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A Portuguese coach improving Lithuanian football

  • 2010-01-28
  • Interview by Francisco Javier Gregorio

Jose Couceiro’s life has always been related to football. He was officially head coach of the Lithuanian national team until Dec. 31, 2009. At the moment, however, it is unclear if the Lithuanian Football Federation will prolong his contract. He arrived at this post in 2008, and worked to qualify the Lithuanian team for the next World Cup, to be held in South Africa. Though he couldn’t achieve this ambitious project, the role of Lithuania, in the seventh group, was positive: It finished in fourth position with 12 points, the same as Romania, in a group with two of the strongest teams in Europe - France and Serbia. However, Lithuanian football will need a lot of years to improve their chances against the best teams in Europe. “We will never have a better national team if we don’t improve the league,” says Couceiro. Nevertheless, he is optimistic. “It will be possible to see Lithuania in a Euro Cup one day,” he adds.

Since April, 2009, the Portuguese-born Couceiro has also trained a Turkish team, Gaziantepspor, which is now in 11th position in its league. Couciero began his career as coach in 2002 in Alverca, Portugal. Since then, he has coached Vitoria Setubal, Os Belenenses, the Portugal under-21 national team and one of the most important teams in Portugal, Porto. Finally, in 2008, he arrived in Lithuania to train FBK Kaunas.
Before his coaching career, Couceiro was also a famous football player in Portugal, where he played from 1981 to 1992 on different clubs including Barreirense, Torreens and Estrela da Amadora; nevertheless, he has achieved more successes as coach.

The Baltic Times met with Jose Couceiro to analyze Lithuanian football, both its national team and the league.

How do you evaluate the Lithuanian national team in its qualifying group for the next World Cup?

It is easier to qualify for the European championship than for the World Cup. Our group, in the latter qualification group for the World Cup, was very difficult, with very strong teams. For the next World Cup and Euro Cup I don’t know, we will see.

To have as many points as Romania, was this the main success?

It was good to be in the same position as one of the important teams like Romania, but we wanted more, it wasn’t enough for me.

Why did you accept coaching Lithuania?
The challenge of leading a national project. Lithuania is not a very strong team, but to be the coach of a national team is a very interesting project.

How do you define the Lithuanian football style?
We don’t have a very unique style of football. It is defined by its toughness; we aren’t the best team, but we are always a very hard team. It isn’t easy to beat Lithuania.

Will we see Lithuania in the World Cup or Euro Cup one day?
Yes, in Euro Cup it is possible. It is different to play in a World Cup, as I have said; to qualify for a World Cup is very difficult, and maybe now Lithuania isn’t prepared, but to be in a Euro Cup is easier.

What does Lithuania need to do to be with the best national teams?

We need to have more players playing at a higher level. But Lithuania is a small country with a weak league. It would be great, for example, to have a lot of players playing in important leagues like in Spain, England or Italy because they would improve their level.

Why do other Baltic countries, like Latvia, always fight to be in the final competitions and not Lithuania?

This is not the entire truth. Latvia has only played in the Euro 2004. It won the play-off against Turkey. Latvia had a much more accessible qualifying group than Lithuania had for the next World Cup and they fought until the last matches. You need luck in the draw and Lithuania hasn’t had much luck.

How have you felt training the Lithuanian national team? Has it been a good experience?
It was an excellent experience and I had a superb and outstanding group of players. I was delighted to train the Lithuanian national team.

What are the main goals of Lithuania for the future?

First, we need more players playing at a higher level, as I have said; this is the first step, to improve our level with better players. After that, we need a better domestic championship (Lithuanian Football League championship); it is necessary in turn to have in the future these better players.

Do you want to continue with coaching for several more years in Lithuania?
I am not sure about the future, but at the moment I am very comfortable with the Lithuanian national team.

How do you see the next World Cup?
Maybe I will watch it on TV (he smiles). About the championship, for me the strongest teams are Brazil and Spain. However, Argentina is also a favorite to win, it has the best player in the world, Leo Messi, but Spain and Brazil are playing now at a higher level than the other teams.

What about the Lithuanian league? How is the level?

 At the moment it is very poor. We have to work to improve the league, to have better players and teams but I know in a small country like Lithuania is difficult to build a strong league.

How could you analyze the previous league, when Ekranas won in the last match against FK Vetra?

It was interesting, but the quality of the championship was weaker than the previous year and we shouldn’t tolerate this; nevertheless, the last match between Ekranas and Vetra was very exciting and finally Ekranas was a just winner.

Do you think it is necessary to improve the league if we want to have a better national team?

Of course yes. I have said in the previous answers that this is essential; we will never have a better national team if we don’t improve the league.

What are the differences between being coach of one club and coach of a national team?

In a club, you coach the team everyday and work for its evolution. On the other hand, with a national team you pick the best players to compose a team and win the games. You only train with your players for some days during the year.

And the differences between coaching a very important club, like Porto in a country like Portugal, where football is very important, and coaching in Lithuania?
It is the sun and the moon. It is very different. There are so many differences that it would be impossible to explain them in only one answer.

How are you doing now in Turkey, coaching Gaziantepspor?

It is all ok. We have good conditions and a very nice and competitive championship. I like the Turkish league. We are now in 11th position, but this league is very close. In only two matches you can be near the last position, or fighting to be in the European places of classification, so we can get better.

Is it easy to be the coach of a club and a national team at the same time?

No, it is very difficult. If we have good conditions it is possible, but without these conditions it is very difficult. I am trying to make it compatible with both, my club and the Lithuanian national team.