squad, the culture of the club, the competition we're in, the targets we have. I worked a lot before I began coaching to understand what method of training I wanted to present to my players to get the best results and I feel what I do now is mine, it's personal. In terms of leadership, all of those coaches gave me a lot of direction during my time with them, but always related it to my personality and my outlook on life and football. As coaches we need to be well acquainted with ourselves or else we will get found out by our players, so we need to be consistent, honest with ourselves, respect our values and put forward a good method of training that grows day by day.

Did last summer's Champions League final, and seeing Dortmund there, bring back memories of winning it yourself?
Yes, first of all because it was a club I really, really connected with. I had the opportunity to follow them much more closely and be with the club and at their training centre for a while. The preparations for games was really, really good for me and the connection I have with them is really strong. I think they deserved to win in the final, and they had a great season in the Champions League, but unfortunately it wasn't possible, but the club exhibits some great football that deserves great results.

Portugal have also made it through to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, albeit with some difficulty. How do you think Paulo Bento's side are looking and do you think they will cope with a tough group containing Germany, Ghana and USA?
I think for a while Portugal have been showing that they can be competitive right until the end of a tournament, in Europe and at the World Cup, but that is something we expect. Everybody around football expects them to be achieving great results. They are used to coming out of tough groups, so I still feel the expectation is there for them to achieve that and reach the knockout stages.

Ronaldo's performance in the play-offs against Sweden obviously was a big factor in the team getting there. Do you think he has surpassed the likes of Eusebio and Luis Figo to become Portugal's best ever player?
I think when you look at the statistics and moments he has produced, Cristiano is leading the national team to its highest level. He is a player that continues to develop and reach new levels. With the image he carries and projects in world football I am sure he will continue to do all he can to produce the best results with Portugal so to get that level of recognition [as the nation's best player].

Do you think he will win the Ballon d'Or or will it go to Lionel Messi or Franck Ribery in your opinion?
As a Portuguese I expect him to win it, but also for all he has done over the last few seasons, as it has been absolutely amazing. He is always bettering himself, he is a polite person and still young. When I met him and worked with him he always came across as someone who was setting targets so he could then go and beat them, he has a lot of ambition within himself. He deserves the recognition.