Portuguese winger Simao Sabrosa has had a memorable career to date. At club level, he has represented prestigious names such as Sporting and Benfica in his homeland, and Spanish giants Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, his current employers. On the international front, he helped his country reach the UEFA EURO 2004 final and finish fourth at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™.
FIFA.com caught up with the 30-year-old to discuss Portugal’s road to South Africa 2010, their Group G opponents and ambitions for the tournament, as well as life at Atletico, his boyhood idol and the importance of a smile.
FIFA.com: Simao, why do you think Portugal found it so difficult to qualify for South Africa 2010?
Simao Sabrosa: What happened was that coach Carlos Queiroz was trying to find a core of players for the World Cup. He decided to put his faith in youngsters, and that made things very hard for us early on. It was a new team with a new coach. But we started to improve bit by bit and I think that we’re very strong at the moment, both in football terms and as a squad. We’re very united.
Portugal will surely need that strength and togetherness, given the quality of their Group G rivals...
It’s the toughest group at the competition. Brazil, Côte d’Ivoire and Korea DPR - it’s so difficult! If we want to progress, we’re going to have to reproduce our form from the last few qualifiers. It’s vital to win, or get at least a point, in our first game against the Africans. Our opponents are very strong, we know that, but we’ll have time to prepare for that encounter. It’s the most important game of our World Cup.
Portuguese fans have grown used to their team going far in major tournaments in recent years. Does that add to the pressure?
We reached the final at EURO 2004 and the semis at Germany 2006, so we clearly set the bar very high and the supporters expect us to repeat those feats. But we don’t let that get to us. When we take the field we’re always focused, we don’t think about the pressure, though of course we’re just as keen to win as the fans are.
So, what is Portugal’s goal for South Africa 2010?
Given the group we’ve been drawn in, our main aim is getting through to the last 16. Then we’ll see what happens, but if we can get through then anything’s possible. That said, the pressure’s not going to ease off because we could end up meeting Spain in the last 16. But that’s looking too far ahead, first of all we’ve got to get out of our group.
Changing tack slightly, why do you think Portugal have so many quality wingers compared to other national teams?
It’s down to the work that’s carried out in our country, particularly in the Sporting youth academy. From a child they drill you in a tactical system where the wingers always have the most important roles. They scout for the most talented players in the country and develop them, using a very talented group of coaches. Other clubs like Benfica and Porto are now following Sporting’s lead, but all the gifted wingers now in the national team, such as Cristiano (Ronaldo), (Luis) Figo, Nani, (Ricardo) Quaresma and me all started at Sporting. As a country, being known for having great wingers is very important to us.
On that note, who did you model yourself on as a boy?
Luis Figo, no doubt about it. I used to go and watch him train from the age of 13, when I joined Sporting’s academy. I always dreamed of being like him. And l was later fortunate enough to play alongside Luis at Sporting, Barcelona and for the national team, and he was always happy to give me advice. In fact, he still does because we live in the same city now he’s retired. He continues to be an example for everyone to follow, whether they are professionals or children just starting out.
And it is not just Figo, there seems to be a whole host of Portuguese players in Madrid at the moment...
We’re all over Spain! We sometimes bump into Cristiano with his agent. I see more of Pepe and Duda from Malaga too. I generally try to keep in touch with my countrymen, even if it’s just over the phone. It’s a shame what happened to Filipe Luis. He was playing so well and a silly injury, so to speak, has denied him the chance to enjoy a World Cup.
What can you tell us about your and Atletico’s current form?
I must admit that we’ve been very inconsistent, especially in the league. We win a game, are happy for three days, and then we lose a game and the atmosphere’s like a funeral. We want to find consistency because we know these highs and lows aren’t acceptable, but something’s not right. At the moment our objective seems to be the Copa del Rey: we want to reach the final and we’re very focused on doing that.
The staff at Atletico have only nice things to say about you. Do you make a conscious effort to be on good terms with them?
You must always be polite, respectful and have a kind word for the staff at the club. I’m a player and I’ve got to play football. The kit man is there to do his job and is just as worthy of respect. If they treat me well, why should I treat them differently? I love being able to tell people I appreciate them, affection is what really matters in life. You’ve always got to have a smile on your face.
You seem to have a very positive outlook, can you tell us your secret?
I’m always talking about happiness because a smile is the best cure for pressure. A footballer’s life can become routine: matches, training, playing every three days, travelling. It’s important to relax a bit and try to enjoy each moment, to smile and be cheerful.
Tell us a bit more about a footballer’s routine. Can it wear you down?
Not really, but it is very repetitive. You’re on the pitch, you go back home to rest and you’re playing again in three days. The most important things for a player are training, resting and eating well. You finish training, you eat and then have a nice siesta, because you need to keep your strength up for the days ahead. So when I’ve got free time I like to take it easy, watch DVDs, have fun with my family. I always try to be happy.
So, how important is looking after yourself?
It’s very important. When I was young I was fortunate enough to work alongside great, more experienced players who made it clear to me that a good diet, rest and being well-hydrated are vital. So, I’ve made sure to follow that advice all my life, because it’s crucial in order to have a good and long career.
And finally, a difficult question. Who is the better player, Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi?
(Laughs) If we’re talking about current form, they’re both playing very well but I think that Messi has the edge at the moment.
What about Simao?
(Laughs again). No, no, Messi’s still the best!