In this month’s Worldwide View, match analyst and coach Joao Nuno Fonseca speaks to Michael McCann about his role in Portugal, his dream of working in the Premier League and picking the brains of Andre Villas-Boas and Pep Guardiola.
“Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp – call me one day! In one minute I can convince you I am the right person! I am dreamer so I need to dream, and if you don’t follow the dream you are dead, so let’s keep dreaming!”
Joao Nuno Fonseca is more than just a dreamer. He’s a man steadily turning that dream into reality. He is a match analyst, a job that didn’t exist in football two decades back but has now become an essential asset for all top clubs. Match analysts work as part of the manager’s technical staff as opposed to a traditional ‘coach’. They’ll study opponents in minute detail and de-brief from completed fixtures, reducing hours of statistical and positional analysis from key moments into detailed notes. These are used by the first-team manager, with customised bite-sized chunks provided to individual players through video and statistical analysis to improve training. Such analysis is helping to give top clubs the marginal games that can make all the difference.
The 27-year-old has already amassed almost a decade of worldwide experience. Most notably shadowing Bayern Munich at close quarters training during a training camp in Doha, Qatar in the Guardiola era, which included speaking to the man himself.
“The most noticeable thing was how his training sessions were built around the importance of space – finding it and exploiting it to create opportunities,” said Fonseca. “He explained to me that these methods often emerged from observing the highest levels of other team ball sports such as basketball. His willingness to learn about not just different ways of playing of football, but a variety of sports, shows how he’s a student of the game. That explains his success in different countries and why he’s so respected worldwide – he has his philosophy but can adapt.”
Of course, Guardiola is now with Manchester City, whose match analysis department Fonseca visited in 2013 to observe their methods and exchange ideas. His dream to return on a more permanent basis is clear. On social media he states, ‘Future goal: Work in England – PREMIER LEAGUE’. The capital letters are accurate too in the intensity shown in his voice when discussing it.
“It started from when I was a child because I watched English football on TV and loved the passion by which people live football,” admits Fonseca. “I remember seeing how a blind guy sits in an English stadium with his dog, just for listening to the feeling and noise from the crowd. Everyone is so committed, from the blind guy to the little child to the grandfather. It’s fantastic and happens in England more than anywhere else”.
Fonseca is currently working as a senior football match analyst at the Aspire Academy in Doha. It’s an all-compassing academy designed to develop promising young players, who are scouted from all corners of the globe to live on-site, improve, and hopefully find professional contracts. Fonseca spent four years as a match analyst at Portuguese side Academica, where Andre Villas-Boas’ first management job came. He uses a story about the former Tottenham Hotspur manager to demonstrate his belief about learning from others while having your own identity.
Fonseca reminisces: “When I was a student at Coimbra University, Villas-Boas was the head coach at Academica. I invited him to the university to have an open class and started by asking him about how Mourinho works, an obvious question for a young coach. He said to me, ‘it is not Mourinho that is here, it is AVB’ so he follows another way and a different approach. He separated from the beginning so from then on I knew AVB would be a top coach as if you don’t have your own ideas, you have nothing.”
Fonseca’s identity goes right back to that time at Coimbra, which provided his route into Academica, as he discusses: “My career started at university really because I started to get in contact with Academica during AVB’s reign and look at their game analysis. It was only after AVB left that I first entered the club as an analyst supporting the technical staff. I also supported scouting, then went on to spend four years at the club linking our technical work more directly with training.”
At Academica, Fonseca was the analysis for all studies of opponents, also providing tactical feedback to the first-team manager at half and full-time. During his time there they won the Portuguese Cup in 2012, and were in a Europa League group with Atletico Madrid, Viktória Plzen and Hapoel Tel Aviv. Fonseca held more responsibility than most analysts.
“In Portugal, the analysis is closer linked to the manager than it often is England, working directly with them during the match too,” he added. “In the stadiums, the analyst will sit in a higher position then communicate with the bench. Often this is in a different stand, to see things from a different position.”
Fonseca has experience across analysis, scouting and coaching, encompassing multiple positions in the traditional model. He favours this new progressive and flexible mode of operations, part of a pioneering new generation seeking a more integrated set-up.
“Being closer to the manager undoubtedly helps, and being able to offer more skills helps them trust you. For example, if you have watched a player for ten games and are then crucial in bringing that player to the club you can see little things. You can help the manager to prepare tailored training exercises to integrate them into the squad much better. That’s why in Portugal, the role of analyst and scout is extremely close to the head coach and it makes sense.”
The Portuguese League Fonesca worked in has historically been one to produce no shortage of top talent. Fonseca selects multiple players, some of whom he worked closely with, as the potential stars of the future that top European clubs should have their eyes on – if they haven’t already.
“At Academica I coached Pedro Nuno who is promising, and Ruben Neves at Porto is fantastic too. If you give the chance to these players they can perform at the highest level. Portuguese players aren’t getting the chances they deserve because of the agents and players from say Brazil and Columbia being perceived as better. The B teams do use more Portuguese players – for me it’s a good model but you need to adapt to the needs of the players.”
That subject is hugely controversial, with a vast backlash from the Football League over such an idea in England. Fonseca says it can work, but it all depends on the specific circumstances.
“If you’re in a B team this can work, but the player needs to feel valued by the club. They need to believe there is a pathway to the first-team and that they will improve at that club.”
Improving players is exactly what Fonseca is about and with his expertise across scouting, analysis, statistics and coaching, he appears to be someone any player would want to work with. Given his experience for someone so young, his dream of the Premier League coming true seems to be a matter of when, rather than if.
Follow Michael on Twitter at @ThisIsMcCann