AP Interview: Martins is Portugal’s latest coaching success
Fresh from winning the Greek league with Olympiakos, Pedro Martins looks around the world with pride at the achievements of his fellow Portuguese coaches. Lockdown provided a rare chance to catch up with many of them at length.
“This pandemic creates something special with this problem — we have just the computer and we have Zoom,” the Olympiakos coach told The Associated Press — via Zoom — from Athens.
“We speak more in these two months with the coaches. I speak with the players who played with me 20 years ago, 30 years ago. It was so good to see them again.”
There were chats with Luis Castro, who has just emulated compatriot Paulo Fonseca in winning the Ukrainian title with Shakhtar Donetsk. Venezuela coach José Peseiro was dialled up. And there was a catch-up with Vítor Pereira, a Chinese Super League champion with Shanghai SIPG and before that also a title-winning coach in 2015 with Olympiakos.
“We have so many,” Martins said. “We never talk like, this open.”
One coach Martins didn’t Zoom with was Nuno Espirito Santo, a former Vitória teammate a quarter-century ago, who he succeeded at Rio Ave in their homeland in 2014.
The coronavirus shutdown put an on-field clash between Martins’ Olympiakos and Nuno’s Wolverhampton on hold.
On the final night of action before the suspension of UEFA competitions, Olympiakos drew 1-1 with the Premier League side in Athens on March 12. Almost 150 days later, their Europa League last-16 second leg will finally be played on Thursday night in central England. The winner qualifies for the condensed final eight tournament in Germany.
“Wolves and Nuno, they did a fantastic season, unbelievable,” Martins said. “They fight and they conquer something special and they were so close to entering the Champions League because they have quality and then they are doing a fantastic job.”
Wolves eventually finished seventh so is reliant on winning the Europa League to return to continental competition next season. Lifting the trophy, though, would earn a place in the Champions League with Olympiakos.
In the Champions League group stage this season, Olympiakos drew with 2019 finalist Tottenham, although a loss to the north London club in November helped Spurs — by then led by Portuguese coaching star Jose Mourinho — reach the knockout phase.
Dropping into the Europa League, Olympiakos eliminated Arsenal — “it was a magic night” — to set up a third meeting of the campaign with a Premier League team in Wolves. It gives Martins a hunger to manage one day in the world’s richest league.
“Yes I would like to have a team in England,” Martins said. “It’s the best of the world. Everyone wants to go there. I want to try it because the pure football is there.”
For now, he is fully committed to Olympiakos after renewing for another two seasons and having regained the title.
“This year it was amazing — more important than the results, I think we conquered something special — our prestige,” he said. “We lost that kind of spirit … this kind of magic. We won this again.”
It gave Martins his first major title in a coaching career that began 14 years ago at União de Lamas in Portugal’s third tier. He moved onto Lusitânia, Espinho, Marítimo, Rio Ave and Vitória Guimarães but had to move to Greece to get a shot at glory with a title contender.
“With these kind of teams (in Portugal), it’s not impossible, but it’s very difficult because the budgets we have compared with Sporting, Benfica and Porto is huge,” he said. “It’s the first time I have the conditions to be champion.”