Exclusive Interview: Fábio Ivan Barros

James Rowe for The Secret Footballer

JR ''Hi Fabio, thanks for taking the time to talk to me at TSF, we really appreciate it.  Let's go back in time, tell me how you set out on the road to becoming a professional manager?"

FB '' A good question!  Living in a country where football is a religion, everyone has the ambition to become a professional footballer, including me. In addition, football and athletics were also in my bloodline. My father, Delfim Barros, was a professional footballer who played in the Portuguese second division for GD Peniche, Almada AC and he also played in Angola for a little bit.  

My grandfather, Antero Barros, was an instrumental figure in bringing the Olympics to Cape Verde in 1992. He was one of the key founding fathers of the Cape Verde Olympic Committee who tirelessly dedicated his life to the betterment of the athletics and social life of the people of Cape Verde. On February 23, 2021, which would have been his 99th birthday, the Cape Verde Olympic Committee recognized his 25 years of contribution by honoring him as the Honorary President of the Cape Verde Olympic Committee! Also, my close cousin, Luis Nani, became a world class professional footballer.

As for me, I started playing football pretty young, and I played in the local neighborhood for my local team, Desportivo Domingos Sávio, with Ricardo Quaresma. From the age of six we also played together with José Fonte at the Sporting CP Academy. As I developed my game, I was fortunate in my football journey to play in Italy, France, and the United States. But along the way I always thought about what my life would be after my playing career came to an end. I knew that I was going to be connected to the game after playing but I did not know if that was going to be as a head or assistant coach or even an agent. It was when I got to the US that I realized I wanted to coach.

Growing up in Portugal there were not a lot of women’s footballers but when I got to the United States that changed, as the women’s game is very popular. So, when I was invited to coach football camps I connected really fast with the female side of the game. As I neared the end of my playing career, I started to see coaching as a viable profession that attracted and excited me. In the four years that my playing career has ended, I have already managed a couple of youth teams from U16 to U23, and two professional women's teams in CS. Marítimo and Boavista F.C ''

JR '' It's beginning to sound like your destiny because you are now the manager of Boavista FC (Women)!  How are you enjoying your time at the club so far, what are the strengths of your team and the main challenges of managing the club? ''

FB '' Before Boavista, last season, I was the manager of CS Maritimo in Madeira, a small and isolated Portuguse island, I was very proud that with only available players from the island we were able to be in 4th place of the Portuguese first division when I left. This valuable experience gave me the confidence to take on the challenge of helping recently promoted Boavista from the second division from the previous season. Moreover, I was very attracted to the rich history of the Boavista women’s team which is full of trophies. Boavista FC on the women’s side has won the most titles with 12 Portuguese championships. Also, I was attracted to the fact that Boavista is in Porto, one of the best cities in Portugal, rich with history and football mad.  Because of this I am enjoying my time with Boavista.

Besides the club’s history of championship titles and its location the strengths of the club is the growth mindset of the players, fiery can-do attitude, as well as the hunger to bring back the glory of the past!  The club, the team, the players, and I, all thrive off that. It motivates and drives us!

Like all clubs, in 2020, the biggest challenge was learning how to manage the start and stop of the season due to the ever-changing nature of the COVID-19 Pandemic. There is no play book so each day I would read or watch the news and try to adjust the periodical planning to keep the team moving in the right direction. Even though it is not always perfect, I am very proud of what the team and Boavista were able to accomplish so far.

Another challenge is that a lot of the Boavista players on the team are younger females who also work during the day and the other part of my team are students. Many of them have not played at the division one level so I knew I had to buy them some time in order to give them valuable experience. With the help of key American players that I brought in I was able to culturally mix them in with the Portuguese players. Because of this it’s been wonderful to see the players improving and complimenting each other both on and off the pitch.”

JR ''You mentioned CS Maritimo, it's an amazingly unique club, how do you look back on your time managing there, what were the special memories? ''

FB '' Well, It was a great experience and I have to admit that it was one of the best groups that I have ever managed. I was a little bit scared about returning to Portugal after 12 years coaching in the United States. My Portuguese language suffered and it was no longer perfect and I also took all my coaching licenses in English so switching back to Portuguese was my biggest challenge. 

I was apprehensive that the players would have a hard time understanding me, and how the players were going to respond to a coach who is not from the island, also someone who was coming from the United States. Those worries fortunately never materialized. We connected right away and developed a great chemistry that enhanced our game and performance! It also helped that the players were extremely committed to their development, the club, and the team. Outside of the fishing industry the best way out of the island was working hard and giving all you have to the game. 

Just think about Cristiano Ronaldo coming from the island of Madeira. He left at the age of 12 years and his hard work made him into the player he is today. He loved the people and the island of Madeira but to be successful he needed to give 300 percent and I saw that similar characteristic in the team of girls that I managed at CS Maritimo. Even though many of them were not on the national team’s radar, by the end of my time there many players who received national team call ups at the under 16, the under 19 and first squad level for Portugal!  It was a great environment to be in. I feel that I will return to Madeira one of these days.”

JR ''I have a feeling you will!  You had quite a progression in the States too as manager for the Washington Spirit.  What did you learn from that experience?''

FB ''When I arrived in Washington DC they were still called DC United Women and with new ownership the name of the club changed to the Washington Spirit on the women's team and DC United on the men's team. At that time Bill Lynch was the president and majority owner. Bill was a great guy to be around and Mark Parsons, who is currently the Portland Thorns coach, was the Washington Spirit reserve team coach at the time. We connected and became friends. 

Then a year later Mark Parsons became the head coach of Washington Spirit as well as the general manager. He invited me to help him out with the program and it was fantastic because he was a really good mentor. I stayed there for three years and I moved up every year from the U19 to the Reserve squad. I got to meet and work with a lot of really talented players who were also involved on the national teams of the United States and Canada. Because of these experiences and achievements, it gave me the confidence to see myself being a women's coach.  Washington Spirit was part of my journey and it was fantastic.''

JR ''Although we're on the home straight in this interview, Fabio, you are but a young man!  What else would you like to achieve as you continue down the managerial highway?"

FB ''Starting out as a manager at a really young age helped me out and also having success along the way has fueled my ambition and motivation to keep moving forward.

I do have goals, and as any football player or football manager will tell you, an obvious goal is to lift trophies and do the best that you can. Along with trophies the other goal is always to develop players and help them to achieve their goals, all the while developing and progressing in your own right as a manager.

I know that there have been a lot of stones on my journey so far and I collect those stones to try and build my castle. This is my goal, to keep building it and to make it as big as I can. I want to reach the highest level possible''

James Rowe is a Dutch Football expert based in the Netherlands, professional writer and translator for The Secret Footballer. He has featured on talkSPORT and regularly features on talkSPORT 2 and Love Sport Radio. You can follow him on Twitter here.