Nelo Vingada feels the M-Leauge needs more intensity. Pix by Owee Ah Chun

Portuguese Nelo Vingada, who was hired in May to coach Malaysia, speaks exclusively to Timesport including his relationship with Jose Mourinho

QUESTION: How important is it for Asian footballers to play in Europe?

ANSWER: Europe is the best football continent in the world. Seven countries in Europe can become world champions in contrast to South America where only Brazil, Argentina and maybe the fast improving Chile can win the World Cup.

Europe is definitely the place for Asian players to improve their football. The reason why Iran, Japan, Australia and South Korea are the top four teams in Asia is that their top players play for clubs in Europe.

These players bring experience and maturity whenever they return to play for their respective national teams.

I hope in the future we will have a few Malaysian players in Europe. This is achievable.

Q: In Malaysia, most youngsters dream of playing for top teams in the Premier League and La Liga. How tough is it for players to make it big with clubs like Manchester United and Barcelona?

A: When you talk about Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Barcelona and Real Madrid, you are talking about highest level of club football in Europe.

To be honest, it is not easy even for the best Asian footballers to play at that level. For example, Omar Abdulrahman of the United Arab Emirates is considered as one of the best players in Asia but he still finds it very hard to make it big in Europe.

My advice for Asian players is to take it one step at a time. There are many middle and lower level leagues in Europe which are good options for Asians. For Malaysians, they should aim for these leagues but it is not easy for now as we need to develop the local league here. The M-League needs more intensity.

By making our league here stronger, we can slowly market Malaysian players abroad. The Premier League, La Liga and Bundesliga are the three strongest leagues in Europe, followed by the competitions in Italy, Portugal and France.

The leagues in Greece, Switzerland, Cyprus, Belgium and Sweden are among the middle range competitions in Europe. I think these leagues will be good destinations for Asian players.

Q: How did you meet Jose Mourinho who is regarded as one of the most successful managers of all-time?

A: Mourinho’s late father, Jose Felix was my coach at Belenenses. The memory of father and son together on the training field still brings a smile to my face.

I remember a little boy coming with his father and playing with a ball on the field during the training sessions. Mourinho was about nine-years old then. He also played football but not at a high level but he played the game.

I became his lecturer at the University of Lisbon. I was teaching physical education and sports specialising in football and he was in my class.

As coaches, our teams met about four times. My team, Marítimo, who I coached between 1993-2003, beat his Benfica and Porto teams then.

I have an excellent relationship with Mourinho. As a person, he is very kind, jovial and has an open mind about things.

I was 18 years old when I played under Mourinho’s father. At that time, I was hoping to become a good professional… never thought I would eventually become a coach. When I was playing football, my dream was either to be a lecturer in physical education or pilot but I chose the former as I got the opportunity to study it.

My first coaching job was assistant trainer at Belenenses, a club where I had once played for under Mourinho’s father.

Q: What do you think of the M-League?

A: I have worked in 10 countries and have seen the quality of their leagues. The M-League is a little bit up and down. I have watched some interesting matches and also several poor games. I believe the league here needs more intensity… players need to be stronger in the challenges. I have identified good talent here but they need to be confident.

I believe I can upgrade these talented players to become better professional. Football is not about the two hours a player invests in training. A footballer needs to be professional in all aspects in order to be a top class player. He needs to rest, eat the right food and also have a healthy social life. All these are part of training.

Everyone can train for two hours a day but those who do not take care of themselves will end up destroying their promising careers. Drinking alcohol and smoking is a big ‘no’ in football. These things affect your fitness and life.

Q: Carlos Queiroz is regarded as the father of Portugal’s Golden Generation. What kind of effect did he bring to Portuguese football?

A: I started working as his assistant in 1986 and together, we groomed a young Portuguese side who became runners-up in the UEFA Under-16 Championship in 1988 and UEFA Under-18 Championship in 1990. Our team then won the 1991 Under-20 World Cup in Lisbon. It was all about hard work. We had long and tough camps but of course, the players we had were also talented.

The successes of the youth teams eventually changed the mentality of footballers in Portugal. Footballers began to feel they could become world champions one day. Clubs in Portugal also started investing in good facilities with proper academies and training fields.

In Malaysia, clubs in the M-League should emulate Darul Ta’zim. The club have good training fields, facilities. Players want to play for Darul Ta’zim because of the club’s facilities.

Q: At World No 55, Iran are the highest ranked team in Asia despite not having the best facilities for football in their country. What is their secret?

A: Iran are a country with not many facilities for football but yet they are the No 1 in Asia. I know this as I worked there twice in the past. Football is the No 1 sport in Iran and their people are crazy over the sport. It is normal to see children playing football on the streets. Football is a form of activity as there is hardly any entertainment in Iran. That is why Iran have many gifted footballers who are powerful in all aspects. It is, however, different in KL. We cannot find any space for children to play football.

Q: The China Super League has become one of the richest competitions in the world but yet their national team are not making any impact. What are the reasons?

A: In China, clubs spend billions of dollars hiring top class footballers but sadly zero is spent on development. All these so-called top players do not contribute anything. The league in China has too much money and very beautiful stadiums but their youth teams have never made it big in any competitions.

I realised this was a problem when I was coaching Dalian Shide (in 2011-12). I told my club president then to put aside 10 per cent of the budget for youth development. Investing in youth football is very important to tap talents.

Q: Is body size important in football?

A: If we are talking about volleyball or basketball then size is important as height is very important in these sports.

In football, height does offer some advantage but small size players can compensate with good technical abilities, fighting qualities and speed.

It is just a perception that taller players are better. Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta might be diminutive, but they are still among the very best in La Liga. Spain had the shortest average height among players for the 2008 and 2012 Euro and the 2010 World Cup but they still won the titles.

In Malaysia, players need to be confident against nations, whose footballers are naturally tall and well-built. This is why Malaysia do not have a good record against Arab teams.

It will take time. We came very close against a bigger-built Lebanon side recently. We lost to a late goal but we could have won or drawn the match. We matched them and created chances to score goals. I think the performance has given the players the self-belief.

No doubt, we need good results but it can only come when players are confident.

Q: Why did you choose to come to Malaysia?

A: I came here for the challenge… I believe I can bring good things to the game here. I did not come here for the money… money comes and goes. I met FA of Malaysia (FAM) president Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim in May and we spoke about football here.

Tunku Ismail is determined to do only good things for football… he has a vision for the future. I believe that together with him, my staff and I can help the national team make inroads. Results and good things will remain forever in your history.

I hope I can bring happiness for Malaysia because that happiness will also be my happiness too.

I will be open to all club-level coaches here. I want to have a good relationship with all of them. A close working relationship will make my task easier in the long run. What the players do for the national team will also offer positives to their clubs. The objective now is to try to qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup.

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