Interview Paulo Sousa

MB I am not going to remind you of your remarkable career (357 league matches for Benfica, Sporting, Juventus, Dortmund and Espanyol de Barcelona, 2 cups and 2 championships won, 51 senior caps, 2 Champions Leagues won and an intercontinental cup). After your career you started a coaching career by taking the U16 of your country. Was it natural for you to go from player to coach? 

Paulo Sousa: No, my idea was not to stay in football, because there are other values that are very important to me. But after 17 years as a professional player, I missed the field, and above all the emotion that only football can give. But before coaching the national youth teams, I started to work with the federation and with UEFA and at the same time I invested a lot of time with the ambition to get to know football better with different perspectives.

 First of all, management, where I was involved in sports training. I created a training course for club managers with the Portuguese federation, we set up a licence with the government. This licence is very important from my point of view because the clubs are not professionalized (now all the teams belong to companies that do not know football).

 At the same time I worked on getting to know all the methodologies that exist. When I was playing, I only knew one of them for most of my career, and it was only at the end of my career in Spain that I got to know another methodology. 

That's why I was interested in knowing them all. I have followed many training courses, I have been to many countries, I have taken courses at the university also on training related to sport. I also followed courses on psychology and communication. I invested 6 years in training in parallel with my role as U16 and then U17, U18, U19 coach of Portugal. I tried to take everything I could before deciding to go my own way. 

MB. You practice in your own way the methodology of tactical periodization aggregated from your own experiences? 

Paulo Sousa: As I could see in your book you tried, and you invested a lot of time, to show the methodologies that others apply, and they are not all the same. Including in the tactical periodisation. You know what tactical periodisation means … There are coaches who give more importance to the team and others to the players. 

Tactical periodisation means that tactics are the most important component, more important than physical, technical, and mental. But on the tactics, there are many things to work on. And some will focus more on the team and others on the players. It is true that you cannot separate them, but you can still give more attention to one than the other in your planning.

 For this you have to be careful not to classify all coaches in the same way in the methodology. What did I know as a player? The traditional methodology where the physical is the most important, where you are an athlete. You work on the physical level and then it's your technical and tactical abilities that will make the difference. And then there are coaches who are more tactical than others. Like Italy, for example. More on defensive organisation than offensive. There is also the cultural background of the coaches. 

The most important thing for me, when I made the decision to become a coach, was the objective of exciting the player, how I can help the player to develop tactical intelligence, knowledge of the game. What does it mean to know the game?

It doesn't matter what the role is, what the system is, it's all about the knowledge of the game (of space, of timing, the individual concept versus a line concept, a collective concept) you know. To start all this, I start with a more collective idea. So I try to come to a club, to have an individual analysis in relation to the knowledge of the players, in relation to the tactics to increase and develop the individual concepts to introduce on the game.

 I try to work all these individual concepts on the game. To have a common identity, a passport for the team. To help the players to make decisions together, as fast as possible, as well as possible, you know. And for that, also because as a player I have often suffered injuries, so for me the idea of this methodology is to have the same mental and physical intensity, to have the same volume-load each day as in a match. Give the players the opportunity to experience things that are not different from those of the match, okay? 

Then it's true that you have to "play" with fatigue because recovery is fundamental. Between matches, between sessions, and between exercises in the same session. So, you have to read well during the training to know when and how to recover.

MB When you arrive at Girondins de Bordeaux or when you were at Fiorentina, you arrive in front of players who most of the time do not know your way of working. How do you manage to get the message across and how do the players receive it? 

Paulo Sousa: The players today are interested, and they are waiting for what each coach will bring to them. Not only in terms of difference, but also in terms of methodological and tactical competence. And with time the adaptation takes place. 

The idea is to be well organised and to get a clear idea across in the first few days. I try to give as little complexity as possible to make the players understand how it will happen. It's true that we have five moments in the match that we work on and we see these moments above all. 

I try to give as little complexity and as few messages as possible so that the players understand and work on these principles. And this operationality in the exercise must be well planned with all the staff so that the exercise (with the space, the number of players, the rules) is oriented towards the collective concept of line and individual. 

Because everything else, the question of recovery, the time, the player doesn't have to think about that. Everything we do, we organise to make them experiment things to improve their conception of the complexity of the match.

 MB: It also forces you to have a staff that masters your methodology. 

Paulo Sousa. Yes, it is important. That's why the construction of my staff, in relation to the methodology I had in mind, is a priority. I have identified the profiles, because it is not only about skills, but also, and this is very important for me, about human values, and that allows me to improve little by little the appreciation of the other members of my staff in relation to my ideas of football. 

Today I have a staff that knows me well, we have been working together for more than 6 years, this also allows me to delegate, so they get all the feedback from what is happening on the field, in training, because they already have a vision close to mine. 

MB one last question, as you said, I watched the training before our meeting, there was an incredible intensity in the work. It's quite short but the intensity is total. 

Paolo Sousa Yes, the idea is to normally have the same intensity as in the match and in the same time. 

 The search to make the players experience the same situations as what happens in the match. And the mental intensity especially that we work to install in the head. Because you know as you wrote that we have the conscious and the subconscious. The subconscious is the past, it's everything you have already acquired. 

So, to change and improve things you have to create a habit. And your brain when it recognises, it installs the knowledge. And it becomes automatically recognised knowledge. We also work on this because the intensity is not only physical, but also especially mental. Because it is the mind that controls the movements. We work especially on that. 

MB: Thank you Paulo for this interview. It's very rare to have this chance and I thank you for it. Nota : At the time of the publication of this book Paulo had left Bordeaux and became the coach of the Polish national team and now he trains in Brazil.

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