Outgoing Greece coach Fernando Santos has clarified comments regarding his former players, praising their passion for soccer but lamenting the fact that they did not play with cooler heads during extra time of their second round World Cup match against Costa Rica, which led to the national side being eliminated from the tournament.
"I think I was unable to pass the message to the players when we went to extra time because that was a very difficult moment as the players were very tired and anxious,” Santos told Portuguese state broadcaster RTP on Wednesday night. “We were unable to keep a cool head, to think more of the team. But I'm not criticizing any particular player. If we had played differently in extra time we could have obtained an even more historical result.”
Santos took Greece into the second round of the World Cup for the first time in its history but appeared unhappy about the performance of his players. However, the Portuguese coach insisted in his interview that he felt the Greek players had given their utmost.
"No one can say to these players that they don't have passion for the game,” he said. “I don't know any other players with such passion. I've always told them that if I had to give them a score on a 0-10 scale, I would give them 11.”
However, the former AEK and PAOK manager admitted that Greece had been weak in attack and that players often tried to make up for this through individual efforts, which at times held the team back.
“In organized attacks we always had a problem,” he said. “In organized attacks our players were very individualistic and in a tournament like this that individualism damages the confidence of the team when it attacks."
“I didn't want to criticize the players in any way. The players were brilliant, they gave everything on the field and I'm very proud of having worked with them these four years. But my job as a coach is to say what I think, what went well and what went wrong.”
Santos suggested that there is a wider tendency for Greek soccer players to focus on individual efforts, often mistaking this for creativity.
“In Greece there is confusion between creativity and anarchy... and it is hard to get the Greek player to abandon this mentality,” said the 59-year-old.
“There's no lack of quality in Greece. The Greek player, contrary to what people may think, has quality. Even those who were in Euro 2004 had a lot of quality. It was a great team. But it would be hard to change the mentality of those players. In the same way, you will never change the mentality of the players today, which is to have the the tendency to exaggerate their individuality.”
Santos, known as in Portugal “o engenheiro” (the engineer) due to his engineering background, singled out Giorgos Karagounis, the midfielder who announced his retirement from international soccer after 139 appearances, for praise.
“Karagounis is the real Greek player: The passion, the individual characteristics, he is a symbol, he has such an indescribable love for the Greek shirt,” he said.
Santos, however, also suggested that the national team has a bright future, noting that there 13 new players in the squad compared to the one that took part in the 2010 World Cup. When asked about Olympiakos central defender Costas Manolas, Santos indicated that he has the potential to become a world class player.
“This kid is fast and has a fantastic leap, he is very strong in one-on-one, but he can develop in some aspects,” he said. “For instance, he should take less risk because he is a defender. David Luiz and Ricardo Carvalho also had that problem initially - sometimes they forgot they were defenders and started playing like a forward."
Santos also stressed the role he had played in developing the grassroots of Greek soccer in his four years in charge of the national set-up.
“If there is something that I think I left in Greece - beyond the results and the friendship with people and the relationship with Greek people – it’s the legacy I left at the Greek federation, where I helped create the structure of Greek soccer,” he said.
“Now there is under-15 soccer, there is a national tournament with scouting of 14-year-olds which didn't exist before. Also, there is a data base - you can go to the Greek federation at any hour of the day or the night, you click one button and you know everything you want about the players and their careers. That was created by me and my team.”
The former Benfica and Porto coach revealed that he turned down an offer to manage Gabon. He also clarified why he did not sign a new contract with the Hellenic Football Federation and that he would not rule out a return to Greece in the future.
"They proposed a new contract and I didn't accept,” he said. “They told me that was the maximum the Greek federation could pay. I considered that it wasn't enough. We didn't reach an agreement. There is no fight, no resentment. These four years were great, it was work I really enjoyed but it's the end.
“If you ask me if I would like to coach again the national team of another country, the answer might be different, but if you ask me if I would like to coach the Portuguese team one day, naturally I would. Similarly, if you ask me if I could coach again the Greek team, I can't say 'no' because of the feelings I have for the Greek people."
[Kathimerini English Edition]