Vitor Baia is one of the most successful players in the history of football. The goalkeeper collected 30 titles throughout a 20-year career at the top level with FC Porto, FC Barcelona and the Portuguese national team. He bid a fond farewell to Porto's fans at the end of the 2006/07 season, after he collected his tenth championship-winners medal.
Baia exchanged the goalkeeping gloves for the suit and tie and accepted the challenge of being the new director of international relationships at his beloved Porto. In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Baia looks back at the days on the pitch, the joys, the glory, but also the bad times.
FIFA.com: Vitor Baia, six months after putting an end to
your professional career, do you miss it?
Vitor Baia: To be honest, I thought I'd miss it a lot more. I finished my career aware of the step I was going to take and with the knowledge that a new era in my life was beginning. But the day my former colleagues started the 2007/08 pre-season camp I trembled a little, before thinking: it's really over.
You started a new challenge, as the director of
international relations of FC Porto. What does that
My time is split between college in the morning - where I am taking a course on Sports Management, and truly committed to finishing it - and the new task at the club in the afternoon: I'm their representative in meetings with UEFA, G-14 and I'm always present at UEFA Champions League draws.
Many former players choose to immediately start a career as
a coach. Have you ever thought of doing that?
Not every player has to become a coach. If they all did that many people would be out of a job. I think I would have the skills to be a good coach, but the moment never came and I honestly think I can be much more useful to the club, and Portuguese football, in my current role.
Looking more closely at you career as a goalkeeper, you
tasted success on a great number of occasions.
Which of those titles made you happiest?
Emotionally, and due to the fact that I was playing with the team I love, it was the UEFA Cup in 2003. It was my first international title with FC Porto and it came after an extraordinary match against Celtic, decided in extra-time (3-2). It made me go crazy with joy. The next year we won the Champions League, something that every players dream of, but, by then, we were already a winning team and that final was much easier (a 3-0 win against AS Monaco).
How does it feel to be a living symbol of FC Porto and also
of Portuguese football?
The only way a player can do so is by winning titles. A person may say, every day of his life, that he's the best player in the world, but the day he forgets to say it, people will forget about him. A career depends on titles, I achieved a lot and no one can take them away from me. Words don't mean much.
Nowadays, it's not usual for a professional player to
spend his entire career in only two clubs: you did that with FC
Porto and FC Barcelona.
Due to some characteristics, Barcelona and Porto are very much alike. Both teams are far from the country's capital and I've enjoyed learning a lot about Barcelona. I spent two and a half years there: it's not much, but enough to win the Cup Winners Cup, two Spanish Cups and one Spanish Supercup. Obviously I was not happy how I left Barça - after some problems with the coach (Louis van Gaal) - but I'll never forget the happy days I spent there.
Was there something you would have liked to achieve and
Yes. I would have loved to win an international title with the Portuguese national team. We always had very strong teams but always missed something and I believe that a generation of players like Luis Figo, Rui Costa and Paulo Sousa, amongst others, should have done it. We didn't and I have to be happy with the third place in EURO 2000.
What where the most important moments of you career outside
of the pitches?
Signing with Barcelona was very important, because it gave me an international status. Besides that, I will always remember the day I came back to FC Porto, an incredible moment: the streets where full of people to see me arrive, I was carried on people's shoulders and the stadium was sold out for my second debut with the club.
Such as in life, football also has some bad days and you
also experienced a few problems.
I had four operations on my knees that stopped me from playing for two years. I even thought that my career had come to an end, but I was able to recover and that period made me look at things in a different perspective.
Besides that, I feel sad when I think about the way that my international career ended. I played 80 games for Portugal, but after the FIFA World Cup™ in 2002 I was kept out of Mr. Scolari's squads without any explanation. It's kind of strange because I was voted as being the best goalkeeper in Europe in the 2003/04 season and a few days before the squad for UEFA EURO 2004 was announced I'd won the Portuguese championship and the UEFA Champions League and even then I wasn't called up.
You first signed for FC Porto at the age of 14 and there is
a nice story about it.
Yes. I was playing for Academica de Leca in a small tournament and I knew there was a scout from Porto in the stands looking at me and Domingos (a future Portuguese international). My team was very strong and gave no chances to the opposition, so they rarely had a shot on goal. In the end, the scout said that he was signing Domingos, who scored a lot of goals, but he chose the other goalkeeper, because he had a lot more to do in the game. Despite that, my coach from Academica de Leca insisted that they signed me instead, something which happened a few days later. It's strange to think how my life could have been very different!
You made your debut in the main Portuguese championship for
FC Porto at the age of 19 and you became an international player
two years after that. You always had the No1 jersey until the day
you returned to FC Porto after the spell in Barcelona. Why did you
It's also a funny story. When I got back to FC Porto, in January of 1999, No1 was already taken. So I called the marketing department of FC Porto asking if I could be No99 and they loved the idea. The sales of those jerseys were a success and even my foundation is called Vitor Baia 99.
What are the main objectives of your foundation?
The creation of such an institution was always one of my main objectives. I believe that professional players have a huge social responsibility and I've always liked to help those who need. I had been doing that for some years when the foundation was created to help children and youngsters that have all sorts of problems.