Benfica de Macau coach Bruno Álvares spoke with offside.hk correspondent Afonso Pires about his club’s latest Macau Elite League title, the future of Macau football, the potential of local players, and the chance of participating in the next AFC Cup. The 28 years old Portuguese coach, who had worked with youth teams of both Benfica and Sporting in Portugal before, is ready for a long-lasting Asian adventure.
Two times Macau champion, two times FA Cup winner (with the chance of lifting the third trophy this year), what is the key factor for your success?
Success in football is always collective. I think it has been the quality of the way we work that sets us apart. The club administration created the fundamental idea and made the Benfica de Macau project possible, which is based on the symbiosis between professional players of different cultures and talented local players.
As coach I have the mission to achieve the best results on a professional level within the Macao reality. I think about what is necessary to achieve success in technical terms and to shape a competitive squad to meet our objectives, which are guided by a winning and working mentality.
There was a time in the season when Benfica lost against Ka I and then drew with Lai Chi, losing the top place in the table. What was your message to the team during that challenging time?
In my first year, when the club hadn’t won any title yet, I often told my players that with their quality and hard work they must stop to fear and instead they should be feared by others. Later that year, we won the first trophy of the club, the Macau FA Cup.
When I started working with the team in the second year from the 4th round we were already 5 points behind the 1st spot (Editor’s note: Álvares left for Portugal after the 1st season, but returned to Macau after the new coach had been sacked). But I was convinced that if we continue with the work of the first year we would eventually prove our superiority. And so it was. After all we won the championship, the cup and the Bolinha (Editor’s note: a traditional 7 a side tournament in Macau).
This year we started as invincible team and we became the reference for local football. So losing to Ka I came as a shock of course. I would say, in that game we were “betrayed” by our winning mentality, as we wanted to force a victory in a situation, in which we should have settled for a draw. Consequently we lost. After that and the following tie with Lai Chi, I told my players that the current ranking would give a false impression. Even though the opponents thought that they had taken apart Benfica, we would still be champions if we follow our own path. And fortunately it happened that way: The team regrouped, our opponents dropped points, and we won every game until the end of the season.
Currently, there seems to be a public sentiment that artificial turfs would lead to better conditions in Macau. What is your opinion on that and which things need to be changed in order to improve local football?
In my opinion, the improvement is not based on the change of existing natural grass fields to artificial turfs. In fact, in my opinion playing the matches of the Macau Elite League on synthetic grass would be a setback. Currently, the strategic plan for football in Macau works at two different levels: First, according to the government’s “sports for all” policy, the construction of artificial pitches appears as an immediate solution, because it would allow the general population and the various trade associations to use the space on a regular basis. Second, in order to achieve respectable results, the teams of the professional league as well as the Macau selections should be given the best conditions in play and practice. The natural grass fields (which – with the right management and maintenance – in Macau’s climate), a medical sports center, indoor halls, video analysis equipment, technical training facilities, changing rooms, visitor stands, bathrooms… all these things should be fairly shared by the teams in the top division under the coordination of the Macao Football Association. A professional infrastructure would indeed increase the quality of all teams and the overall competitiveness of the league, in accordance with the territory’s small size. Of course government funds for this kind of project are cruciail. This needs to go hand in hand with a better recognition of elite athletes, which would ecnourage local youth players to follow a professional career.
Despite all limitations, do you think it is possible in the near future to have a fully professional league in Macau? (Editor’s Note: The clubs participating in the Macau Elite League are semi-professional.)
Given the current development of Macau football I only see that path. It will take time, but the tendency is that Macau football will evolve towards professionalism year by year.
This season Leong Ka Hang was hired by Hong Kong Premier League side Wofoo Tai Po. It seems Macau has a lot of talented young players like Chan Man, Vinicio Morais Alves, Iuri Capelo – among others. Do you think there is a chance that some local player can play in more competitive leagues in the future?
Macau has indeed very talented young players with tremendous potential and who are also determined to become professional football players. However, considering the reality in Macau, it is extremely risky for a young player to follow a professional football career when your friends and colleagues of the same age have already quite fulfilling jobs in hotels, casinos, banks, etc. Between the stability and the opportunity of chasing a dream, the chances are greatly reduced.
As for the examples given, they are all evidence of what is possible with adequate training and good conditions. I believe we will see more players like Ka Hang in the future. While Vinicio works in a bank and Iuri might want to seek a more secure career, both are dedicated to football. Chan Man played a great first season at Benfica, if he is ready to take the risk, chances are good that he would become a true professional player.
With the recent changes in the rules of the AFC Cup (the clubs from lower ranked FAs will be included in a preliminary round of the play-off), is it possible to see Benfica de Macau there next year? What will be the chances for Benfica in this competition?
Yes, it is possible. We are currently working on this participation together with the Macau Football Association.
If we get the support of all local authorities to prepare for this stage of the AFC Cup, I believe that Benfica can make Macau proud. I am convinced that with hard work and good preparation the result will be positive. Throughout the season we played several test games against Hong Kong Premier League teams, and that was a good indicator of where we stand and what we can do.
On a personal level, after your successful work in Macau, do you want to continue your career in Asia? Is there a chance that we are talking right now to the future “Asian Mourinho”?
Mourinho is unique and his career is one of a kind. He is certainly a reference for me, as he is for many Portuguese coaches, especially with regards to his ideology and winning ability.
Above all, I want to continue with delivering excellent work, rigorously and professionally. I always try to achieve the best out of all available resources, especially the local players, and to unlock their full potential within the reality of the work context.
Interestingly, the last two years I have mainly received offers from European and African clubs, nothing at the Asian level, but I am excited about the idea of working in other leagues in the region. From what I have seen, there is a strong passion and following of football, and championships are becoming well organized and competitive. I also feel perfectly comfortable and in line with the Chinese mindset. It’s a hard-working mentality, determined to achieve the objectives. Maybe I will try out another league one day, but for now, I am very proud of my work with Benfica de Macau.
Thank you very much for your time. We wish you all the best, both in Macau and elsewhere.
Photo source: Bruno Álvares (Facebook)