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

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