European champion with FC Porto against Monaco, the former midfielder Costinha confided in his love for AS Monaco, that for Ligue 1 or even the coronation of “his” Sporting. Face to face with a romantic …
You were the coach of the Nacional until 2019. What has become of you since leaving Madeira?
At the end of my season at the Nacional, I had to pass the fourth level of coaching diplomas in Scotland (which I obtained). I had several proposals in Portugal and abroad but I wanted to finish my training. Now I am waiting for an attractive project to be proposed to me. I really want to get back to the field because I love training.
Would you like to return to France as a coach?
I would very much like. It’s a championship that means a lot to me. It was Ligue 1 that welcomed me when I left II Divisão b (Portuguese D3) for Monaco. It is a championship that I am, that I study. With my staff, two days a week, we study championships, teams, players, we observe, try to plan what is happening in Portugal and elsewhere in Europe, and we are pleased to be able to follow Ligue 1 at the television. Ligue 2 is not broadcast but I still manage to follow it too. I would very much like to train in France because there are teams, players with quality. It is not an easy championship, it is very specific, well organized. If an invitation from a French club came to me, I would seriously think about it. It is one of the countries that is one of my priorities. This season, I have been approached by two French clubs – whose names I do not want to reveal out of respect. Unfortunately that did not succeed.
Many describe, in a rather caricatured way, the Portuguese coach as pragmatic. Everyone is different and Paulo Sousa, for example, describes himself as a “romantic” of the game. What type of coach are you?
A coach must first preserve the culture of the club. Then it depends on the players he has at his disposal. My profile is closer to what Paulo Sousa wanted to put in place. I am a romantic by nature. I like my team to play well, but I also understand that in every game there is an element of pragmatism. Let’s look at what happened, for example, in the Champions League semi-final second leg between Manchester City and PSG. City is a team used to romanticism but faced with PSG, it has become pragmatic, on its cons, its opportunities … I can not say that I am totally one or the other. I have a preference but the timing of the game, the team and the players available may not be what I have in mind. So I have to adapt these players to reality and make them the best they can be. One thing is certain, I like the competition to win, I am very ambitious, perhaps because I went through ambitious clubs which transmitted this to me: Porto, Monaco, La Seleção, Atlético de Madrid…
Sporting have just been crowned Portuguese champions after 19 years of waiting. What is your feeling, you who were sporting director of the club (2010-2011)?
Sporting is having an excellent campaign. And this, since the first day of a championship in which he is still undefeated [après 32 journées]. It’s a team that has conceded only 15 goals and that says a lot about its strength, its defensive efficiency. In my opinion, if we compare it to FC Porto or Benfica, it is a team that has benefited from the absence of the public in the stadiums.
Because Sporting started out in a climate of protest against its president, Frederico Varandas. Maybe a team with so many young players wouldn’t have won so many games that weren’t as successful as they did; perhaps a context with the public would have been more detrimental. What is certain is that Ruben Amorim did an excellent job. One of the benchmark matches of the season is the one against FC Porto, where they are 2-1 down and equalize at 2-2. He demonstrated to his competitors that he was there to compete. This Sporting has not lost to its direct opponents. It brings confidence to the team. He also had a little star that is important to win: the one that allows you to gain points even when you are less well. And Sporting had an impressive efficiency in the last minutes of play. And he made sure to deserve it. They create a lot of chances and concede very few. He is a fair champion, just look at the number of points he has over his competitors.
Do you experience this title in a particular way because of being a Sporting sócio or do you follow that as a professional footballer?
It is clear that I am a football professional but … before having the glance of a Sporting sócio, I realize that it is a big club, with a lot of supporters and that Portuguese football lacks in the title fight. You need Benfica, FC Porto, Sporting and, if possible, a Braga, a Vitória de Guimarães to make the championship even more interesting. When we see that, in many European championships, the attribution of the title is decided only towards the very end … It is important that Portugal can have more competitiveness, rivalry, in the good sense of the word ( not violence). This is why it is important that Sporting be champions, and that it can maintain this level, not every 19 years, but at least that it manages to enter an alternation. There is too much difference in the standings at mid-championship between the top three and the other teams. This does not reflect the quality of our championship.
Who says Costinha also says Monaco. How do you see the ASM season?
Monaco is having a fantastic season. It is a club which is not easy, which has a particular context. It is very important to choose the type of players that we bring there. It’s a great club, which will forever be in my heart, in my thoughts. The one who gave me the chance to win my first trophy as a professional, who opened the doors to the Seleção, to the Champions League. He had some difficulties, he went through L2, but he came back. Niko Kovac does an excellent job, combining young people with the experience of which Fabregas is certainly the maximum symbol. Few would have bet on their current position, but Kovac’s work is paying off.
What is your opinion on the two current Portuguese from Monaco: Gélson Martins and Florentino?
Gélson, who arrived a little earlier in Monaco, was perhaps a more prepared player than Florentino. It was already launched. He had this suspension which prevented him from continuing what he had started well. He is a very good player. Personally, I really like Florentino. He is a very great player. It’s a pity that he doesn’t play more, it would allow him to grow, but the Monaco coach certainly has his reasons and the standings show that he is right. Florentino is, for me, one of the great talents of Portuguese football. It is not easy for him because Monaco recruited Fofana and Tchouameni, six months before his arrival. They are all young players with a lot of qualities. In addition, Florentino does not belong to Monaco but to Benfica. What I can say is that if Florentino finds a team where he can develop his football, he can demonstrate his quality, too. It’s a shame that by the time he left Benfica he didn’t tell the leaders he wanted to stay to demonstrate his worth. Maybe if he had stayed there he would play it today. He decided to go to Monaco which is a big club but with these two problems: two competitors at his post, which in no way affects his qualities.
What advice would you give him?
He needs to find a club where he can play. No club will give him that guarantee. No one can make those kinds of promises, because there is a group first and foremost. But he needs to be confident, to play an entire season. Before, we could not play regularly for three, four months without it not being too noticeable but, today, the rhythm is more intense and not to play for a month is already complicated, so a whole season… He holds with the Espoirs de Portugal, could get closer to the Seleção A but, with this passage in Monaco which he chose, he mortgaged certain possibilities that he could have had and that he did not have.
Is there a player you find yourself in today?
I do not know. These are different times, different football. There might be some players who have a few things that look like me and some don’t. But I couldn’t say which current player looks like me. Even though I see a lot of them, I can’t see all the players either. And every player is different. For example, no player is identical to Thierry Henry. Some say that Mbappé looks like him but it’s not the same. I don’t see a center-forward today like Trezeguet. On seven balls, he scored seven goals. I’m talking about a pure center forward. Cristiano Ronaldo scores as much but he is not a pure center-forward. Football has changed quite a bit, including the mentality of the players, the clubs, which makes comparisons even more difficult.
We nickname you “The Minister” for your tastes in “sapes”, your penchant for costumes. You confided, in an interview with Expresso, that this passion was born in Monaco. Is that where your nickname was born?
It was Thierry Henry who nicknamed me “The Minister”. It was before one of my first matches, against Bordeaux. Jean Tigana told me that I was going to mark Jean-Pierre Papin. I was not at ease. I was going to be marking a French football legend. We were on the bus and Thierry Henry said to me: “Costa, calm. Considering the way you dress when you leave Monaco, we will no longer call you Costinha but The Minister.” And it stuck.
How was it to move from Portuguese D3 to Ligue 1? How were your first days?
I had the support of great gentlemen. Jean Tigana who believed in me, of course, and the experienced players in the locker room: Fabien Barthez, Franck Dumas, Christophe Pignol, Japhet N’Doram, Ali Bernarbia, John Collins … Collins was a father to me in football . They did things for me… I arrived in Monaco on trial but injured my adductors. I was lying in my bed. We had a workout but I couldn’t, I was in so much pain. Ali Bernarbia and John Collins come and say, “Come on, let’s go.” I tell them I hurt myself. Bernarbia then said to Collins: “Here we have a tourist!” “Me, a, tourist ?! No one will say of me that I am a tourist.” It stung me so much that I went back to the field and gave it my all. Following this, Jean Tigana offered to stay and I signed my contract.
José Mourinho, your coach at FC Porto, has signed up with Roma from next season. How do you respond to those who say it is a thing of the past?
It is not at all a part of the past. If Mourinho is part of the past, what about those who have won nothing? Are they worth nothing? No no. He won the Europa League, not long ago . I didn’t expect him to pick up on a project so quickly, even though he had warned that he didn’t want to be inactive for too long. Because he loves what he does, he loves to win. He wants to stay in touch with Guardiola, Tuchel, Klopp, as far as the trophies are concerned. And I think that if he went to Roma, it is because the club gave him guarantees to build a team capable of fighting for the Scudetto.