The Dragon's Cap
Porto's rise in the late seventies was inspired by the innovative coaching of José Maria Pedroto
It was 1978. A summer's day in Porto, a city famous for its port wine and from which the nation of Portugal derives its name. José Maria Pedroto leant back into his seat on the bench at the Estadio das Antas with a smile on his face.
Porto were 4-0 up against Sporting Braga in the last game of the season. They were level on points with Benfica at the top of the Portuguese league, but with a vastly superior goal difference. There was nothing that the side from Lisbon could do to stop the championship from heading north. Nineteen years after they last claimed the Portuguese title, Porto were champions again. The northern capital celebrated as if it had just been liberated from occupation.
It was only four years after a revolution had removed the country's repressive, centralised dictatorship. But for the man they called Zé do Boné, the Portuguese name for Andy Capp (Pedroto always wore a floppy cap), the war to dominate Portuguese football was just beginning.
Pedroto was born in the northern Portuguese town of Lamego in 1928, along the famous Douro River on which Porto's port wine barrels are floated. An intelligent right-sided midfielder, Pedroto rose through the ranks at Leixões before moving on to Belenenses and finally achieving success with Porto.
He also captained the Portugal national team, where it's said that his word carried far more weight than that of the coach. His teammates would often gather in his room to discuss the strategy for the upcoming game. But it would be as a coach that Pedroto would truly make his mark on Portuguese football. He earned his badges before the age of 30 and after successful stints in the youth ranks of Porto and the national team, the progressive young coach honed his skills at Académica de Coimbra.
He slowly grew into the role and, after a stint at Leixões, the then 37 year old took little Varzim to an astonishing seventh place in 1966. Inevitably his old team Porto came calling, but the club's lack of ambition, despite its large fan base, frustrated Pedroto. He won his first trophy, the 1968 Taça de Portugal, with the Dragões during his three-year stint. But Benfica still dominated the championship and Zé do Boné left Porto in 1969.
It was at Vitória de Setubal that Pedroto finally found a club that, although relatively small compared to the big three, shared his ambitions. He brought together a talented group of players and moulded them not only into determined competitors in Portugal, but on the continent too. One of them was the tireless, technical midfielder Octavio Machado, who played under Pedroto in Setubal and later on at Porto. "He got the best out of players. He always set the team up to play in a way that suited the players he had," Machado recalled. "He taught us how to keep the ball, where to play the ball, but most of all he taught us how to play each game with the same
The team came third in the Portuguese league in Pedroto's first season, playing attractive, possession-based football. A predatory striker by the name of Vitor Baptista finished off the moves, while an Angolan winger with a club foot, Jacinto João, dazzled opposing defences with skills akin to those of Garrincha. A statue of João stands outside Setubal's Estadio do Bonfim today.
But it was in Europe that Setubal truly upset the established order. In the 1969-70 Inter-City Fairs Cup, Rapid Bucharest were dispatched with ease in the first round. A continental mismatch against Liverpool was next, but Setubal outplayed the English side to win 1-0 in the first leg, before a 3-2 defeat at Anfield eliminated the Reds on away goals.
Setubal lost to Hertha Berlin in the third round, but the success over Liverpool reverberated. In those days, such a result against any English opponent was unthinkable for a Portuguese side outside of Benfica and Sporting.
It was only the beginning. The next season, Setubal saw off Lausanne and Hajduk Split in the opening two rounds, before dispatching Anderlecht in the round of 16. They would fall against Leeds United in the quarter-finals, but only because of a Peter Lorimer away goal.
Then in 1971-72 Setubal hammered the Soviet Cup holders, Spartak Moscow, 4-0 at the Estadio do Bonfim before defeat to Romania's UTR Arad in the next round. But the disappointment didn't last long as Pedroto led the Sadinos to second place in the Portuguese league. It remains Vitória's highest finish.
The next season they beat Fiorentina and Internazionale in the Uefa Cup before defeat to Tottenham in the last eight; the club's reputation as the giant killers of Europe was confirmed.
For a time, 1973-74 looked like being the crowning glory for Pedroto and Setubal. After 12 rounds of the championship, Vitoria led the league. But in the middle of the title fight, politics intervened. Tensions were rising in Portugal as the population tired of the country's repressive regime. Setubal's president, Antonio Xavier de Lima, whose business ventures benefited from the conservative government, banned players from speaking without his authority.
That enraged Pedroto, who had always treated his players as a second family. On the verge of his first championship, Pedroto walked out on the club. Rather than be disappointed by the coach's decision, the team rallied around the man they loved. "The players were always in solidarity with Pedroto," Machado said. "We always preferred him to the president."
The special relationship between Pedroto and his players was one of the keys to his success. Comparisons with his compatriot, José Mourinho, are inevitable but there's little evidence to suggest that the special one was a student of Pedroto. Although Mourinho was born in Setubal and his father played for Vitória, Mourinho senior had left to join Belenenses before Zé do Boné arrived at the Bonfim.
Despite Vitória's excellent start in 1973, they never recovered from Pedroto's departure, and the club finished the season in third, four points adrift of Sporting. In Setubal today, locals who remember that campaign have no doubt that Vitória would have been champions had Pedroto stayed.
Aged 45, Pedroto headed north to Porto, but not to the club of his heart. Instead it was to the city's second team, Boavista. The side with the checkerboard shirts hadn't won a trophy of significance or finished higher than fifth in their history. Even Pedroto doubted he could make them challengers. But it took just one season to achieve success. In 1975 Boavista won the Portuguese Cup and finished fourth in the league.
It was no fluke. In the following season, the Cup was retained and Porto's second team outshone their more illustrious neighbours by finishing second behind Benfica.
Success at Boavista came with a change in formation, as Pedroto again adapted his tactics to suit his team. Luis Freitas Lobo, one of Portugal's most respected football analysts, was in his teens at the time, but remembers Pedroto's Boavista as tactical innovators. "They played a 4-4-2 diamond with the full-backs attacking regularly," Lobo recalled. "They also had a magnificent playmaker in João Alves, who was given freedom to roam. This system was very advanced at the time in football."
Portugal's national team, which had struggled after the decline of the 1966 World Cup generation, soon came calling and he took the job in 1974. Grouped with England and Czechoslovakia in Euro 76 qualifying, few gave the Portuguese a chance.
The first game was against England at Wembley; it was widely held that a narrow defeat would be a good result. Pedroto analysed his opponents with rigour. The English, he realised, were much taller than the Portuguese, so any cross into the box would spell disaster. Pedroto effectively played two left-backs and two right-backs, to close the flanks and force the wingers inside. England barely managed a cross as Portugal held on for a famous scoreless draw.
Back in the league Boavista were stealing the limelight. Porto had to act. After an unsuccessful invitation to switch sides, Pedroto finally crossed the divide when his good friend, Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa, was appointed as the Dragões director of football. The two formed a formidable partnership as Zé do Boné set his team up to win the battles on the pitch, while Pinto da Costa revelled in the political war off it.
In the late seventies, no one could have imagined the combination would prove to be so successful. "At that time Porto was not the dominant team we know today," said Professor José Neto, who was Pedroto's assistant at Porto the following decade. "In the late 1970s, if Porto finished fourth or fifth it was a good season. Even thinking of challenging for the title was unimaginable."
In Pedroto's first season in charge, Porto won the Taça de Portugal and finally, in 1977-78, the Lisbon dominance was broken with that famous win against Braga at the Estadio das Antas. Pedroto insisted that it was just beginning as he turned Benfica into a common enemy, a galvanising force with which to motivate his troops. Even the colour red was banned from the stadium, as the former Porto defender Augusto Inacio found out when he wore red trousers to training.
A second title was won in 1979 but after a controversial Cup final in 1980, Porto's hierarchy grew tired of the constant attrition and showed both Pedroto and Pinto da Costa the door.
It would be only a temporary respite for Benfica, but in the meantime Zé do Boné went further north to coach an ambitious Vitória de Guimarães. During his time in the city Pedroto lectured at a local university when a student there asked him a simple question, "What is the importance of the game in relation to organising training?"
The coach's inquisitive mind was sparked and that student, a young José Neto, was invited to his office to discuss it further. "I would go to his office and he would ask me about what I think of this and what do I think of that," Neto recalled. "Eventually I had to tell him, 'Excuse me, Sir, but I'm the one that should be asking questions: you're the expert here.'"
To help Pedroto, Neto decided to surprise his mentor with a thorough statistical analysis of the game between Guimarães and Penafiel. When Neto showed the coach his findings at training, Pedroto was immediately intrigued and told his assistant to stop the session so they could all discuss the results. Many believe this was the first time such an analysis had been studied on a Portuguese training ground.
Pedroto boasted that Neto would be the man who would help win the title, and when Pinto da Costa returned to lead Porto as president, Zé do Boné brought the professor with him. In 1982 the war with Benfica resumed as Pedroto and Pinto da Costa revolutionised the Dragões with astute psychology as well as modern training methods and tactics. "One of his mantras was, 'Watch the game and I'll tell you how you train; watch training and I'll tell you how you'll play,'" Neto said.
The domestic title was once again within reach as the coach's methods began to bear fruit in Europe. In 1984, Porto reached the Cup-Winners' Cup final against Juventus. By then, though, Pedroto was seriously ill, bed-ridden with terminal cancer.
The Italians' superior experience helped them win 2-1 but the Porto players, who were distracted by their newfound stardom, still believe that they would have won had Zé do Boné been in the dressing-room that day. Pedroto died six months later but the foundations he laid at Porto endured and the Dragões fulfilled their potential by winning the European Cup in 1987.
At a time when Portuguese football's confidence was at its lowest, Pedroto showed the country that it could be a world powerhouse. His mantra of "he who owns the ball, owns the game" is still adhered to in Portugal today.
Luis Freitas Lobo believes that there have been four coaches that have changed Portuguese football: Cândido Oliveira, José Maria Pedroto, Carlos Queiroz and José Mourinho. But it's Professor Neto who gives his mentor the most fitting tribute. "More than the titles that he won with Porto," he said, "or what he achieved with Vitória de Setubal, more than giving Boavista its character, it's his doctrine that's the greatest legacy for Portuguese football."