29 October 2009 ~ The chicotada psicológica (psychological whiplash) is a favourite tactic of club presidents in Portugal. When results are not going just so, it's the coach that feels the whip on his back and he’s out of the door. The theory is that the shock of the dismissal and a new hand at the helm will have a positive psychological effect on the players. The tactic is not unique to Portugal but the country can justifiably claim European supremacy in this area. With just eight games played in the Liga, seven clubs have already changed coaches. Only two of the changes were not chicotadas.
Firstly, in a career move, Paulo Sérgio left Paços de Ferreira to join a much bigger club, Vitória de Guimarães, with Ulisses Morais, sacked from Naval, taking over at Paços. Then Manuel Fernandes, a hero for Sporting Lisbon in the 1980s, left União de Leiria for Vitória de Setúbal, the last club he represented as a player and the first one he served as a coach 22 years ago. Of the other changes, many eyes will be on the former assistant to Jose Mourinho, André Villas Boas, in his first full coaching job at bottom of the table Académica. Meanwhile, at Marítimo, Dutchman Mitchell van der Gaag will need eyes in the back of his head to keep a lookout for the knife. It’s not unknown for the Madeiran club to get through three or four coaches a year.
Sports daily A Bola compared Portugal’s record so far this season with other top divisions in Europe, highlighting five changes in Italy, four in Greece and a surprising four in Germany, normally perceived here as a paradigm of stability. As is England, where the longevity of Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger is spoken of with wonderment. The nearest the Portuguese game comes to that nowadays is Paulo Bento at Sporting Lisbon. He’s been with the club for four years but is hanging by a thread after a poor start to the season, made worse by comparison with the explosive form of neighbours and bitter rivals Benfica.
The Sporting president, José Eduardo Bettencourt, has regularly voiced his support for Paulo Bento, but the growing dissatisfaction from sportinguistas, manifested in the whistles and white handkerchiefs at the increasingly sparsely populated Alvalade stadium, will surely force him to get the whip out some time soon. But whether it’s Paulo Bento or another coach, perhaps even one of those who are just beginning to warm the bench at their new club, we’re certain to hear the chicotada again this season, most likely on a number of occasions.
In the last 25 years, 1987-88 was the season that saw the most movement: 15 clubs (out of 20) changed coaches at least once, some of them more times. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the record will be matched or broken this time around. Phil Town