At the start of the current league campaign in Portugal, no one imagined that, with nine games to go, Pacos de Ferreira would be in third place and in line for European football next season. FIFA.com caught up with the man at the helm, Paulo Fonseca, who admitted he had begun dreaming of hearing the UEFA Champions League anthem with his charges next season.
With one of the lowest operating budgets in the Liga Sagres, the club’s goal for this season was simply to go about their business and move clear of the danger zone as quickly as possible. Not only did they manage to do this, and all the time playing a much-admired brand of football, but they have continued to rack up the victories as the season has unfolded.
Indeed only heavyweights Benfica and FC Porto, who look certain to battle it out for the title, are currently ahead of Pacos, whose work ethic is doing justice to their nickname Os Castores (The Beavers) – a reference to the industriousness of the workers in the city’s many furniture factories. Equally notable has been the team’s persistence this campaign, enabling them to outperform clubs of much greater renown like Braga, Maritimo, Vitoria and Sporting. Even Fonseca has been taken by surprise.
“To be having these kinds of sporting results as I turn 40 is kind of unimaginable, but a source of great happiness. Not even our most optimistic predictions envisaged us being in this situation. Yet it has happened naturally and I’m thrilled,” the coach told FIFA.com.
Obviously we’re very proud to be in third place and we couldn’t possibly have aimed higher than we currently are. Truth be told, no one predicted that this could happen. However, as the weeks went by we grew as a team, and these players made me believe that it was possible to achieve something historic with the club,” he added.
But how have Pacos managed to hold their own again teams with considerably more resources? “There’s a combination of factors,” the up-and-coming tactician explained. “Firstly, this is a very stable club which, in so far as it can, makes sure we don’t lack for anything. It’s a club that keeps its word and offers every guarantee to its staff and players. On top of that, I’ve got a group of players here with great ambition, and that ambition is at the root of our success.”
Dreaming of the Champions League
Until last weekend, officials at the northern Portuguese outfit were reluctant to talk about the possibility of European football next season. The primary objective was to accumulate 38 points, which they duly did after beating Vitoria Setubal on Saturday. Now though, just how far can Os Castores go?
“The ambition is still the same, but now, with nine games to go, we’re in a very privileged position,” said the coach. “It goes without saying that we want to continue battling right to the end. I don’t know if we’re going to finish third, fourth or fifth, but what I do know is that this everyone connected with this group wants to achieve the club’s best ever finish. If we manage that, then it’s an inescapable fact that we’ll be in Europe,” he added, before admitting publicly for the first time the dream that will drive him on until the very last kick of the season.
“Of course, I’ve already imagined what it would be like to hear the Champions League anthem next season. It doesn’t hurt to dream and we’ve thought about this possibility. I don’t see any reason why we can’t dream. That said, we know it’ll be very difficult, as we’ll be battling with teams with other levels of resources and different objectives,” he explained.
Paulo Fonseca is still finding his way in this his first season coaching in the Portuguese top flight. “I’ve had the good fortune to come to a stable club and am very happy to have this group of people to work with. My success is all down to that. Achieving results makes it easier for our work to be recognised,” said the strategist whose ambitions for the club are not limited to the end of the season, as he revealed at the end of our interview.
“Although I’m not thinking too far ahead, as coaches need to keep in mind that success and failure can be separated by the smallest margins, we obviously all have our ambitions. My dream is to take charge of a big club and compete in the toughest leagues. I’d like to work in England or Spain perhaps. But at the moment I’m not concerned about that as I still have a year to run on my contract, and I want to get Pacos de Ferreira into European competition. That’s what I’m focusing on now.”