FFT Interview: Meet the Portuguese coach chosen to revive Melaka United

Portugal’s Eduardo Almeida is a rarity in footballing circles, having not played the sport professionally before moving into the coaching ranks at a very young age.

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Now, he is the man tasked with reversing the fortunes of a Melaka United side languishing near the foot of the Malaysia Super League ladder.

The 39-year-old Almeida, who replaced Englishman Eric Williams at Melaka last week, only played amateur level football in Portugal.

I never had the passion to become a footballer. Maybe I could have been a good player had I focused on it

- Eduardo Almeida

He completed his degree in science and physical education before earning his coaching badges, officially becoming a coach at the age of just 23 as an assistant with Benfica’s under-16 team.

“I grew up wanting to be a coach,” the Lisbon-born Almeida explained in a chat with FourFourTwo. “I never had the passion to become a footballer.

“Maybe, I could have been a good player had I focused on it.

“When I was young, my target was to be a qualified coach as soon as possible. I got my coaching badges when I was 22 years old and joined Benfica in 2001 as their under-16 assistant trainer.

“I become a coach at an age where most would be aiming to make the grade as a footballer. I do not regret my decision as coaching is my passion.”

Celebrations have been few and far between thus far

Almeida is returning to Malaysia for his second coaching stint, signing a six-month contract with a club that earned promotion by winning the Malaysia Premier League last season.

Despite several decent signings, Melaka failed to make an impression before the international break, lying 11th in the 12-team competition with only 11 points from 13 matches.

For Almeida, however, taking over a relegation threatened team is not new.

In 2013, he rescued T-Team from relegation on the final day of the season after he took over from coach Che Ku Marzuki Che Ku Mohd Noor.

He was their caretaker coach for three months before he was told to resume his duties as coaching director of T-Team’s Young Titans Football Academy.

In December of that year, Almeida left T-Team to take up a coaching job with second-tier Hungarian club Kozarmisleny SE.

“I consider Malaysia my second home. After my stint with T-Team, I told myself that I will return to Malaysia one day to coach a team.

“And when the opportunity came to join Melaka, I immediately took up the challenge. I like Malaysia because the people are friendly and also that it is a good place to explore your coaching abilities.

Almeida is welcomed on the club's Facebook page

“I have signed for only six months with Melaka but the management will consider extending my contract if the club achieve all targets,” said Almeida, who joined Melaka after his contract with S.C. Angrense, a third-tier team in Portugal, was not extended after the end of the recent season.

On the progress of his new team, Almeida said everything is going well in training.

The priority is the MSL, but the management hopes the team can do decently in the Malaysia Cup

He should have some more quality at his disposal when the league resumes too as Melaka recently completed their mid-season transfer window with eight new signings.

“There are many new signings. The players are showing good levels in training. I am confident we can achieve our target of maintaining in the MSL.

“We have also qualified for the Malaysia Cup. I did not get the opportunity to lead T-Team in this competition in 2013 as I was moved back to manage their academy.

“I know that the Malaysia Cup is the most prestigious competition in the country. The priority is the MSL, but the management hopes the team can do decently in the Malaysia Cup,” said Almeida, who has coached clubs in Portugal, Hungary, Tanzania, Hong Kong and Laos.

Of the new recruits, Melaka have signed three imports in Croatian striker Marko Simic, Macedonian Jasmin Mecinovic and Brazilian Felipe De Souza.

Melaka's last match, a 3-0 loss to the Fighters

The team also secured Johor's Azniee Taib, Fandi Othman and Nicholas Swirad on loan deals. Nor Hakim Isa and S. Sivanesan were signed from Perak and PKNS respectively.

Almeida is being assisted by G. Selvamohan, who has been feeding the Portuguese coach with information on the team since he was appointed.

The main thing is language. I speak Portuguese and English but very little Bahasa Melayu

“The main thing is language,” Almeida said. “I speak Portuguese and English but very little Bahasa Melayu. But it is not a problem as football has its own universal language.

“I am grateful to Selvamohan as he has been helping me a lot in giving instructions to the players. I faced a similar situation when I was at T-Team but managed to overcome it.”

Almeida achieved decent success when he was in Laos with Lanexang United in 2015, with the team narrowly finishing runners-up to Lao Toyota FC

“Lao and Lanexang finished level on 48 points but the former were declared champions as they had a better head-to-head record against my former team,” Almeida added.

“However, Lanexang did not extend my services. It was a good outing and experience for me coaching a top club in Laos.”

Melaka will resume their MSL campaign against PKNS at Shah Alam Stadium on July 1.