Just after a month after leaving the Belgium job following their early exit from the Qatar World Cup, Roberto Martínez has been named as the new manager of Portugal.
He succeeds Fernando Santos, arguably the most successful manager in Portugal’s history, but who stepped down after their surprise World Cup quarter-final defeat to Morocco.
Santos had been heavily criticised for his tactics in the tournament, and Portugal’s progress was overshadowed by a row involving him and their captain and star Cristiano Ronaldo.
Dealing with the Ronaldo issue will be one of the first things in Martínez’s inbox when he finally gets to work in his new role.
Born in Spain, Martínez who was a defensive midfielder, had a long playing career, most of it spent in the UK without ever achieving much of significance. The clubs with whom he became most closely associated, Swansea City and Wigan Athletic, he would both go on to manage.
Club Managerial Career
It was Swansea who gave him his first job in management, and he would spend two years with the Welsh side, leading them to promotion from Football League One, before returning to Wigan, where he helped them pull off one of the biggest surprises of all-time, beating Manchester City at Wembley to win the 2013 FA Cup Final.
That earned him a high profile move to Everton, but he found, like so many before and since him, that turning round the fortunes of the Merseyside club was beyond his capabilities, and he was sacked after three years in charge.
A few months later he was appointed Belgium boss, and inherited a side that were labelled the ‘Golden Generation” with talent such as Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Thibaut Courtois at his disposal.
They went to the World Cup in Moscow in 2018 among the favourites to win the tournament for the first time, but, despite beating Brazil in the quarter-finals, had to settle for third place in the end.
The team went into the Qatar World Cup ranked second in the world, but many of their stars were ageing, whilst the dressing room had begun to fracture along the linguistic and cultural fault-lines that have beset Belgian football over the years.
They failed to get out of the group stage, after losing to Morocco and drawing with Croatia, and Martínez resigned.
68 year old Santos had been appointed to the Portugal job in 2014, and, two years later, led them to their first ever international trophy success, when they won the European Championship in France. Three years later they were the inaugural winners of the Nations League.
At the Qatar World Cup, his team won their first two group matches against Ghana and Uruguay to mean they qualified for the knock-out stages, but there was controversy in the third game against South Korea, when he decided to substitute his skipper and talisman Cristiano Ronaldo.
The captain’s obvious displeasure and dissent as he was benched angered Santos so much that he decided to leave him out of the next game, and the man who came in for him, Gonçalo Ramos, promptly scored a hat-trick in the thrashing of Portugal.
A surprise defeat to Morocco ended Portugal’s campaign, though, with Ronaldo again starting the match on the bench, and that led to Santos being sacked immediately afterwards.
No place for Mourinho
One name that was under consideration for the job is former Chelsea, Real Madrid, Tottenham and Porto boss Jose Mourinho, now with Roma. However, he may consider he is not ready to step away from club football yet, whilst the Portugal Football Federation may have found managing his ego and expectations something they were not prepared to handle just yet.
What to do about Ronaldo?
One of the biggest problems that Martínez has inherited is what to do about Ronaldo.
He is the leading international goalscorer of all-time, having scored 118 goals in a Portugal shirt, and has 196 caps for his country.
But he will be 38 years old next month, is not as mobile as he once was, and the team looked better without him in Portugal.
Now playing his club football in Saudi Arabia, having signed recently for Al-Nassr, Ronaldo has no intentions of quitting international football just yet, but Martínez may be forced to take the decision away from him.
Given Ronaldo’s iconic status in Portugal, are the Portuguese Football Federation ready to back their new man?
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