x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Portugal feeling the pressure to perform

A homecoming of sorts for Queiroz contrasts with Eriksson's late arrival to the continent, writes Ian Hawkey

Sven Goran Eriksson and Carlos Queiroz, right, have had similar experiences.
Sven Goran Eriksson and Carlos Queiroz, right, have had similar experiences.

Carlos Queiroz, the Portugal coach, can scarcely have felt more at home since he arrived in South Africa. Around Johannesburg, Portuguese flags are more numerous than any except those of the host nation. Cars cruise the northern and eastern suburbs painted in the green, red and elaborate shield of a country their owners still think of as home. Several hundred thousand South Africans with Portuguese roots live here. They have made it plain who they will be supporting.

In contrast, Sven-Goran Eriksson, the Ivory Coast coach, can hardly have felt more alien in his new environment. Where Queiroz is coaching a country he first took charge of nearly 20 years ago, Eriksson, a Swede, was the last coach to be appointed for this tournament. He has spent only a matter of days in West Africa familiarising himself with a country, Ivory Coast, he had never before visited.

For all that, these two are bound by common threads. Queiroz was born in Africa - in Mozambique - and set off north as an unknown aspiring coach to embark on a career that has taken in two spells in charge of Portugal, stints in the Middle East, in South Africa, the USA, as a respected No 2 at Manchester United, and as the head coach at Real Madrid. Eriksson, from northern Sweden, moved south with no great playing record to recommend him, and found success in Gothenburg and then across Italy's Serie A with Roma, Fiorentina, Sampdoria and Lazio.

Now in his 60s, he is the expensive manager-for-hire who took England to successive quarter-finals in World Cups and flopped while with Mexico. But he still had enough glitter on his record to persuade the Ivorian federation to stretch its budget enough to entrust him with this World Cup. These voyagers, inevitably, have crossed paths. Eriksson's success with Benfica in the early 1990s - he reached a European Cup final with the Lisbon club - persuaded their arch-rivals, Sporting, they needed a change to keep up. They appointed Queiroz to challenge the legacy Eriksson had left on the red side of Portugal's capital. Another decade, another derby: Eriksson was in charge of Manchester City for a season while Queiroz was at United.

In the whirligig world of the expatriate international manager, they have had some similar experiences, too. Eriksson will watch Mexico at this tournament with bitter-sweet emotions. He was in charge of their early qualifiers. Queiroz, meanwhile, looks at the South African team with a sense of unfinished business. He was the last man to guide South Africa, in 2002, through a successful World Cup qualifying phase. He was sacked before the final tournament, an episode that scarred him.

Through these ups and downs, a manager develops a thick skin. Both Queiroz and Eriksson have an urbane, studious air, a certain degree of personal vanity, and with that the suspicion that their apparent coolness comes at the cost of passion. When England under Eriksson were losing their way in the 2002 World Cup quarter-final against Brazil, one player bemoaned that when they wanted from the manager "a bit of Winston Churchill" they instead got "Ian Duncan Smith", an uncharismatic British politician of the time.

One international player who worked under Queiroz once described him as "too much of a clipboard man", too theoretical, not a man to pump the adrenalin. The danger today is that conservatism governs, so powerful is the fear of defeat. The stakes look so high in a Group G that also includes Brazil, the favourites, and North Korea, that Portugal versus Ivory Coast assumes the character of a knockout tie, a play-off for second place behind the Brazilians.

If so, Queiroz appears in the preferable position. His team play Brazil last, when the South Americans may already be well set to top the group. His team have the fit superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo, while Eriksson must decide how far to gamble on his unfit superstar, Didier Drogba, who 11 days ago had surgery on a broken elbow. As for the division of support in Nelson Mandela Bay, it will be intriguing.

Many of the continent's best hopes are invested in Eriksson's talented group of Ivorians, and most Africans are drawn to them for that. But in South Africa are all those Portuguese-Africans, people who recognise Queiroz as one of their own. 

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