Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hysteria in Covilha for the Portugal National Team

The entire village of Covilha is ecstatic about hosting their special guest, the Portugal National Team. Carlos Queiroz, his coaching staff and the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) administration led by Carlos Godinho have left nothing to chance. The attention to detail has been impeccable. This level of organization and commitment to perfection is to limit any potential surprises. Their mission is to create an environment that does not allow any excuses for failure.

Let me give you an inside tour of the steps taken to assure that all aspects of preparing Portugal for the World Cup have been taken.

We first arrived in Covilha to assess hotel facilities and field conditions after our National Team friendly versus China. After our initial visit, our coaching staff and the FPF administration arrived on May 12th, 2010, two days prior to the arrival of the Portuguese National Team players.

Each staff member then carefully reviewed all they need to successfully execute their responsibilities related to their expertise at a first class level. Careful inventory of facilities and all equipment is taken and a back-up plan is always in place. Logistics are carefully planned. There is no doubt when and where you should be. All staff is interrelated. One cannot function successfully without the other. You truly see the meaning of vertical integration that will provide a first class experience by all those involved in the process. Everyone is obsessive in their task.

Queiroz and Godinho held a staff meeting to request feedback from all of us on any items that we need, or challenges that we may experience. Their goal was clear -- Portugal had a very difficult qualification process, however we should be pleased and proud that we are going to South Africa. But now everyone must give a little bit more of themselves. To succeed in South Africa, it’s not enough to just dream about a good World Cup. We must work hard at all aspects of our functions in order to compete. The message was clear and no doubt that the challenge posed will be accepted by all of us. We are consumed by the process.

We will be staying at two hotels: the Hotel Turismo da Covilha, which is 649 meters above sea level, and Hotel Serra Da Estrela at 1,487 meters above sea level. It is very difficult to find this variation in altitude conditions in such a close proximity. We train in the valley and sleep in the mountains… sun in the valley and snow in the cold mountains when we arrived. It’s heating up now. Both hotels are exclusive for the Portugal National Team.

When you arrive in your room you have a beautiful hospitality basket waiting for you and a nice note from management stating, “It is our pleasure to welcome the entire National Team delegation. Our mission is to help in your success at the World Cup”. Players will be at one end and coaching staff on the other end. Administrators will be above and below the players and coaching staff. Security guards are placed at the entry points on the floors. Any time we move, the security guards communicate to each other in advance to let those involved with security know where we are at all times. Both hotels were completely scrutinized by the Portuguese National Police, including sniffing dogs for explosives. Blue prints of both hotels and fields were obtained. This gave a good visual of the field dimensions and hotel access points. All these measures are taken in order to protect the safety of the players and the confidentiality of the group, and to create an environment that gives the group comfort and peace.

The hotel in the valley was fully equipped by the Portuguese Football Federation with the latest in gym training equipment. The hotel in the mountains is primarily to live and rest, although we do have medical rooms set up.

Game rooms are offered to the players at each hotel. It's great to see them away from the field and enjoying themselves with table soccer, ping pong, pool and video games. They still remain competitive regardless of the game they play. There is a third hotel which is a beautiful spa -- fantastic for relaxation. We will visit that hotel on occasion for recovery purposes.

During our meals the players sit at one long table. The coaching staff, medical staff and administrators sit at another long table. There is an established meal protocol; the staff and administrators will begin to eat only when everyone has arrived. When the players are done with their meal, they all stand up and leave at the same time. That is determined by the senior players.

We have two South Africans on our coaching staff that will make sure our transitions form Portugal to South Africa is seamless. All of the precautions that have been taken in Portugal will be implemented in South Africa as well. Having the South Africans with us assures that there will be no surprises awaiting us. They were here for our match versus China in March and were fully briefed on what the level of expectations is.

Also in the room, was a detailed training camp binder of our itinerary and plan for our 2010 World Cup preparation. The program takes us from Portugal to South Africa every step of the way. All daily events are outlined; the traveling delegation is highlighted with photos of each member, photos of all the hotels as well. The itinerary also indicates what training sessions are open or closed to the public and press.

We also have Nike gear inside our rooms. We have a little green basket where we leave our clothes after our training sessions and then it's replaced with new gear daily.

There are sacred areas that only the coaching staff and administrators are allowed -- soccer fields, locker room, bus and specific hotel areas. Anyone who wishes to enter our hotels must be approved by security. There are a number of fenced off areas where the public is allowed to take a peak or sneak an autograph from the “heroes” as they enter/exit the bus or fields we train on. Essentially, the players are isolated. In every turn or twist you are always in the presence of security. Outside or inside, they are everywhere. No one is allowed near the team unless they have proper credentials. Either they have the official Portugal gear or have a badge that identifies them. You must remember that these players are national treasures.

Transportation to and from hotels and fields are with the official Portugal National Team bus as well as two shuttle buses. All travel is by police escort. As we travel to and from our destinations all intersections are controlled by police as they wait for us to drive by. The traffic is stopped to allow our bus to move with ease. The roads are tight and winding. The police, who also travel with us, are responsible for taking a head count. During our travel the passion of the people is amazing as they wave Portuguese flags with excitement and cheer us on with encouragement.

Our first training session was open to the public and press. We had approximately 3,000 fans attend plus an incredible number of press members. We have two soccer complexes at our disposal and all the training equipment that you may ever need to do your job. The soccer stadium up near the mountain is Estadio da Estrela and the other soccer stadium, down in the valley, is named Complexo Desportivo Covilha. You request what you need for training equipment and they set it up for you on the pitch -- including the official World Cup adidas ball!

Portuguese television is obsessive with soccer. You cannot watch any channel without soccer coverage every few minutes. The game of soccer is as important as the general news coverage or any popular show in the Portuguese culture. You get all the Portugal National Team details in real time.

Live the World Cup!
Dan Gaspar

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Portugal National Team World Cup Player Selection

I almost did not make it to the Portugal National Team official player presentation. I had flight delays resulting from airplane technical difficulties and then the volcanic dust cloud. The airport was absolutely chaos. I just made it in time, but my bags arrived a day later. That is another story for another day.

On May 10th, 2010 Carlos Queiroz announced his selection of 24 players who will have the honor of representing the Portugal National Team and defend the Portuguese national pride.

It was a gala event, not unlike a Hollywood red carpet affair. It was attended by the Who’s Who of Portugal. Pedro Pinot from CNN was the host, and he did a magnificent job. The honored guests were: Fernando Couto and Carla Couto; former Portugal National Team captains as well as Joao Pinto; Eusebio, Portugal’s legendary player and Portugal National Team Ambassador; Monica Jorge, Women’s National Team Head Coach; Portugal Football Federation President, administrators and Men’s National Team staff; various politicians, and of course there was an incredible number of TV and radio reporters as well as journalists. This event was televised live for an hour. The broadcast covered the history of the National Team, highlights of the qualification games, interviews as well as action highlights of the players that were selected. It was a fantastic production.

Portugal soccer fans were all sitting on the edge of their seats and holding their collective breath in great anticipation of Carlos Queiroz's final selection.

Professor Queiroz and his staff spent many hours in tracking players, both attending live matches and evaluating game footage. It was a very tedious process that consumed a great deal of time and effort, as expected. The staff established rigorous criteria and logged the data collected. The selections were based exclusively on the player’s merit. Professor Queiroz signed off on the official player roster document with his lucky pen and handed it to the Portuguese Football Federation Director of Sports, Carlos Godinho.

Unlike the typical soccer fanatic who sees a match once and is a loyal supporter of their club. Naturally, these influences affect the fans perspective.

Portugal National Team 24 Players
Name Club Position Country
EduardoSporting BragaGoalkeeperPortugal
BetoFC PortoGoalkeeperPortugal
Daniel FernandesIraklisGoalkeeperGreece
Paulo FerreiraChelseaDefenderEngland
RolandoFC PortoDefenderPortugal
Ricardo CarvalhoChelseaDefenderEngland
Bruno AlvesFC PortoDefenderPortugal
Ricardo CostaLilleDefenderFrance
Jose CastroCurunhaDefenderSpain
Fabio CoentraoSL BenficaDefenderPortugal
PepeReal MadridMidfielderSpain
Pedro MendesSporting LisbonMidfielderPortugal
Miguel VelosoSporting LisbonMidfielderPortugal
Raul MeirelesFC PortoMidfielderPortugal
TiagoAtletico MadridMidfielderPortugal
SimaoAtletico MadridMidfielderSpain
NaniManchester UnitedMidfielderEngland
Cristiano RonaldoReal MadridForwardSpain
LiedsonSporting LisbonForwardSpain
Hugo AlmeidaW BrennanForwardGermany

When the team was announced there was an immediate buzz in favor or against. The debates were and continue to be intense. It is impossible to keep everyone happy, and there will always be disappointment at certain players being left home. But there were some far more contentious decisions made by the managers of other countries. Diego Maradona has left the Inter Milan captain, Javier Zanetti, at home; Marcello Lippi has ignored Luca Toni; and the organizers of the World Cup in South Africa expressed their disappointment that Brazilian Head Coach Dunga excluded Ronaldinho from his squad. Even the US squad couldn't escape controversy when Bob Bradley told Charlie Davies that he would be left home after receiving a letter from Sochaux indicating that the US ace would not be fit, and that they would not medically clear him before the World Cup.

After the ceremonies we had a wonderful dinner. When we arrived at the restaurant it was impossible not to sense some disappointment as well as agreement with the players selected from all that were in the restaurant. We sat, raised our glasses and toasted to “Go Work”.

Carlos Queiroz and I took the taxi back home. It was clear that in the end, Carlos Queiroz, the wait staff and patrons at the restaurant, and I all want the same thing -- to win the World Cup.

The next day there was a live broadcast on Sport TV reviewing the player selection. At the end of the broadcast they shared the final results of those who were in favor and in disagreement with the selection. I cannot think of a better way to motivate the Portuguese National Team players.

Despite the opinions, Joao Pinto, a former Portugal National Team member, said during his TV interview, “From this moment on, these players selected are my National Team”.

Live the World Cup!
Dan Gaspar

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Journey Begins

Well, the moment has arrived. I leave for the Portugal National training camp in preparation for the South Africa World Cup!

I have been fortunate to have worked on three different continents with world class players at all levels. However, I have never had the opportunity to participate in the World Cup. In fact I have never even attended a World Cup. That is all about to change.

Since it was requested that I join Portugal's National Team staff, for the past month I have been functioning on only a few hours of sleep each night. From my responsibilities at the University of Hartford, including my soccer camps-Connecticut Soccer School and Star Goalkeeper Academy-to my family, our two pugs Max and Nuno, it has been an insane pace. But this is my life and soccer is my passion.

It is not often that you get to experience the ultimate dream. Participating in the World Cup competition was the only missing link to complete my professional career dreams.

I am so grateful to all those who impacted me, more than they can ever imagine. I am very fortunate to be surrounded by people who no matter what had faith and confidence in me. People who gave me courage to pursue my dreams, people who presented opportunities for me to learn and grow, people who shared their wisdom and knowledge with me, and people who were kind and generous with me. I pay tribute to these people and the credit goes to them.

I am proud to be an American born coach who has been given this opportunity. My formal soccer foundation was developed in the United States. I feel I am a reflection of our outstanding coaching system and that I, in some way, serve as a US soccer ambassador during my international travels. My goal was to develop my American ingenuity and combine that with my unique European experiences. This combination has shaped me as a coach. I have no doubt that we have outstanding soccer educators in this country and the rest of the world should recognize that. I happen to be a fortunate one. This does not mean I am better or special but simply I am unique. Hopefully, in the near future we will have more like me who will have the opportunity to display their skills in the international arena.

I am so excited about being involved in the South Africa World Cup. What a competition. Think about the magnitude: 204 countries participate, 850 games down to 32 teams who will play 64 games. Finally, one team will be crowned "World Champion". This process is certainly worthy ofthe title "World Champion".

My only regret is that it is not possible to put all my friends and loved ones inside my body and have the opportunity to look out through my eyes at what I will be experiencing. I'm sure it will be difficult for me to express in words what I will see and feel.

When I was notified that I was selected to join the Portugal National Team coaching staff, I went through a maze of emotions. It was as if I was a bottle and the cork was removed allowing all of my emotions to spill out. I began to reflect on the sacrifices that my family, professional associates and I had made to allow this opportunity. I drove back to Colt Park in Hartford and began walking around in the areas that my father used to train me. The tree that I used to throw the ball off and catch is still there. My father was a former professional goalkeeper in Portugal. He was my mentor, inspiration and my hero. You cannot imagine how proud he is. In fact sometimes his pride is embarrassing when he is with his friends having coffee or sipping on a glass of red wine. But it's all good. He loves his son and I love him.

Since Professor Carlos Queiroz, Head Coach of the Portugal National Team, informed me that I would be part of his staff the process began for me to mentally and physically prepare myself for the challenges I will be encountering.

Mentally, I started the process by assembling selected motivating songs on my I-Pod that would be part of my daily life. Physically, I needed to accept who I am today and not what I was 16 years ago when I was also part of Portugal's World Cup qualification process. We lost to Italy in San Siro Stadium in 1993. That loss prevented Portugal to qualify to the 1994 World Cup hosted by the USA. Along with Coach Carr and Coach Kelly's encouragement, we put together a plan that was reasonable, yet challenging. The University of Hartford players were very patient with my regime. I received total support from my players and coaching staff. Their support and understanding is awesome.

The goalkeeper preparation has begun in my mind as well as offering suggestions on team bonding and mental preparations to cope with the pressures of the World Cup competition.

I am sad and anxious as I depart my friends and love ones, my comfort zone. Now I take this exciting adventure and journey to South Africa. Thinking and hoping everyday that the Portugal National Team will represent their country with pride, dignity and honor. There are so many factors that we cannot control. One thing is for sure: our players and coaching staff will be prepared as best as possible. No detail will be overlooked. I am confident that if there were World Cups awarded for preparation, Portugal would be a candidate to lift the Trophy. Unfortunately, there is no such award. It's about results on the field and the rest is conversation.

Within the next few hours, I will step off the plane in Portugal and I will smell, eat, drink and eat soccer. The fierce soccer debates start immediately. From the taxi driver to the little kids and grandparents, everyone will have an opinion on the Portugal National Team. This is a country that has completely embraced the game of soccer. They live it, breath it, and are consumed by the beauty of the game and so am I.

Live the World Cup!
Dan Gaspar