Paulo Sousa didn`t seem to have had a late night last night! He looked alert, bright and breezy, and very cheerful as he was introduced by programme host Chris Kamara. I would also like to point out that he looked very dapper in his casual attire of a dark suit with an open-necked blue & white-striped shirt (but they were vertical stripes – not horizontal!) as he sat on the couch along with Alan Curbishley.
The first point of order was not to discuss Sousa`s esteemed footballing record, but to establish how to pronounce his name! It`s “Sousa” like so and za together – we should note that when we start singing his name!
Before watching highlights of yesterday`s Sunderland -v- Tottenham Premier League match, Sousa did discuss another important issue – that there is a big difference from Portugal to England! The football, players and even the weather were all different, according to our First Team Coach. Although he did observe that it hasn`t rained much since he came to England and there have been many sunny days which he really enjoys. He passed up the opportunity, however, to comment on the snow!
Kamara invited Sousa to offer his thoughts on the English Premier League. Sousa felt that the real difference between the two leagues (the Premier League and the Championship) lay in the superior quality of players in the higher league. Interestingly, he did not think there was as great intensity in the Prem as there is in the Championship. He spoke about how, in the PL, the team which has possession controls the game so much better and how that team looks to use the channels to produce crosses whilst the forwards move better to create the space to receive the ball. Wouldn`t we all just love to see that at Loftus Road?!
Analysing Richardson`s goal for Sunderland yesterday, Sousa described how he had made a good run into space, had had a good first touch and then he looked up and produced a simple, but important goal. I detected a hint of wistfulness in Sousa`s comments as he must have been thinking about the chances that QPR had had in our game yesterday, but failed to convert as Richardson did his chance!
Sousa also discussed Gianfranco Zola`s arrival at West Ham and his achievement so far. He described Zola as friendly and honest and he came to West Ham with his own ideas which, now the team was playing with confidence, he could more easily pass on. Again, I detected a hint of yearning as Sousa must have been wondering what had gone wrong in the last few games at Queens Park Rangers, which must have affected our confidence which Sousa had been working so hard to build up! There have been so many interviews I have heard or read where Sousa has stressed that his first task was to build up our team`s confidence!
An important, and fascinating, discussion took place on Sousa`s learning curve as a Coach – from Spanish football. Sousa felt he had learned a lot about what is the best way to coach players from his time playing in Spain. It gave him the opportunity to learn about different methods and how to win using “different methods, with different ideas, with different personalities, with different players. It is better when you know a lot of things because then you can choose,” he confessed. This is a theme that we have heard many times from Sousa, when discussing the different formations he has adopted at QPR. Clearly he is very passionate about the great variety of possibilities he could use to win a match, as I witnessed in his most fervent explanation on TV.
Sousa was really enjoying himself on the couch, although he does tend to twist his hands an awful lot as well as biting his lip! But he was not afraid to speak on a variety of topics which included Portugal as a potential international force in the football world; this year`s Champions League competition – a competition he won twice in successive seasons firstly with Juventus in `96 and then with Borussia Dortmund in `97 (ironically by beating Juventus in the final!!); Jose Mourinho and Bobby Robson who Sousa worked with at Sporting Lisbon.
Did you know that Mourinho worked with Robson at Sporting Lisbon, many moons ago, as both a coach and as Robson`s translator? They also worked together at Porto and Barcelona. I didn`t know that – till Sousa mentioned it! Oh, and if we ever get to pit our wits against Mourinho, we should remember that his name is pronounced Jose, as in the English bloke`s name “Joe”, not “hoe” – that way we can sing our thoughts properly!!
Sousa discussed how he had had a chance to come to England to play for Arsenal in `97 but chose to go to Germany instead. When asked why he didn`t opt for Arsenal he sheepishly admitted that he didn`t like Arsenal`s style of football, particularly in the midfield, which he said was box-to-box which was not his way of playing. The grin was huge – mine, that is, not Sousa`s – I can`t wait to inform my Gooner friends and family!!
Our home game against Sheffield United was given elongated treatment! This was what I had really been waiting for – to hear Sousa`s on-the-spot comments about us, yesterday`s game and all things QPR. (Although listening to Curbishley`s thoughts on his old team, Charlton`s, demise was somewhat satisfying, I have to admit!)
Kamara, who was at Loftus Road yesterday, was blunt and to the point: “Have you still got a chance of the play-offs?” he asked, adding “you missed plenty of chances in the game, yesterday!” At that point, the smile dropped from Sousa face and he looked, at first serious, and then an ironic smile (or was it that wistful smile again?!) formed as he replied:
“Yeah, we missed a lot. Not from yesterday but from one month.”
Talking about the last few games he suggested that: “We played well and we created more chances than our opponents and we have had more possession than our opponents. But we missed the last touch and the last touch is the most important to win three points. You need to score goals!”
“What the coach can do is give confidence to the players, keep working on our organisation to be better than our opponents during the game and looking for our last touch.
“This is a project for the medium-term. This Board`s aim, when it took over the Club a year and a half ago, was to achieve a place in the Premier League but with a solid base. And the solid base needs some time to build.
“As Alan (Curbishley) said, to create something for the future you need to have time but you also need the direction to go and I think that we are in a good way now. Last season we were looking to not go down and remain in this competition. The Club bought some important players to build something more important.
“This season we have always remained in the middle of the table. Of course, close to the play-offs you need to give expectations to everyone, because expectations will give a lot of motivation to the players. To believe in ourselves that we can do it. Because until the moment when you are there, you need to believe.
“This season the games we played against the teams at the top of the table we have been competitive. We have won, we have been difficult to beat, we have won more than we have lost. I think we are in a good way.”
Whilst listening to Sousa talking, I was treated to highlights of yesterday`s game. On reflection, Blackstock`s miss in the first half was not quite so clear cut as a one-on-one situation seeing as how the Blade`s defender was just ahead of Blackstock and closer, at first, to the ball than Blackstock who did well to stretch out his leg but must have been slightly put off his shot. In the second half, Kenny literally scooped Blackstock`s header from mid-air on the goal line (when Blackstock was 3 yards out) and even though Blackstock claimed the ball had crossed the line, the goal wasn`t given. But there was no excuse for Alberti`s miss minutes later! He had plenty of space with the nearest defender to him flat on his backside; and, if he had kept his shot low, he would have scored!
Kamara then asked Sousa about the pressure involved in working for a Board made up of Briatore, Ecclestone and Mittal (“three very wealthy people!”)
“Mediterranean people, especially Flav,” observed our own Mediterranean manager, “are very ambitious and sometimes they are not so patient!
“(Flavio) is also a big manager from Formula One and all his life he is looking to win everything he wants and he gives this from his character not just to me but to everyone!”
A final, and touching moment, came when Paulo Sousa discovered that the cameras had caught him practising his personal skills with a ball during yesterday`s warm-up (which I missed as I was chatting with Boxer, Number 8 and Toboboly in the Springbok at the time!!) It was very impressive to watch his concentration as, wearing nothing more than ordinary loafers, he flicked the ball back onto his right foot with his left foot and then used his right foot to flick the ball round to the front and he caught the ball on the top of his left foot. He then started kicking the ball from left to right foot, keeping the ball in the air – reminding us of the skilful player he once was!
Sitting in the studio, he roared with laughter at having been caught out but then playfully boasted that he did that sort of thing all the time! He is such a friendly man and clearly so gifted. The way he spoke throughout the programme was clear, measured, thoughtful and so very, very intelligent. I found myself warming to him even more and hoping and praying that Flavio`s impatience for success could be tempered because I really do believe we have the potential, with Paulo Sousa at the helm, to go far – given time and, un-Mediterranean like, plenty of patience!
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