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REVIEW: Which Portuguese manager from across the continent had the best season last campaign?

REVIEW: Which Portuguese manager from across the continent had the best season last campaign?

Portuguese managers have continued to see their stock rise in recent year and, having long witnessed yet another league season - and a World Cup campaign - draw to a close, the time of reflection is well and truly upon us. In what was a season of mixed success for the nation's coaches, we look at 11 of the current most prestigious Portuguese managers in the game and look back at - and grade - how they got on.

Before we begin, a special mention should be given to Carlos Queiroz, who continued to work miracles at Iran with the nation's performances at the World Cup. With no star players, their discipline, determination and team spirit was a joy to behold, and earned them several admirers.

Defensively you will struggle to find a more organised team in the world, and their 1-0 loss to Spain - which could have actually been a very different result on another day - and their impressive 1-1 draw to Portugal, added to their 1-0 victory over Morocco, meant it was a campaign to remember for Iran fans, who were even centimetres away from stealing victory against Portugal and advancing as group winners.

But, who succeeded and who flattered to deceive of the Portuguese managers in Europe? Here, we give a detailed overview of each of them, grading them out of ten and ranking them from worst, to best:

11th: Rui Vitoria (Benfica)

It's probably fair to say that Rui Vitoria, of all the high-profile Portuguese managers across the continent, had the most underwhelming season of them all. Unable to lift the title which would have seen Benfica win the league a club-record five times in a row, there was a sense of clear and understandable disappointment from Benfica fans from all around the world, who had become accustomed to success over the last few years.

With such an opportunity to make history not coming around very often, some Benfica fans were left wondering if the opportunity to achieve the 'Penta', and become champions five times on the bounce, will ever present itself again, and Rui, who has come into question for his tactical limitations, came under a lot of scrutiny - whether fair or not - from a lot of the Benfica fanbase.

Failing to win the league is, in isolation, certainly nothing to be overly ashamed about; with three big teams in Portugal regularly battling it out for the ultimate domestic glory, a large proportion of Primeira Liga fans will naturally be left disappointed year upon year.

But looking so far behind Porto for long periods of the season, added to the fact that Benfica, quite fortuitously, only just scraped into second place and the final Champions League spot courtesy of a final-day Sporting loss, meant that this was a highly disappointing season for Benfica.

Adding to that the fact that no silverware was won (excluding the Supertaca), with Benfica falling in the fifth round of the Portuguese Cup and the third round of the League cup, this was a season of significant underachievement.

And that's excluding the utterly disastrous Champions League campaign endured, where Benfica somehow managed to finished bottom of a group containing CSKA Moscow and Basel, failing to pick up a single point in the process, while also being thrashed by the Swiss champions 5-0 on matchday 2. Nothing short of a humiliation, a disgrace, which would have, even if only very minimally, tarnished the rest of Europe's view of the Lisbon giants.

GRADE: 3.5/10

10th: Carlos Carvalhal (Sheffield Wednesday/Swansea)

Carvalhal charmed and dazzled as he revived the drowning Swans after being appointed manager of the Welsh club during the Christmas period, with his idioms and expressions the embodiment of his character, and his lovable, honest and friendly approach to press conferences and football management in general made him a journalist's dream.

Having started the season as boss of Sheffield Wednesday, his demise at the Championship club was a moment to forget for Carvalhal, who had so nearly got them promoted just two seasons earlier. But with Wednesday languishing closer to relegation than the play-off spots, down in 15th, his time at a club he referred to as his "home" came to an end.

After two and a half years with Sheffield Wednesday - which constitutes as a relatively long spell for the former centreback, who typically spends no longer than one season at any club he manages - Carvalhal did not have a long wait to jump back into the hotseat, taking over at Swansea on 28 December, who were rooted to the bottom of the table on just 13 points from 20 games, five points off safety.

A decision that took many by surprise, which saw the number of Portuguese managers in the Premier League increase to a record three at a single time, many believed that his appointment was a sign of Swansea accepting their inevitable relegation, hiring a manager with Championship experience and the credentials to get the side back into the top flight at the first attempt.

However, after a truly exceptional first couple of months - where he oversaw his side overturn a 1-0 deficit to Watford in the dying minutes to pick up all three points, as well as inspiring victory over Liverpool and Arsenal after a couple of outstanding back-to-back rearguard performances - Carvalhal saw Swansea go from dead and buried at the bottom of the pile to 14th in the league, four points clear of relegation with just 8 games to go.

It was an admirable, heroic effort from Carvalhal and his side, and his ability to motivate his players and get them disciplined and well-drilled was a huge factor in their dramatic upturn in fortunes. It was an incredible achievement in isolation; few managers would have been able to completely change the complexion of the club in just a matter of weeks and steer such an out of sorts team out of trouble so comfortably.

While his early work must surely be remembered as an undoubted triumph, a disastrous, almost unfathomable end of season capitulation, in which his side lost all five of their final league games, meant that all of his early season work, so impressive and awe-inspiring, was tarnished, with Swansea relegated with a game to spare.

The hard work was done; after pulling Swansea up from the dead, with hero status almost established in the Welsh city, the club plummeted and, with it, so did his reputation. His early work is taken into account when giving him a rating - because he and his side were truly stunning for such a long time - but ultimately his last 7 or 8 fixtures will define his spell in charge of Swansea as a bitter disappointment.

GRADE: 5/10.

9th: Marco Silva (Watford)

Just like with Carlos Carvalhal, Marco Silva's season was very much a tale of two halves, quite startling the contrast between his reign at Watford before Everton came calling, and after.

His start was undeniably impressive; losing just one of his opening 8 games, Silva's Watford sat in 4th in the league table, and, even after sustaining three losses in a row, by game week 13 found themselves just two points off 5th. It looked set to be an incredible season for Watford, and for Silva too, who was hoping to put the disappointment of relegation with Hull from the previous season behind him, and a fight for a Europa League spot looked to be well and truly on.

However, after refusing to deny interest in a potential move to Everton only a few months into his Watford tenure, his side's form slipped dramatically, hitting a vicious cycle of defeat after defeat, able to pick up just a single victory in his next 12 league matches.

It was a painful, stark contrast to the early season success, which ultimately resulted in Marco Silva getting sacked just 6 months into his second stint with a Premier League club, a bitter disappointment for a highly talented manager who just let his ambition cloud his judgement, leading to him taking his eye off the ball.

It's testament to his and Watford's early season success that, despite only winning one of twelve league fixtures at the end of his tenure, they still remained in the top half of the table when Silva was relieved of his duties, a fact which could make Silva's sacking seem a little harsh.

It should also be noted that Silva was without twelve senior players during the period of poor form, having the worst injury situation of all the side's in the Premier League, which should be taken into account when reviewing Silva's season. Additionally, the fact that he had Watford, who finished in 17th just the season before, in the top half of the table, further suggests that Silva's season wasn't as bad as history may remember it.

Ultimately though, it was a disappointing and frustrating campaign for one of Portugal's most talented managers, and one he will be hoping to put behind him quickly after recently getting the big move he was looking for, having been appointed manager of Everton earlier this year.

GRADE: 5/10.

8th: Fernando Santos (Portugal)

It's difficult to be overly critical of the man that helped deliver Portugal's first ever major championship when he led Portugal to Euro 2016 glory, but after a slightly underwhelming World Cup campaign, many of Portugal's loyal fans were left thinking what could have been, craving further success but on an even larger stage.

Fans of Portuguese football know that the nation are capable of so much more than what was on show in the World Cup, but ultimately a lack of significant game time for some of Portugal's most senior players the season before took its toll on the European Champions, who often looked sloppy in possession.

Not a huge amount of blame can be put on Santos' shoulders though; it's not his fault Adrien Silva couldn't play until January because of his delayed move to Leicester, or that Andre Silva hardly got a look in at AC Milan, or that Sporting underwent a crisis just before the tournament kicked off.

However, his decision not to take Ruben Neves in Danilo Pereira's absence was a strange one and, with William Carvalho playing every minute of the World Cup, in addition to featuring in every pre-tournament friendly in the weeks before, his absence may have certainly been felt, with no other distinguishable defensive midfielder present in the squad.

His decision to also play Ricardo Pereira in the round of 16 - having not started him in any of the group stage matches - was unusual and, in hindsight, perhaps a mistake, with Cedric performing admirably throughout the tournament.

GRADE: 6/10.

7th: Jose Mourinho (Manchester United)

Mourinho's 2017-18 season can perhaps been summed up as solid, but entirely unspectacular. Having won the Europa League the season before to get Manchester United back into the Champions League, the campaign was immediately off to a very respectable start, with great optimism going into the season that United could perhaps push to compete both for the league title and the Champions League.

And while there wasn't a lot to shout about over the course of the rest of the campaign, with United falling at the round of 16 in the Champions League and unable to clinch the title ahead of rivals Manchester City, it was far from a disastrous season for the prestigious club. Underwhelming, yes, but unacceptable? Certainly not.

Having not finished above fourth in any of the previous four seasons, United's second place finish last campaign under Mourinho was, in reality, a rather good achievement and, with Guardiola's scintillating City side storming to the title, showed that they had comfortably secured themselves as the 'best of the rest' in the English game. No trophy and no comfort for the United fans of course, but still a reflection of the very solid league campaign The Red Devils had last year.

Having also reached the FA Cup final, where they went on to lose to Chelsea 1-0, Mourinho's endeavours with United were not, upon reflection, as bad as some have suggested.

Indeed, having to follow up a season in which they won two trophies - the League Cup and the Europa League, in addition to the Community Shield  - was always going to be challenging. But while last season failed to deliver any silverware, a marked improvement in the league, a final in the more prestigious domestic cup competition in the English game and advancing to the knockout stage of the Champions League meant this was a season of promise for United and Mourinho.

GRADE: 6/10.

6th: Leonardo Jardim (Monaco)

Jardim's season was, like Mourinho's, far from spectacular. After the unbelievably successful season the year before, where they beat heavyweights PSG to the Ligue 1 title, while also beating Manchester City as they made the semi-final of the Champions League, it was always going to be a challenge to live up to those lofty heights.

While also selling a lot of top quality players - such as Bernardo Silva and Kylian Mbappe - this was always likely to be a year of consolidation for his Monaco side. Finishing bottom of their Champions League group was a big disappointment, although they can consider themselves very unfortunate to have been drawn into an incredibly competitive group with FC Porto, RB Leipzig and Besiktas.

Winning the league was always a fanciful thought, with PSG spending ridiculous sums of money to bolster their squad, but their second place finish in the league proved that they were still the best of the rest in French football. They also got to the final of the League Cup, although the lack of silverware was somewhat disappointing.

GRADE: 6/10

5th: Jorge Jesus (Sporting CP)

What a crazy, turbulent, chaotic season this proved to be for Sporting. As has been widely reported across the continent, Sporting CP's troubles were as extravagant as they were shocking. And yet, actually, when you look back at the season, it most certainly wasn't all bad for Jorge Jesus and his men.

Having spent big and recruited well in the summer - bringing in the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Seydou Doumbia, Fabio Coentrao, Jeremy Mathieu and Rodrigo Battaglia - Sporting fans went into the season hoping they could reclaim the league title for the first time in almost two decades.

Yet it just wasn't to be, with Porto storming home to victory by considerable distance. Jesus did, however, oversea his side go on to lift the League Cup last season, as well as reach the final of the Portuguese Cup, an impressive record which does deserve praise.

Relinquishing second place though, and a spot in this season's Champions League as a result, to Lisbon rivals Benfica on the very last day of the league season was an incredibly bitter pill to swallow, throwing away a season's work at the last hurdle.

However, an admirable showing in the Champions League, where they were drawn in pretty much the toughest group they could have asked for with Barcelona, Juventus and Olympiakos, meant they earned the respect of a lot of fans from across Europe. Indeed, having very unfortunately fallen to incredibly narrow defeats to both Barcelona and Juventus, they went on to hold the latter in a match they really could have won, and beat Greek giants Olympiakos on both occasions, earning a place in the Europa League as a result.

Their endeavours  in the Europa League were equally impressive, seeing off both Astana and Plzen to reach the quarter final, where they were narrowly defeated 2-1 by eventual winners Atletico Madrid.

With both a trophy and an excellent showing on the European stage, Jesus masterminded some great success last year, all while also contending with a president - Bruno de Carvalho - who seemed to enjoy creating controversy after controversy. Keeping the team together when Bruno was crucifying his own team, and carrying himself with surprising dignity after the atrocious, violent scenes that arose just before their second cup final, Jesus actually had a very respectable season.

That said, league success was the main objective, and failing to deliver the league title - which is what he was brought in to do - despite having spent a lot of money means that the season was far from perfect.

GRADE: 6.5/10.

4th: Sérgio Conceição (Porto)

Having not won the league for four years heading into the season, and with Benfica looking to claim their record-breaking fifth title in a row, Conceição was recruited as the replacement for his Wolves-bound compatriot Nuno Espirito Santo, entrusted to oversee the challenge of regaining power from the resurgent Lisbon side and put an end to their domestic dominance.

And after persuading Vincent Aboubakar to stay at the club, who fell out of favour under Nuno and looked likely to leave, and electing to bring Malian international Moussa Marega back into the fold after an impressive season on loan at Guimarães, Conceição immediately made a great impression at the Estádio do Dragão, building an attacking force that was unrivalled in the league.

And having already shown their incredible defensive capabilities the year before - conceding just 19 goals in 34 league games under Nuno, keeping the same number of clean sheets in the process - Conceição was putting together the final touches to make Porto quite the formidable force.

Indeed, Conceição showed his managerial prowess, showing great ability as both a tactician and man-manager, and led Porto to what was eventually a comfortable league victory, knocking Rui Vitoria and his Benfica boys off their perch and into second place.

Getting out of the Champions League group can also be seen as a great success for Conceição and his side, having been handed a tough draw alongside then Turkish champions Besiktas, reigning French league winners Monaco and a young and talented RB Leipzig side. Getting through in second, however, meant a meeting with Liverpool awaited them, and, after a 5-0 thrashing - at home - some of the gloss was taken off Sergio Conceição's inaugural season.

Getting to the semi-final of both domestic cup competitions was also a respectable achievement, albeit not outstanding, meaning that Conceição had an opening season with Porto to look back on with fondness.

GRADE: 8/10.

3rd: Abel Ferreira (Braga)

Abel Ferreira was without doubt one of the standout performers of all Portuguese managers last campaign; the young coach, who was actually only last season appointed as Braga manager following two years in charge of the B team, took the Minho club to a level that we had not really seen from the Europa League regulars since 2010, when they finished runners up to Benfica in the league - above both of the other members of the traditional 'Big 3' in Porto and Sporting - to claim a prestigious Champions League spot for the first time ever.

While not quite reaching the incredible heights of that infamous season, their fourth place finish in the league does them a disservice and does not reflect the sheer brilliance of the season Braga fans were priviledged enough to witness.

While unable to topple any of the Big Three in the Portuguese game this time around, the 75 points Braga picked up last season was actually the largest points total Braga have ever achieved in their entire 98 year history. Not only does it show the incredible performances and results Braga managed to put together over the entire league campaign, but it also confirms how Braga have been able to close the gap on Benfica, Sporting and Porto even further, finishing only 13 points off Porto in first, and 3 off Sporting in third.

Indeed, by finishing on 75 points, Braga were not only in touching distance of the Big 3 in the league, all of whom have a far greater financial backing than the Minho club, but they were also a remarkable 24 points above their nearest competitors Rio Ave, who occupied 5th place at the end of the season, finishing on just 51 points.

It was a gap the like of which we've never seen in the Portuguese league; Braga have been punching above their weight for years, but to actually be pulling so far ahead of the chasing pack was a sight to behold, and Abel deserves huge credit for taking Braga on to a new level.

Additionally, Braga's Europa League endeavours were also mighty impressive; having navigated the tricky Europa League qualifying rounds, which can throw up long-distance travel and unpredictable opposition, Braga were handed a very tricky group containing Hoffenheim, Ludogorets and Istanbul Basaksehir. However, despite the seemingly tough task facing them, Braga were able to conquer the group convincingly, topping the table after all six rounds of fixtures were played, ultimately going out to Marseille in the first knockout round.

With Abel still in charge of the club, the hopes for this season are very high indeed, with last season's heroics a clear sign that such hope is most certainly not misplaced.

Grade: 9/10.

2nd: Nuno Espirito Santo (Wolverhampton)

Where to begin after the season Nuno had at Wolverhampton Wanderers? Despite coming off a disappointing campaign with FC Porto, where a poor end to the season saw them fail to capitalise on Benfica's inconsistency and therefore give up the Portuguese title to their historic rivals yet again, a move to Wolves was both audacious and impressive - and seemingly exactly what Nuno needed.

A risk, a gamble, a leap into the unknown - there was little margin for error for Nuno when he made the move to Wolverhampton, his reputation potentially on the line if things did not work out. But his confidence and passion to oversee the challenge of turning Wolves into a domestic force came to fruition almost immediately, his pride of being entrusted with the task of leading Wolves back to the big time evident from his very first press conference.

“I hope I can bring the good days back” were just a few of the words dof Nuno Espirito Santo when he first took over the Molineux hotseat, his calm, philosophical demeanour - impeccably unravelled at the most appropriate of times to also show his passionate underbelly - making him an instant fan-favourite.

With his words off the pitch in perfect harmony with the results on it, Nuno's first season was nothing short of miraculous; high-profile signings which effortlessly gelled with the strong group already present at the club meant that Nuno oversaw a title-winning first season, finishing the league campaign just one point shy of the 100 point mark, 9 points clear of their nearest competitor, and confirming Wolves' place in this year's edition of the Premier League.

One of the most striking aspects of Nuno's reign was the defensive resilience shown; 24 clean sheets in just 46 league games sums up how Nuno was able to replicate the solid defensive foundations he put in place in his one season at Porto, and was a crucial element in allowing Wolves to lift the Championship title.

Additionally, Nuno's philosophy of never looking past the very next game kept the side fully grounded and focused on the task at hand, not allowing for any complacency to creep into the dressing room, while his calming attitude meant that panic never set in when things ever got tough.

With an exceptional tactical showing in addition to excellent man-management, this was a season to remember for the former goalkeeper, who will be hoping he can work his magic in the Premier League this season too.

GRADE: 9/10

1st: Paulo Fonseca (Shakhtar Donetsk)

Another big prospect in Portuguese management, Fonseca, who was linked with Everton earlier this year, had a season to remember. His exciting brand of football blended with the success he had both domestically and on the European stage simply confirmed what we all already knew about his managerial capabilities, and it really could not have gone much better.

Domestically, they won the Ukraining Premier League, the Ukrainian Cup and the Ukrainian Super Cup. Everything Ukrainian football has to offer. Some could argue that they should have ideally finished more than 2 points ahead of nearest rivals Dynamo Kiev, but ultimately silverware is all that matters.

In the Champions League, they then surprised many by making it out of a group containing both Manchester City and Napoli, beating both sides on one occasion, and then only went out in the round of 16 on away goals against Roma. An excellent showing in Europe, an excellent showing in Ukraine, and Paulo Fonseca is simply destined for greatness.

GRADE: 10/10.

The Big Three in Portuguese football were all in action yesterday - with uninspiring results

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