Hugo Viana - Why the best Liga player won't be in the Euro'2012
Why the Liga’s best player will not be in Portugal squad at Euro 2012
The odd case of Hugo Viana
Lately numerous opinion makers have been discussing how ludicrous it is that Hugo Viana will not start at next summer’s Euro 2012. Indeed it looks unlikely he will even be called up to Portugal’s squad for the tournament. The Braga midfielder has been quite possibly the best player in the league this season, so the question of his absence has to be posed.
In football, as in so many other areas in life, context is everything. Whether he’s a club manager or the coach of a national team, it’s absolutely critical that the players are chosen according to the manager’s ideas, and not just because they excelled at their (previous) club. Otherwise, he would be left with a bunch of players with little or nothing in common, creating chaotic scenarios that we see in football far too often (Gian Piero Gasperini’s case at Inter immediately springs to mind*), in which the manager has the thankless task of being forced to try to concoct some game plan that accommodates everyone.
In case you’re wondering, that’s the ideal way to ruin a team and their manager. Just look at how Real Madrid, Liverpool, Chelsea or Manchester City ended up spending so much money in unsuccessful newcomers (from Wayne Bridge to Shevchenk or Torres, from Robinho to Sahin, from Carroll to Charlie Adam), most of which they couldn’t get rid of. As for national teams, just think of why the performances from Messi, Ronaldo, Lampard or Gerrard (to name but a few) draw so much criticism from their own fans.
As decisive as Viana has been in Braga’s exhilarating season, it’s important to analyse if his traits, tendencies and overall game fit into Paulo Bento’s ideas. Regardless of how much you may or may not agree with Bento’s ideas, it’s up to him to make the decision in the team’s best interest and, therefore, there will be no discussion of his perspectives.
1. Braga’s tactics
Leonardo Jardim’s Braga usually play a 4x2x3x1, with Custodio as the holding midfielder and Viana alongside him. Additionally, Lima is a fast, mobile forward and Mossoro provides the link-up between midfield and attack. Viana’sprecise passing offers an alternate route to Mossoro, allowing Braga to quickly break away by bypassing Mossoro with long passes to Lima or Alan. Defensively, Braga tend to be quite conservative, dropping back and usually creating two banks of four. There are numerous players around Viana to cover for him when he strays for an attack, for instance.
2. Portugal’s tactics
Again, this issue does not revolve around whether this is the best option for Portugal; rather if Hugo Viana is a suitable pick. The Portuguese eleven has traditionally lined up in a 4x3x3 for quite some time now. Paulo Bento has stuck to Joao Moutinho and Raul Meireles, with Miguel Veloso lately getting the nod ahead of Carlos Martins. It seems clear that Bento favours a team that is capable of exerting pressure higher up when necessary, a job which Hugo Viana’s attributes do not enable him to do.
Unlike Braga, Portugal does not have a typical regista, which means both midfielders (ahead of Veloso) must defend and attack. If we take a closer look, Bento has been calling up players capable of doing just that, such as Meireles, Moutinho, Ruben Micael or Ruben Amorim. Even Castro or Andre Santos have been called up precisely because they fit the bill. With so many offensive-minded players at the back (Joao Pereira and Fabio Coentrao, for instance) and wingers who rarely help out defensively (Nani, Ronaldo, Quaresma), it’s up to the midfielders to provide coverage, and not the other way around.
3. Portugal’s approach
It only seems logical to infer from Bento’s stint so far that he will be going for a different approach from Carlos Queiroz. Instead of sitting and waiting for opponents, the Seleccao will be looking to stifle teams and play with a high(er) defensive line. Again, unfortunately this does not bode well for Hugo Viana Viana, who is particularly prone to tiring out mid-game and does not usually do well in such sides. Besides, Viana is vulnerable to being muscled out of the park (the Besiktas tie is proof enough), a threat he will face in most matches of the European Championship.
All in all, I don’t believe that this is a case where a stubborn coach does not want to admit he got it wrong at first; rather a case where the player doesn’t fit well into the team’s tactics and approach. To put things in perspective, even though they are very important at their current clubs, it would be nonsensical for Barcelona to contract Luisao, Milan to contract James Rodriguez or Manchester City to contract Matias Fernandez – the teams’ principles and the players’ attributes simply do not match up.
Personally, I do believe that Hugo Viana could be a valuable asset (particularly for matches where Portugal may not be the clearly superior side), but I also think that his playing time would be limited.
*Gian Piero Gasperini was hired by Inter at the start of the current season, only to be fired after five (winless matches). The oddness of it all was that he was dismissed precisely for implementing his game plan (known to everyone as a high-pressure and very intense one) that did not fit the players he had at his disposal – mostly players on the wrong side of thirty.