Paulo Sousa

01 Apr 2011

PAULO SOUSA: HUNGARY TO SUCCEED

Having experienced the English game’s notorious ‘hire and fire’ culture at first hand, Paulo Sousa is now testing his mettle in a whole new environment.

 It’s no secret that the modern football manager has about as much job security as a department store Santa. Figures for the 2009/10 season state that, at that time, the average manager’s tenure was one year and four months – down from three and a half years back in 1992.

 Paulo Sousa has suffered as much, if not more, from this knee-jerk ‘hire and fire’ culture than most. In fact, with spells of 26 and 12 games in charge of the two English clubs he’s managed (Queens Park Rangers and Leicester City respectively) Sousa must look at that average tenure with a fair degree of envy.

 Sousa can hardly be blamed for this situation, though; he’s one of 10 people to have occupied the QPR manager’s office since Ian Holloway vacated the post in 2006 and one of nine Leicester managers in roughly the same period.

 Between those two spells Sousa enjoyed a full season with Swansea City, falling just short of reaching the Championship play-offs. The foundations he laid with the swans have been built upon by his successor, Brendan Rodgers, who’s taken a team built largely on Sousa’s squad into the Barclays Premier League.

 But despite the setbacks he’s suffered in his time working in the Championship, Sousa has lost none of his appetite for management. He showed his passion for the game – and confounded many pundits – in May of this year when it was announced that he had agreed to take the reins at Videoton FC, an obscure Hungarian team which had just won its domestic league title for the first time.

 So how did Paulo Sousa find himself managing at a club in a town 40 miles south west of Budapest? “The opportunity came along in the same way that they all do,” he says. “I met with the owner [Hungarian businessman István Garancsi] and he explained a little about the club’s history and his plans for the future. We discussed what needed to be done to make the club progress and, after a few more meetings, we developed an agreement and I took the job.”

 Sousa was thrown straight in at the deep end, almost immediately taking charge of the team for their first ever UEFA Champions League qualifying games. Despite beating the vastly more experienced Austrian side Sturm Graz 3-2 in the home leg of their tie, they went out 4-3 on aggregate. That experience gave Sousa a taste for the competition and he’s keen to get back for another attempt at qualification for the group stages next season.

 “We were beaten by a team which had mostly been together for three or four years,” he says. “We will have more experience next year and we are already making plans which will give us a better chance of qualification for the main competition.”

 First, though, Videoton will have to win the Hungarian league again. And while Sousa has brought in some new recruits from overseas to help with this campaign (including three from his native Portugal) he’s aware that he will have to build on a foundation of local talent.

 To get the best from this talent, Sousa has brought with him two coaching staff with experience at the highest level of the Spanish game, his assistant Joan Carrillo and fitness coach Ignacio Torreno. “We’re working with everyone from the academy up to restructure the club and develop our own football philosophy,” he says. “If we can get everyone working to our model, we’ll be able to make the next step and start to compete regularly in Europe.”

 Sousa is keen to bring something of the English game to his new charges. “At the moment they play a very different style of football,” he says. “In England there is a much higher level of intensity... but we are working every day in training to get our players to reach this level of intensity because we will need that if we are to compete at an international level every season.”

 Having competed at the highest level of European club football (in Portugal, Germany and Italy, winning the UEFA Champions League twice) Sousa can bring a little more to his new squad than English intensity.

 "I’ve learned a little from all of the great managers I played under,” he says. “From when I was a child I have always tried to observe and learn from every situation, paying attention to detail and getting the most that I can.

 “For example, I learned a lot about tactics from Marcello Lippi, Carlos Queiroz taught me about developing a winning mentality and Ottmar Hitzfeld was a master at working out who could be leaders on the field and working with them off the field to help them read the game better.”

 Sousa has also learned from the English managers he played for. “I only worked with Roy Hodgson for a short time in Italy, but I loved the way that he worked with players to develop their mentality – and Sir Bobby Robson... he brought such a lot of enthusiasm to the training pitch.”

Enthusiasm is something which Sousa has in abundance and his commitment to Videoton is clear. He believes that Budapest is a nice place to visit, but he’s so committed to getting things right at Videoton that he hasn’t had time to see the city. He has also left his family behind in Portugal and doesn’t plan to bring them to Hungary until next season. “We moved a lot last year, so my wife and I thought that it would be better to get some stability, especially with our daughter at school,” he says. “Also, myself and my staff will have to work very hard to get everything organised this season, so our families wouldn’t have seen much of us.”

 And if and when Sousa moves on from Hungary, would he consider returning to England? “Of course,” he says. “English football is in my blood; I hope I will get another opportunity to prove myself in a country with the best football in the world.”

 But what about the way he’s been treated by the owners of English clubs to date... wouldn’t that make him a little more cautious next time around? “Not really,” he says, “as long as I can find one who makes a plan and sticks to it, I should be okay.”