Pedro Caixinha says Scotland must learn from Portugal success
But he believes the story of his own homeland’s journey from general mediocrity to their current status as one of the leading sides in the world can offer a valuable insight for Scotland.
Portugal qualified for their fifth successive World Cup finals on Tuesday night and the reigning European champions will travel to Russia next summer with genuine ambitions of claiming the biggest prize of them all.
It is a golden era for the Portuguese which can’t simply be credited to their good fortune in possessing the brilliance of Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks. They have also reached the last six European Championship finals, finishing runners-up once and making it to the semi-finals twice in addition to their ultimate triumph in France last year.
But like Scotland, who have now reached the 20-year mark without appearing in a major tournament finals, Portugal previously endured their own spell in the wilderness which prompted a lengthy period of introspection.
In the three decades between 1966 and 1996, they only reached the finals of three tournaments – the 1984 European Championship in France, the 1986 World Cup in Mexico and Euro 96 in England.
According to Caixinha, who casts doubt on Gordon Strachan’s claim that genetics are handicapping Scotland’s progress, the radical change in Portuguese fortunes can be attributed to Carlos Queiroz. The former Manchester United assistant boss, who has just led Iran to a second successive World Cup finals, sparked a special age for Portuguese football while in charge of the players who won the World Youth Cup in both 1989 and 1991.
“We are doing a lot of things right in Portuguese football and it started a long time ago with Carlos,” says Rangers manager Caixinha.
“From the youngest levels, he changed all the basics, the competitions and the mentality of our approach to young footballers. The methodology changed drastically and what we preach is not that it should be faster, stronger or quicker but how the boys understand the game and what decisions to make in the games. Carlos put that in place and put our boys one step ahead. He does a tactical presentation where he says the tactical dimension is the most important one and the psychological side is also complementary to all this.
“So the national team has been growing and growing because of the trophies we have won and they are getting more money from sponsors, so you can develop everything and you can place your players in the best competitions in the world, give them the best facilities for training. Having the best player in the world [Ronaldo] also helps push you in the right direction. It is all part of one process, one work, one methodology and one vision to get to this moment in Portugal’s history.
“There was not a single moment when it was decided to try and change things, but I do think professional players just now are very different to professional footballers from 20 years ago. In those days, the Portuguese footballers were only playing in Portugal, so we were going to play against England, Germany or France, for example, and we were afraid. We were not ready.
“It is part of being a human being. When you don’t know what is going to happen, the unknown makes you fear what to expect. After we had that fantastic group of players, the golden age of Portuguese football, with players like Luis Figo and Rui Costa, those players went and played in huge teams. People were saying that these people were a bit more professional but, when they spoke about football and them and us as players, we didn’t know or feel any different.
“So these players brought this mentality to the national team and that spread through the rest. So, when the new methodology and system allowed us to create better players they were also coming in with this new mentality.
“I don’t know what the structure or the system is here in Scotland, after just six months at such a massive club like Rangers. I realise five years ago we were playing League Two and my focus is only on Rangers.
“So, I don’t know the process in Scotland but it is a shame what is happening, because I would like to see Scotland at a major finals.
“I remember I did my ‘A’ licence coaching badge with Colin Hendry and I used to call him ‘Braveheart’. I said to him I remembered clearly the Brazil-Scotland match at the start of the 1998 World Cup when he was wearing his kilt on the pitch before the game.
“I have images like that in my mind. The first World Cup I watched with real interest was the 1982 World Cup in Spain [when I was 11], where Scotland played. I can also remember great images of Scotland players, like Jim Leighton with the Vaseline above his eyes, and the great ones like Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness. Twenty years is a long time to miss out, so something needs to be thought about or redone by Scotland. You could have a vision, for example, to say we need to be in Qatar in 2022. So what we do in this four-year cycle is to start preparing from now.
“It is not up to me to do it. But if they called the coaches involved in local football to get an opinion, I have no problem with that. I respect the opinion [of Strachan] about the genetics but I cannot agree. Even more so if you compare it with the Spaniards, because the players are the same height.
“In handball, the players are higher. The same in volleyball and definitely in basketball. But not football. Ronaldo is a tall player but Lionel Messi is not. Both of them are the best players in the world and you have two different types.
“Of course, physicality is important but it is not the most important point. Is it about football intelligence? Totally. I don’t think Scottish players are technically behind. We have some good technical players here, one of the best at our club is Graham Dorrans.”
Caixinha also believes that the environment in Scotland is an issue, while greater dedication to repetition of skills is also required.
“The weather here may have something to do with it,” he added. “In Portugal, we can play on the street even in winter. So the ball is with us for more time to develop that skill. We can get on the beach and do it without shoes. If you don’t get it on the streets, where can you get it? You need somewhere to do it.
“Jose Mourinho also said something interesting when he tried to explain tactical periodization. Did you ever see a pianist getting skill from running around a piano? He needs 10,000 hours on the keys to become an expert. But not from running around it, from touching the keys. Again and again. That is the reality.”