Pereira's Grit And Belief Behind Porto's Late Title Surge

by
Reuters
Porto coach Vitor Pereira may not be as loved as predecessors Jose Mourinho and Andre Villas-Boas but his staying power helped his team retain their Portuguese league crown by turning around a season that looked set to end empty-handed.

Vitor Pereira

Porto coach Vitor Pereira may not be as loved as predecessors Jose Mourinho and Andre Villas-Boas but his staying power helped his team retain their Portuguese league crown by turning around a season that looked set to end empty-handed.

Pereira's university professors said he was studious and never missed a class, and it was through such discipline and hard work that Porto beat arch-rivals Benfica to the title in a riveting race that went down to the wire.

"They arranged so many funerals for us along the season...I, myself, like to stick to reality," Pereira said recently.

Porto salvaged their season by coming back from a four-point deficit to overcome Benfica and snatch the league in the last three rounds. Last season they pulled off the same trick, reeling in their Lisbon rivals despite a five-point gap.

Fans were calling for Pereira's head as recently as last month after Porto lost the League cup to Braga, following a Portuguese Cup defeat to the same team and a Champions League last-16 exit by Malaga.

Pereira retained his faith, Porto kept performing in the league and made the most of Benfica's mistakes to be rewarded with the top prize.

"This healthy contest against (Benfica coach) Jorge Jesus has made me a better coach. The more the competition the more we evolve," Pereira said.

"It has been a spectacular championship, one of the best in many years. It had all the ingredients: a fierce title battle, a late fight for European slots and a close relegation struggle. What else could we ask for?," he said before the final round.

The highlight came last weekend when a dramatic last-gasp winner from substitute Kelvin gave Porto a 2-1 win over Benfica and sent them top.

Pereira, 44, celebrated effusively while counterpart Jesus fell to his knees in disbelief.

His success with Porto is all the more striking given his humble background as a coach. He headed lower tier Santa Clara, Espinho and Sanjoanense before becoming Villas-Boas's assistant coach in 2010.

"Pereira was committed, studious and always knew what to do, he never skipped a class," Vitor Frade, a professor of Pereira at Porto Sports University, told Record daily. "He has now met his goals and triumphed, whether you like it or not."

The coach, linked in the media with English Premier League Everton who are searching for a successor to Manchester United-bound David Moyes, did well to cope with the departure of last year's player-of-the season Hulk to Zenit St Petersburg.

The Brazilian forward was soon forgotten as Pereira brought in Colombia striker Jackson Martinez, the league's top scorer with 26 goals, and kept Porto's attack running smoothly by retaining busy midfielder Joao Moutinho and 21-year-old James Rodriguez.

More remarkable perhaps, was Porto's improvement in defence.

Porto conceded only 25 goals in all competitions this season compared to more than 40 in the last campaign.

UNDEFEATED SEASON

They also went undefeated in the league, emulating the feat of the team under Villas-Boas in 2010-11.

Energetic and technically-gifted Brazilian full backs Danilo and Alex Sandro, 21 and 22, respectively, were major reasons for this achievement, as were the commanding performances of centre back Mangala, who has just earned a debut call-up for France's senior international team.

Another stand out performer was midfielder Joao Moutinho whose work rate and accurate passing were vital ingredients throughout the season.

He impressed so much that team mate Helton even used a typical Portuguese-language proverb to say that, although his view may be biased, he would prefer Moutinho over Portugal and Real Madrid goal-machine Cristiano Ronaldo.

"I am 'pulling the charcoal to grill my sardine' when I say this but although Ronaldo is excellent, I think Moutinho is better, more serene. He can go unnoticed but is crucial," Helton told his club's magazine.