Goal.com’s Carlo Garganese and Stefano Federici caught up with ex-Juventus and Portugal star, and current Queens Park Rangers manager, Paulo Sousa, for an exclusive interview.
The 38-year-old was one of the top midfielders in world football during the mid-1990s, a classy and elegant schemer who excelled for the likes of Benfica, Juventus, Borussia Dortmund and Inter, and who remains the only player in history to have retained the Champions League, having lifted the prestigious trophy with Juve in 1996, and then Dortmund a year later.
Queens Park Rangers
Sousa’s playing days ended at the age of just 31 following a series of crippling knee injuries, but he has since embarked on a coaching career. After a stint as assistant to Portugal national team coach Carlos Quieroz, Sousa was last November offered the chance to take over as manager of English Championship side Queens Park Rangers.
The West London club, currently ninth in their division, are expected to reach the Premier League very soon due to the financial clout of owners Flavio Briatore, Bernie Ecclestone and Indian industrialist Lakshmi Mittal, who is the fourth richest man in the world.
“I accepted this offer because I believe in this project,” Sousa exclusively told Goal.com at QPR’s training ground in Harlington.
“I believe I can achieve the targets set to me by the board.
“I am ambitious. I don’t have doubts about my ability as a manager. This was a nice opportunity to prove that I can achieve great things.”
Asked whether he was hopeful of securing promotion this season, Sousa answered: “What I believe is increasing the quality of each player, and increasing the quality of my team.
“I want to create the base in order for us to complete our next vision, which is to gain promotion to the Premier League.”
Sousa The Coach
Sousa is less than two months into his first serious job in management, and he didn’t want to look too far ahead when asked whether it was his ambition to one day coach in Serie A, as well as boss Portugal.
“First of all I want to coach because I love to be in football, and I love to coach and lead people,” he explained.
“For that, of course, I don’t have doubts. I am in the best country to become an important and recognised manager, and this is all that matters for now.”
Sousa The Player
Sousa had a glittering playing career, representing Benfica, Sporting, Juventus, Dortmund, Inter, Parma, Panathinaikos, and Espanyol. He won national titles in Portugal and Italy, a Champions League with both Juve and Dortmund, and also claimed the FIFA World Youth Championship for Portugal. As part of the ‘Golden Generation’, which also included Luis Figo, Manuel Rui Costa and Joao Pinto, Sousa would go on to win 51 senior caps for his country, travelling to two European Championships and one World Cup.
Quizzed on what he considered to be the best and worst moments of his career, Sousa stated: “The best was winning trophies, like the Champions Leagues I won, and the international cups I won.
“The worst was my injuries, which I suffered with a lot.”
In 1996, Sousa was regarded as one of the best centre midfielders in the world, having helped lead Juventus to a Scudetto, Champions League, Coppa Italia, and a UEFA Cup final during his two years at the club.
However, he was then surprisingly allowed to leave to join German giants Borussia Dortmund, a decision that Sousa still appears to be bitter about today.
“Why did they sell me? Because they didn’t believe in my quality any more,” Sousa sniped.
“I picked up a knee problem, and they believed that I could no longer achieve the same high levels.
“They took the wrong decision because one year later I beat them in the Champions League Final.
“And I didn’t only beat them once,” he laughed.
“I later beat them again in the Champions League with Panathinaikos!”
Sousa spent five years of his career in Italy, and so it was only natural that the subject should switch specifically to Serie A, and in particular a couple of his Portuguese compatriots at Inter; coach Jose Mourinho, and midfielder Ricardo Quaresma, who has flopped since arriving from Porto in the summer.
“Mourinho is a ‘winner’ as a person, a ‘winner’ as a coach, a great communicator, he has great training methods. I am a big fan of his,” Sousa declared.
“As for Quaresma, sometimes, some players need a little more time to adapt to a different kind of culture, and a different kind of game.
“What I know from Mourinho is normally he gets the best out of all players. Sometimes he needs a bit of time to do this, but with Mourinho the quality and the ability of each player will always come out.”
Inter For The Scudetto “100 Per Cent”
Perhaps Sousa’s most emphatic quotes of the afternoon came when he was asked who he thought would win the Scudetto this season.
“This season, I have no doubts whatsoever,” he responded at the speed of sound.
“Inter will win. One hundred per cent Inter will win!”
Italy v England - Champions League
Next month, Inter tackle Manchester United in the Champions League, while Juventus and Roma also face English opposition in the form of Chelsea and Arsenal respectively. So who will win these ties?
“I will speak generally about this,” he said, this time far more cautious.
“In the last five years Italian teams have lost a bit of quality, while the English teams have gone up in quality.
“However, this season Italian football has grown again, and in each of the two games anything can happen.”
To wrap up the interview, Sousa was invited to offer his opinion on Cristiano Ronaldo, who this week was crowned as FIFA World Player of the Year. So is the Manchester United man really the best player in the world?
“Now, he is not the best in the world. [Lionel Messi is],” he replied.
“But Ronaldo deserved the FIFA award because when someone plays more than 70 games in one season, it is not easy to keep up the high standards.
“Ronaldo is a player who is good at everything – physical, tactical, technical and mental – he has everything. Last season he also brought goals to his game.”
So will Ronaldo go to Real Madrid this summer?
“Everything is possible,” Sousa concluded.
Interview: Carlo Garganese & Stefano Federici
Words: Carlo Garganese