Benfica's winningly brilliant (and brilliantly winning) gaffer might be coming to England – and Tom Kundert explains why it'd be rather fun to see...
He’s convinced he’s “the best coach in the world”, Nemanja Matic would say he has a case, others have labelled him “a cretin” and Tim Sherwood wanted to thump him. The brilliant and bonkers Benfica boss Jorge Jesus might just fit the bill at the Etihad Stadium.
- Born 24 July 1954, Amadora, Portugal
- Clubs played for Sporting, Peniche, Olhanense, Belenenses, Riopele, Juventude Evora, União Leiria, Vitoria Setubal, Farense, Estrela da Amadora, Atletico CP, Benfica Castelo Branco, Almancilense
- Clubs managed Amora, Felgueiras, União Madeira, Estrela da Amadora, Vitoria Setubal, Estrela da Amadora (again), Vitoria Guimaraes, Moreirense, União Leiria, Belenenses, Braga, Benfica
“Given the close relations Jorge Mendes has with these two great clubs, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jorge Jesus appointed Manchester United or Manchester City coach in the summer,” wrote Paulo Futre in March for Portuguese sports daily Record.
The subsequent upturn in Louis van Gaal’s fortunes suggests the Dutchman is in Manchester for the long haul, but the same can hardly be said of Manuel Pellegrini after a trophyless season of disenchantment. Whether or not Futre is party to some inside information, Jesus’s achievements in Lisbon make him a strong candidate to take the reins in the blue half of Manchester.
Matic is just one of a long list of players who are happy to champion Jesus’s coaching attributes. The Chelsea linchpin talks glowingly about how Jesus moulded him into arguably the world’s finest defensive midfielder. "Jorge Jesus explained when I had to defend and when I should attack, how to hold the position and to be tactically alert," explained the Serbian.
"I worked every day tactically with him to improve. He believed in my quality and kept saying, ‘Just do what I ask and slowly you will play better’." And Matic duly did, to the extent that Chelsea happily spent £21 million to bring him back to Stamford Bridge last summer.
But some of Jesus’s disciples are equally enthusiastic about pointing out his failings, especially when it comes to man-management. Former Benfica goalkeeper Quim, who was summarily dispatched by Jesus, said: "He’s an excellent coach, but as a person... let’s just say the relational skills do not correspond to the technical skills." And Nacional da Madeira coach Manuel Machado was less willing to hold his tongue when asked to express his opinion of his rival, providing one of the great lines firmly written into Portuguese football folklore: "A vintém [an old Portuguese coin] is always a vintém and a cretin is always a cretin."
Jesus exudes the demeanour of a man not overly concerned about what others think of him. He infamously once said that "Fair play is bulls***", and practised what he preached in November 2011 when ordering his goalkeeper Artur to take a tumble against Sporting.
Am I the best Portuguese coach? No, I’m the best coach in the world
He freely admits he lives only for football, and has absolute confidence in his own abilities, to a level reminiscent of Brian Clough. When the Sol newspaper asked him last summer if he thought he was the best Portuguese coach, he responded: "No: I’m the best coach in the world. I don’t believe there is anyone who knows more about football than me."
To fully grasp the magnitude of the job Jesus has done at Benfica, one needs to look at the Portuguese giants before and after his arrival. When given the job in summer 2009, he took over a dysfunctional club crushed by the shadow of its glorious past and the glaring superiority of its hated rivals, FC Porto.
The Eagles had won the title only once in the previous 15 seasons, during which time Porto had been champions 11 times. Worse, the northern rivals were also busy building a European legacy, further consigning Benfica’s historical achievements to the depths of a distant memory.
As the Blue and Whites sparkled on the international stage, Benfica invariably tumbled out of Europe early doors, often in embarrassing fashion – like being thumped 5-1 at Olympiacos or 7-0 at Celta Vigo.
Jesus changed all that. He won the championship in exhilarating fashion in his first season, and although Porto hit back the following season by going undefeated under André Villas-Boas, Benfica have fought them tooth-and-nail in each of JJ’s six seasons in charge.
They are currently well placed to lift the crown for a second successive season, and were it not for two late collapses to throw away winning positions, Benfica would have been celebrating five titles in six seasons – and Jesus might more often have been mistaken by the police for a wildly over-celebrating fan.
Furthermore, although failing to trouble the Champions League (their longest run being to the 2012 quarter-final defeat against Chelsea), Benfica have performed creditably in the competition for the most part, and runs to the last two Europa League finals have seen the club go from a laughing stock to a team worthy of respect in UEFA’s competitions.
Jesus has overseen all this while having to contend with losing his top players year after year. Matic, Angel Di María and David Luiz are just three of a long list of raw talents that he expertly polished into world-class performers before seeing them leave the Estádio da Luz in exchange for huge transfer fees.
Just this season the coach has had to contend with the sale of no fewer than six first-team regulars who had propelled Benfica to last season’s unprecedented domestic treble – yet his side remain above the expensively-assembled Porto.
Another facet in which Jesus has excelled is his ability to reinvent a player’s position with stunning results. Cases in point are Fábio Coentrão (winger to left-back), Matic (attacking midfielder to defensive midfielder) and Enzo Peréz (winger to box-to-box midfielder). Having established themselves as among the best in the world in their new positions, the three players were sold for a combined fee of €80m.
The playing style
Attack, attack, attack: that could be the Jesus mantra. Even in a league which only presents the Eagles with one serious rival, it is nonetheless astonishing to note that his Benfica team has never failed to score in a home league match. The current count stands at 92 consecutive Primeira Liga matches, over six years, in which no visiting side has kept a clean sheet.
He is a big believer in 4-4-2, although with the wide midfielders encouraged to hit the byline, it often morphs into a 4-2-4. What is so impressive is the team’s ability to defend solidly despite its unrelenting forward momentum. For all his commitment to attack, Jesus’s Benfica side has an admirable goals-against record, fruit of his notoriously rigorous drilling routines where the emphasis is put on player positioning, team shape and tactical aspects. He is often referred to in Portugal as the mestre da táctica: tactical master.
His meticulous attention to detail comes to the fore in his touchline behaviour – a show within a show. Broody prowling of the touchline accompanied by manic pointing of fingers, barking of instructions and brutal reprimands of his players? Par for the course. And talking of touchline behaviour…
The Sherwood shenanigans
A little over a year ago Jesus hit the headlines in England after his public spat with the then-Tottenham Hotspur manager Tim Sherwood. Speaking to Sol, the Portuguese was more than happy to talk about the incident – and his subsequent admiration for his English counterpart:
I told André Villas-Boas that if we beat Tottenham I would give Tim Sherwood a mauling
"I told André [Villas-Boas] that if we beat Tottenham I would give Sherwood a mauling in the press conference. I would have said that Tottenham were much better under André and now they had zero idea tactically. I had this in my mind during the game and I stepped into his zone by accident. He looked me up and down in that English way as if to say ‘Portugueezer, your place is there: stay there, little guy’.
"I understood that look and he then stepped into my zone. That’s when I told him to go away, saying ‘back, back, back’. But he stayed put.
That stayed in my head, and when we scored, I’m not sure why, it was instinctive, I did that little dance as if to say to him ‘you’re taking a hiding and don’t even realise how’.
"This happened at 1-0 but then I remembered there was still a long way to go. I said to myself, ‘Shut it, this could still turn around’. When we made it 3-1 I said to him ‘My name is André. One, two, three’.
He went ballistic - ‘F*** you’ to which I responded ‘F*** you, f*** the b**** who gave birth to you’. I let it all out and the referee was there trying to separate us. But I was winning, so I was fine.
"Then I thought ‘This guy’s going to land one on me’. But he didn’t. He’s bold, I have to say. I ended up liking him. In Tottenham’s next game in the English league they won 3-2, coming back from 2-0 down and when they scored the winner I jumped in the air.
"He was courageous, he wasn’t scared of me. If he had to headbutt me there and then he would have. What he was saying was: ‘I’m not scared of you. You’re here strutting about and in a while I’m going to hit you.’ I like people like that."
The next step
Jesus at Benfica
- 2009/10 Won league and league cup
- 2010/11 2nd in league, won league cup
- 2011/12 2nd in league, won league cup
- 2012/13 2nd in league, cup runners-up
- 2013/14 Won league, cup & league cup
- 2014/15 Top of league, league cup finalists
Jesus is Benfica’s longest-serving post-war manager but has yet to extend a contract that terminates in the summer. Should the Eagles clinch the title this year the clamour for him to stay will be immense among the fans, but simultaneously his stock will rise further still, making him an enticing target for clubs seeking a new manager.
When questioned about his future last summer Jesus said he was focused only on winning successive Portuguese championships before adding: "I believe I’m the best coach in the world, but to prove it I have to win the Champions League. If I leave a top team like Benfica it will have to be for another top team."
Speculation in the Portuguese press this year has linked him with Barcelona and Real Madrid, while AC Milan made a failed attempt to prise him away from the Portuguese capital one year ago. If and when he moves on it will make for fascinating viewing to see how this most rumbustious of coaches takes to a new environment... and how the new environment takes to him.