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Fernando Santos – who is the new head coach of the Polish national team?
An engineer by training, he has worked as a coach since 1987. In this profession, he won the European Championship, won the UEFA Nations League, was the Portuguese champion, two-time Portuguese Cup winner and Greek Cup winner. Now the 68-year-old will lead the Polish national team.
Fernando Santos was not a great footballer, although he played football professionally for a dozen years. He was born in Lisbon and made his first steps at the Operario club, from where he moved to Benfica as a 17-year-old. However, he did not make his debut in the "Eagles" first team. After two years he went to GD Estoril Praia, where he spent a total of 14 years, with a one-year break to play for CS Maritimo in the 1979/80 season. In adult football he played 242 games and scored four goals. This last modest figure should come as no surprise - Santos was primarily a defender. It also affects his work as a head coach. The teams led by the Portuguese are characterised above all by their attention to securing access to their own goal.
After his career ended in 1987, Fernando Santos became assistant coach at 'his' Estoril, and after a few months was already its main coach. He took the team from the Third Division to the Premier League, and in 1994 changed his employer to Estrela de Amadora. Specifically, he changed one... of his two employers, because until 1998 Fernando Santos combined running football teams with overseeing the technical department of a hotel. This was made possible by his technical training and engineering degree.
It was in 1998 that he stepped into football's halls of fame and there was no longer any time or need for after-hours extra work. This is because Fernando Santos has taken over one of the most famous clubs not only in Portugal but also in Europe - FC Porto. In his first season with the 'Dragons' he won the national championship (Grzegorz Mielcarski was Porto's player at the time). The next two years brought two vice-championships and two Portuguese Cups.
In the summer of 2001, Santos left for Greece and spent the next decade circulating between clubs from that country and his homeland. He led successively: AEK Athens, Panathinaikos Athens, Sporting Lisbon, AEK again, Benfica and PAOK Thessaloniki. In Greece, he worked with three Polish footballers: Krzysztof Warzycha, Emmanuel Olisadebe and Mirosław Sznaucner. He has been named the best coach of the season of the local premier league four times and was also voted the best coach of the first decade of the 21st century. And although only one trophy - the Greek Cup won by AEK in 2001/02 - found its way into the Greek clubs' trophy cabinets under Santos, the Portuguese's brand was so highly regarded there that when the Greeks were looking for a successor to head coach Otto Rehhagel after the 2010 World Cup, they entrusted the role to him.
Santos led the team into Euro 2012, where they made it out of the group, thanks in part to a 1-1 draw with Poland. In the quarter-final in Gdańsk, the Germans proved to be better, winning 4:2. The team's attitude at the tournament held in Poland and Ukraine was considered a success in Greece and Santos' contract was extended. The Greeks also qualified for the next big tournament - the World Cup in Brazil - without much trouble (8-1-1 balance sheet). Admittedly, they lost to Colombia (0:3) in their first match, but subsequent draws against Japan (0:0) and a win against Côte d'Ivoire (2:1 after Jorgos Samaras' goal from a penalty kick in added time) were enough to get out of the group for the first time in their World Cup history. They faced Costa Rica in the 1/8 final. They lost this historic match after a series of penalty kicks. Santos watched it from the changing room as he was ejected from the pitch by the referee for insubordination just before the start of the penalty kicks. A few hours after the clash with Costa Rica, he was already back in Greece, but only to pack up and return to his homeland. Santos' contract with the Greek federation was not renewed.
In Brazil, Portugal's national team, led by Paulo Bento, disappointed their fans severely. It started the tournament with a 0:4 defeat against Germany. This was followed by a draw against the USA (2:2) and a win against Ghana (2:1), but - unlike the Greeks - four points were not enough for the Portuguese to advance to the knockout stage. Bento's team also made a disastrous start to the Euro 2016 qualifiers. A 0:1 defeat against Albania in the opening game cost the 45-year-old his job. He was succeeded by Fernando Santos.
The experienced head coach calmed the mood. He won his first match against Denmark 1:0 and later led the team into the final tournament. And what happened on the pitches in France is certainly well remembered by most fans. Portugal became European champions thanks in part to eliminating Poland in the quarter-finals after a series of penalty kicks. It was an amazing tournament performed by the Santos team. In the group stage, the Portuguese tied all three matches (1:1 against Iceland, 0:0 against Austria, 3:3 against Hungary) and luckily advanced to the round of 16 from a third place. In the round of 16 they eliminated Croatia after extra time, then there was a match against Poland, and in the semi-final a 2:0 victory against Wales. It was the only game in this tournament that Portugal won during the 90 minutes of regular play. After all, it needed extra time to beat France in the final (1:0). Fernando Santos was awarded the Order of Merit in his home country for leading the national team to the European Championship.
Portugal under Santos also won the first edition of the UEFA Nations League. In the last three major tournaments, however, it has failed to impress. It finished the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020 in the round of 16 and the Qatar World Cup in the quarter-finals. Following these tournaments, Santos was sacked.
His next challenges will already come with the Polish national team. On 24 January 2023, he was unveiled as the new head coach of the White-and-Reds.