Exclusive Interview: João Aroso

James Rowe for The Secret Footballer

JR  ''Morning Joao, thanks for taking the time to talk to me at TSF.  I have to start by mentioning that you were assistant manager at Sporting CP at a pretty special moment in history.

JA  ''Yes, I worked with three different coaches during my time as an assistant at Sporting CP. Firstly under Fernando Santos who is currently the Portuguese national team manager, and that was the first time that I worked with Cristiano Ronaldo who was 18 years old at the time before he moved to Manchester United.  We had the opening game of the Estádio José Alvalade in 2003 and we played against Manchester United and Cristiano played a great game giving a brilliant performance.  It was his last game for Sporting CP. 

The following season we reached the final of the 2004/ 2005 UEFA Cup which was played in our home stadium but unfortunately we lost (CSKA Moscow won 3-1).  I also worked for four seasons as an assistant under Paulo Bento and in those times we won some trophies including two Portuguese Cups and two Portuguese Super Cups.  Although we did not win the Portuguese League, we always finished runner up which considering the budget of the club was still considered to be a good achievement.  

We gave many known players their debut in the first team.  Nani and (João Moutinho started just before José Peseiro was the first team manager) Rui Patricio started playing for Sporting CP at the age of 19 years.  I would say that watching these players develop in the first team were among the highlights of my time at the club along with the titles that we won.''

JR  ''Fernando Santos then took you as his assistant to AEK Athens in Greece, right?

JA '' Yes, that's right.  After working one season as assistant to José Peseiro at Sporting CP, Fernando invited me to join him in Greece.  I moved there and I loved my time in Athens but then mainly for personal reasons I returned to Lisbon.  I had received an offer to become assistant to Paulo Bento at Sporting CP who had just been promoted to manager from the Sporting CP under 19 team.  I accepted because my wife was alone in Lisbon and my daughter was a baby at the time.  

But my experience at AEK Athens was great and I loved working there and to live in Athens was a wonderful experience.  I loved the Greek people and the way that they lived for football was just incredible.  They are even more passionate than the Portuguese fans and it was very good to be there under Fernando Santos who is like a God in Greece.  Although I was not in Greece for a long time, it was a great experience, and hopefully one day I will have the chance to return there to work''.

JR  ''Fernando Santos has done a really good job as manager of Portugal since taking over in 2014.  He's also managed the big three at club level, namely SL Benfica, FC Porto and of course Sporting CP.  What makes him such a good manager?''

JA  ''Well, I think the first thing that I learned under Fernando Santos was how an assistant should behave at work and how he should behave and be part of a team.  I learned how an assistant cooperates with the manager.  He was very experienced at the time and he was the first manager who I worked with at the highest level.  I also learned how he has a particular way of leading the players and the group. 

He is very smart in how he manages players with a big ego, and he has great skills in how to deal with players and staff.  I can tell you that all the time working with him was very easy because of the situations that normally can occur inside a squad, on the pitch, and in training sessions.  Sometimes there are situations with players or conflicts that can happen and with Fernando it's easy to work with him because the situation and the commitment of the players during the sessions makes our job very easy.  There were no issues regarding leadership so everything was very clear for the players and the staff and the players always had a great attitude.  They always showed great levels of commitment in training because Fernando Santos is very strong in how to manage the group''.

JR  ''That must have been very useful when you also worked as Head Coach at SC Braga B Team.  Apart from the big three clubs in Portugal they are the club that has made the most progress in recent years in my opinion.  How did you put them on the path to success?

JA  ''The SC Braga B team was in fact an under 23 team and it is important to know the context.  Since last season we have had an under 23 championship in Portugal but at the time that was not the case so we had B teams of the biggest clubs in Portugal and we were competing in the Portuguese second division.  This was my second experience as a head coach after coaching the under 15's Portuguese national team.  What I can tell you is that SC Braga in fact have progressed a lot as a club in the last ten years.  They have clearly become the 4th club in Portugal.  We normally speak about the three biggest clubs in SL Benfica, FC Porto and Sporting CP, but SC Braga is much closer to them than to the other teams in the Portuguese first division and they have increased the gap between themselves and other clubs below them. 

They often finish in the top three places in the league, like last season for example. Their President António Salvador is very ambitious, in fact he has tremendous ambition, and he is a very strong negotiator especially with transfers.  Recently he created very good conditions for the new training centre and the club now has a very good training centre because António Salvador wants to develop players from the academy that can join the first team.  Because of that investment SC Braga currently has one of the best academies in Portugal. 

I worked in such a context in making the bridge between the academy and the first team and I had the chance to work with some very good players including Pedro Neto who is now in the Premier League with Wolverhampton Wanderers and Francisco Trincão who is currently playing for FC Barcelona in Spain.  I can testify as to the ambition of SC Braga and now they provide the best conditions for their players and coaches to excel.  It is important to mention that they have a structure in place not just in terms of physical conditions and facilities but also the quality of the people at the club.  

I have worked at Sporting CP and the Portuguese national team and FC Braga now has a similar structure to them. The club has very good, competent people working in different areas of the club and I would say that SC Braga have an extremely competent person leading their academy in Hugo Vieira who is a former Sporting CP and SC Braga player.  He is doing a wonderful job at the club".

JR  ''João thanks for your time today.  Finally, Portuguese football and its coaches are hot property right now.  The offers must be flooding in...?"

JA  ''Well I would not say that I have a particular goal or ambition in future.  I have spent the majority of my career working at a high level as an assistant and I would consider doing it again in the future.  The possibility of working as a head coach was not an objective exactly but it happened when the Portuguese FA invited me to coach the under 15's national team before I moved to the B team of SC Braga. 

Recently I worked with the Moroccan under 20 team, and that was something that happened naturally, so I feel that I have good experience to continue as head coach as well.  I would be happy for that to happen in Portugal but I would also like to work abroad.  I would love to work in England.  In fact two years ago I was very close to a move to England to be the Head of Players’ Technical Development for a Premier League club, it almost happened.  I have played games in England as assistant coach of Sporting CP and the atmosphere and the way they live for football in England is fantastic.  I would love to have the chance to work there. 

But I am open to other markets as well so we will see.  I think it is important when I have opportunities to consider that I wait for something that I really feel would be a good step for me and for my career.  I love the country of Greece and I would like to return there to coach in the future because I believe I have unfinished business due to the short time that I was there''.


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.