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The Return of Costinha, the Man Who Flattened Manchester United

Andy BrassellFeatured Columnist IIJanuary 9, 2017

Remember Jose Mourinho’s mad sprint down the touchline at Old Trafford in 2004?

The image that catapulted the Portuguese into England’s consciousness was inspired by Porto’s last-gasp equaliser, which dumped Manchester United out of the Champions League, authored by the most unlikely of goalscorersmidfield anchorman Costinha. 

This week, Costinha will make anotherperhaps even moreimprobable entry into the rich history of the cup with the big ears.

Now 38, the former Portugal international is the head coach of Pacos de Ferreira, the tiny team from northern Portugal who have reached the Champions League playoffs after an astonishing third-place finish in the 2012/13 Liga Zon Sagres.

In the playoffs, Pacos will face Zenit St. Petersburg, Russia’s richest club. It’s a gargantuan task. The numbers are stark: Zenit’s 2012 annual budget of €215 million is more than 70 times the €3 million that Pacos get by on. In fact, the figure from which the Portuguese minnows have to pay players, admin staff, travel, utility bills and the rest wouldn’t even cover a third of Zenit forward Hulk’s annual gross wage of €10 million.

Pacos’ stadium, Mata Real, only has a capacity of 5,000 and doesn’t meet competition standards, so Costinha and his assistant, Maniche, will host Zenit in the arena where they played the second half of that glorious 2004 Champions League campaign with Porto: the Estadio do Dragao, situated half-an-hour’s drive south-west of Pacos’ home.

Yet Costinha is well versed in upsetting the status quo. He established his reputation in top-level European football as a player in unlikely circumstances, moving from second-tier Maritimo to Monaco in 1998, where he won Ligue 1 and reached a Champions League semi-final in a four-year spell, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Thierry Henry, Fabien Barthez and David Trezeguet.

At Porto, he became the organisational fulcrum of Mourinho’s midfield; calculating, metronomic and reliable. Costinha and Maniche have been close since those days, moving to Dynamo Moscow together in 2005 and later playing alongside one another at Atletico Madrid.

Neither quite captured the stellar form of their Porto days again either. Following Costinha’s 2010 retirement, he was appointed director of football at Sporting Clube de Portugal in inauspicious circumstanceshe replaced Ricardo Sa Pinto, who was fired after fighting with star striker Liedson in the changing room after a game.

Costinha never came to physical blows with anybody at the Estadio Jose Alvalade, but he upset plenty of people. A confident and forthright communicator, his loud suits and frank statements were too much for many at Sporting. He was fired after less than a year in the job following an interview with Sport TV in which he referred to Sporting as “more of a trampoline than a big club.” A similar role at Servette, with more fall-out, then saw him fired after 10 months.

Let there be no doubt—Costinha is lucky to have the Pacos job. Given the executive nature of his previous post-football jobs and a lack of coaching experience, he was a surprising choice for the Beira-Mar post last season. It is easily argued that they were too far in trouble and too scant of resource for him to save them from relegation, and they produced some pleasing football under his regime. Following Paulo Fonseca—who joined Porto—and replacing a host of key players is a big challenge.

Costinha remains ambitious, though, saying he wants to “surpass expectations” and win the club’s first major trophy, according to Goal.com's Mark Doyle. The natural home for that mentality is this Champions League tie, even if it promises to be a steep climb for Pacos.


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