Manuel Veth –
On Friday Shakhtar Donetsk’s president Sergey Palkin told Ukrainian media that the club had already found a replacement for the outgoing Mircea Lucescu, who is joining Zenit Saint Petersburg, and that the new coach will be traveling to Kyiv on Tuesday May 31, and will be presented to the media on Wednesday June 1. It is, however, widely understood that the new coach will be Sporting Clube de Braga’s coach Paulo Fonseca.
In other words the king is dead, long live the king, as Shakhtar moved quickly to replace Lucescu, who guided the club to 22 titles in his twelve years with the club, with Fonseca, who is currently considered one of the most talented coaches in Portugal.
Indeed, by signing Fonseca Shakhtar beat the competition for the signature of the 43-year-old coach, as the English Premier League club Everton FC also had shown interest in signing Fonseca.
Paulo Fonseca Took Paços de Ferreira to the Champions League
Tom Kundert, the Editor in Chief of the excellent Portuguese football blog PortuGoal.net, believes that Fonseca is a “Very good coach. [Who always] gets his side playing good attacking football. [Fonseca] has a terrific record in practically every season he’s been a head coach, apart from one poor season at Porto.”
After an excellent 2012-13 season with Paços de Ferreira where he finished third in the Primeira Liga taking the small club from the Porto region to the UEFA Champions League qualifiers, Fonseca joined champions Porto, who paid €1 million in compensation to Paços de Ferreira to sign the coach.
But former Porto coach Vítor Pereira, who had moved to Al-Ahli SC in the Saudi Professional League, was a tough act to follow as Fonseca only managed to win the Supertaça (the Super Cup) in a 3-0 triumph against Vitória de Guimarães. By March, however, he had fallen nine points behind league leaders Benfica Lisbon, and was subsequently relieved from his position on March 5, 2013. Kundert told Futbolgrad that “[Fonseca] admitted that he found it difficult handling big egos at Porto.” But Kundert also states that Fonseca “as an intelligent man, I expect him to have learned from that.”
Indeed following his disappointing time at Porto Fonseca returned to Paços de Ferreira, and while he was not able to repeat the success that he had with the club in the 2012-13 season, Fonseca still managed a respectable eighth place finish in the 2014-15 Primeira Liga season with the small club that had barely managed to fight off relegation in the previous season.
Fonseca’s Redemption at Braga
For Fonseca the return to Paços de Ferreira was in many ways about redemption, as he was able to show that he had recovered from his failed coaching stint at Porto. This did not go unnoticed with bigger clubs in Portugal, and with the 2014-15 season coming to a close he was on the move once again, this time to Sporting Clube de Braga.
Fonseca had a strong season with Braga, as he took the club to a fourth place finish in the league, managed to reach the quarterfinal of the Europa League—the club was eliminated by Shakhtar Donetsk—and finally managed to gain redemption against his former club FC Porto by beating them 4-2 after penalties in the Taça de Portugal (Portuguese Cup) final.
Furthermore Fonseca managed this by playing attractive attacking football. Something that Kundert believes will make him a perfect match for Shakhtar Donetsk. “The fact he is a big fan of attacking football should make it a good fit [for him]. I am not surprised big clubs are after him. Wouldn’t surprise me to see him given a chance at Benfica or Sporting [Lisbon].” Kundert continues.
Fonseca’s Tactical Approach
Indeed Fonseca often plays 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 attacking football, which would be a slight adjustment to Lucescu’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. But at the same time Shakhtar already has the necessary components for both formations, especially if the club is to retain the Brazilian wingers Marlos and Taison. Furthermore, a source told Futbolgrad that Brazilian winger Alan Patrick, who is currently on loan at Flamengo in his native Brazil, is supposed to return to the club to play a more prominent role.
In such a system Facundo Ferreyra, Eduardo, or the recently signed Yevhen Seleznyov could then play as central strikers. The downside is that such a system would no longer require an attacking central midfielder, which has been the position of the Ukrainian super talent Viktor Kovalenko. But Kovalenko could be moved to the wings, and play as a shadow striker in the 4-4-2 formation, or even to a more defensive holding midfield role.
Fonseca will definitely want to bring in some players that can play his system already. Tribuna has speculated that he might bring in the Portuguese midfielder Josué Pesqueira, who was a key component of Fonseca’s system at Paços de Ferreira, and Porto. In January Fonseca then purchased Josué from Bursaspor, and Josué was a key component in Braga’s UEFA Europa League run.
Shakhtar’s decision to move for Fonseca shows that the club could become more active on the international transfer market.
The fact that Fonseca is a native Portuguese speaker, and that he knows how to work with Brazilians is another bonus. Braga currently have eleven Brazilians in the squad, three more than Shakhtar’s current squad, and it is understood that with Fonseca as the new head coach Shakhtar will want to return as the number one destination for young Brazilians who want to break into the European market.
There are, however, some downsides to Fonseca moving to Shakhtar, as Kundert believes “that [Lucescu is] a tough act to follow.” Furthermore Fonseca doesn’t speak Russian. Languages was one of Lucescu’s biggest strengths, as the multilingual Romanian was able to unify a squad that consisted of talented Ukrainians and Brazilians through his ability to communicate with both groups equally.
It will be interesting to see how Fonseca will deal with the language barrier, but past examples have shown that the best coaches find ways to communicate with their squad. In the end this could be Fonseca’s biggest challenge, as it might determine whether the coach will be able to follow in the footsteps of the great Mircea Lucescu.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, and PhD candidate at King’s College London. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. His thesis is entitled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, and will be available later this year. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.