Vitor Campelos exclusive interview: On taking Chaves to the brink of Europe only for president not to register the club
This season, from Brighton to Berlin, the list of overachievers across Europe is long. But few can claim to have confounded their own bosses as much as Portuguese club Chaves. A win this weekend would move them up to sixth. But there is a problem.
“Our president did not register us for European competition,” head coach Vitor Campelos tells Sky Sports. “I think the first registration had to be in January and the confirmation in March. Even if we finish in fifth or sixth position we cannot play in Europe next season.”
It is the story of a shock rise – newly-promoted Chaves have won six of their last nine – but also one of practical considerations. “We would have to do a lot of work on the stadium. Even the money to travel away is a problem because we do not have the budget.”
The merest thought of missing out on Europe in this way must be hugely frustrating but Campelos wears his disappointment well. He is proud of his players, preferring to reflect on wins over Benfica, Sporting and Braga. “I think we made history here,” he says.
“The [top-division] points record of Chaves is 47. At this moment we have 46. Everyone tells us that it is amazing what we are doing as a team that has come up from the second league. Almost all the players that played last season had never played in the top league.”
How has this group of little-known players come together to find themselves within two wins of the top six? “A big thing for us is that we are a very close team because the players care about each other. This is the most important thing,” says Campelos.
“Sometimes you can have a good team but not have a good squad. Other times you can have a good squad but not have a good team. Look at Chelsea. They have a big squad but not a good team because they do not have the connection. This is our secret.”
There have been challenges. In September, Kevin Pina and João Batxi were sold to Russian club Krasnodar for €3m just one week after the Portuguese transfer window closed. “Imagine. Days after the window. I lost these players but kept rebuilding the team.”
He is a stoical sort. Now 48, this career has not come easy to the former PE teacher. “I was not a big player. I knew I had to work hard to reach this level because I do not have the name. I started in the district leagues. The pitches were sand. But I worked hard.
“From when I was young I had these questions that I asked myself. Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? But I think God gave me the opportunity to be a teacher and after that a coach. I feel I can help the players to be better people, better human beings.
“With all humility, I really believe in my work. I am a very positive person and I ask everyone to be the same way. Even the person who cuts the grass must receive the players with a smile and positive energy. I believe this positive energy can change many things.
“The physical, technical and tactical aspects are important but when teams are similar, the psychological can make the difference so I am always learning about that to improve. All the time, I read books and talk to my players to help make them stronger mentally.
“Have you heard about neuro-linguistic programming? I read a lot about this. Imagine if you say, ‘I want to be champions but it is difficult.’ Now imagine, ‘It is difficult but I want to be champions.’ It looks like it is the same sentence but it is very different.
“If I tell my players that the other team has tall players at corners, they would be afraid. If I say they need to be aggressive at corners, and if they do that they will be unbeatable, I pass on the same idea but in a different way. I give them confidence.”
That was surely key to those landmark wins for Chaves. The club had never beaten Sporting away from home. They did it. Never beaten nearby Braga away from home; they did. More recently, there was a last-minute winner to defeat champions-elect Benfica.
“If you want your players to believe in your idea you must keep it against the big teams. There are some things we can change around our pressing, our formation, but the idea must be the same. Our players believe in the idea so it is not a good idea to change it.
“When we beat Sporting, I told the players that many of their players were at teams like Chaves two or three years ago. This helps them to believe in themselves.” Indeed, the career progression that can come with playing under Campelos is a selling point.
A thinker and a motivator, one who cites Jurgen Klopp as a reference, it is his reputation for talent development that has got him this far. He was Barcelona winger Raphinha’s first coach in Europe during his time in charge of the B team at Vitoria Guimaraes.
The list of players that he has helped to bring through is long with Vitoria having sold players around the continent and Chaves moving Brazilian defender Alexsandro to Lille last summer too. Campelos believes his team’s style of play helps to make this possible,
“If we play better, the fans will enjoy it. More than this, the players will improve and you can sell them for more money. If you go to a game and there is no quality and the players are not enjoying it, it is difficult to sell players to the biggest teams.”
Having won promotion and taken a team to the brink of Europe, Campelos points out that the job he has done is “more or less what Marco Silva did at Estoril” so will his own career enjoy the same trajectory that has taken Silva to the Premier League?
He has been linked in the media with a move to one of Silva’s former clubs, Hull City, and is a follower of the Championship. “What I notice is that the teams who try to play better football are the teams that are in the better positions,” he says.
“I am under pressure here because my contract finishes at the end of the season and the club wants me to renew for two years but some things can happen. I am always dreaming and I know that one day I will work in England because this is my dream.”
Chaves are set to miss out on their foray into Europe.
Vitor Campelos and his players may yet have more luck.