Portuguese managers/head coaches are making a name for themselves in Europe and are being linked to high profile jobs. Names such as Leonardo Jardim, André Villas-Boas, Paulo Fonseca, Marco Silva, Rui Vitória, Sergio Conceição, Nuno Espírito Santo, Abel Ferreira and to some extent Carlos Carvalhal. But not many people are talking about Miguel Cardoso, who’s guided Rio Ave to a fifth place finish and the Europa League.
Rio Ave is Miguel Cardoso’s first job in first team management after being an assistant for 13 years at clubs such as Braga, Sporting, Deportivo and most notably Shakhtar Donetsk, working next to Paulo Fonseca after being promoted from Shakhtar U21’s. On 12th June 2017, Cardoso replaced Luis Castro at Rio Ave, signing a one year deal with an option of a further year. Nobody knew what to expect when Cardoso took over from Castro, he had a lot to live up to as well with the season Rio Ave had, finishing seventh on 49 points.
Rio Ave had a productive summer, selling key players such as Filip Krovinovic to Benfica for £3m, Roderick Miranda to Wolves for £2.8m and Ruben Riveiro to Sporting for £400k, as well as Gil Dias, Rafa Soares, Heldon and Radosav Petrovic returning to their parent clubs. They also brought in eleven players, spending just £720k and that was on Gabrielzinho from Linense who started only one game this season. They also brought in Pele and Nuno Santos from Benfica B as part of a swap deal, Chico Geraldes from Sporting on loan, Marcao and Oscar Barreto also came in on loan.
Cardoso opened up his first competitive game as a manager of Rio Ave with a 1-0 home win against Belenenses, Chico Geraldes with the only goal from a deflected free kick. The 45 year-old operated with a 4231 formation with Guedes as the lone striker, Geraldes, Barreto on the wings, Ribeiro in the #10, the ever so present captain Tarantini partnering new recruit Pele in the DM positions, a back four of Yuri Ribeiro, Marcos, Marcelo and Lionn with veteran Cassio in between the sticks. Given it was Cardoso’s first league game, it was surprising to see the changes and the style he was trying to implement on this side, but it was noticeable that he wants his midfield to press, make quick passes, the front four constantly on the move and free flowing with Ribeiro getting close to striker Guedes. Rio Ave went unbeaten in their first four games of the season, winning three and drawing one, playing exciting football and keeping two clean sheets, leading to Cardoso winning manager of the month. Following Rio Ave’s 2-0 win over Boavista, the Portuguese coach guided the club to 33 points after 19 games which is the highest tally they’ve reached in the history of the club.
Cardoso is a big believer in offensive and defensive transitions, team bonding and progressive training sessions to get the players used to how they want to play in matches. He often would start using the back four and then gradually add in more players to get the team working as a unit. He would also use the back four in 2 v 2 sessions but not always using both centre-backs, but a centre-back and a full back or both of his defensive midfielders together. He does this because he believes that it’s better to work on players individually then working together once he has the players up to the level that he wants. He would use the back four and the two DM’s in a group to work as a block to teach them the base has to be strong, collective and on the same wave length. With his defensive coaching, he would teach each player to work in groups zonally, so for example he would do 1v1’s then progress to 2v1, 2v2, 3v2, 3v3, until it’s 6v6.
Cardoso has brought a sense of calmness and class to the Primeira Liga and won’t tolerate any disrespect towards opposition or fans. This was proven when Rio Ave were awarded a penalty against Tondela and top scorer Guedes took the ball from assigned penalty taker Pele and missed with a panenka, minutes later Cardoso substituted Guedes. Cardoso is loved by the Portuguese media because of his gentlemanlike attitude and often praises the people he works with, most recently thanking his ‘mentors’ in Jorge Costa, Domingos Paciência and Carlos Carvalhal.
Clearly a manager that loves the art of defending which seems to be lost in the modern game, not only that, he has proven this season that he can coach an attack as well. You will look at the league table and see that they have a -3 goal difference, but Rio Ave have the fifth best defensive record and the eight highest scorers, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The amount of times his wingers have turned their full backs inside out and Guedes has missed sitters is remarkable, with a better crop of players, Cardoso would exceed. A coach that is destined for the top, spending less than £1m and guiding Rio Ave to a fifth place finish is a remarkable achievement and one does wonder if he will be at the Estádio dos Arcos next season given the rumours that chairman António Silva Campos is eyeing Tondela manager Pepa to take over from Cardoso as his contract runs out in the summer and is yet to take up the one year option.