‘I think I was technically very good’

FORMER PARIS SAINT GERMAIN STRIKER, Pedro Miguel Pauleta of Portugal, during a press conference in New Delhi.-AFP

Pauleta was recently in New Delhi for the launch of the Paris Saint-Germain academy. The 41-year-old provided a glimpse into his glamour-shorn life. By Priyansh.

For the majority of his career with Portugal, Pauleta was an understated figure who functioned behind the scenes as Luis Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo and Deco took centre stage. His goal scoring record — a feat not bettered until this March when Ronaldo got a brace in a 5-1 friendly win over Cameroon — seemed like one of those insignificant numbers that occasionally pop up during football discussions.

But it was a sizeable haul. 47 goals in 88 appearances for Portugal was a record that would usually ignite pride and celebrations. Yet, Pauleta has remained on the fringes of the mainstream football industry.

Recently in New Delhi for the launch of the Paris Saint-Germain academy, the 41-year-old provided a glimpse into his glamour-shorn life. Nowadays, Pauleta spends his days coaching Portugal’s youth teams. Unsurprisingly, he isn’t interested in becoming a manager. If he were to accept the challenge, one senses that the spotlight would make him uncomfortable.

It’s the serenity of working behind the scenes that gives Pauleta joy. The idea that this consummate professional will bring ranks of talented Portuguese footballers through is a pleasant thought.

But, as Pauleta would realise, the stakes are a little higher than before. The fabled golden generation of Portuguese football has all but disappeared now. A disappointing performance at the World Cup ended in a group stage exit and Paulo Bento was sacked after Portugal began its Euro 2016 campaign with a defeat to Albania.

The much respected Fernando Santos has been installed as the new national team manager and Pauleta believes that better times are in store for his country. “It’s true that we need to work on our skills but we do have some big players with good ability. I think we’ll do well in the future,” said the former striker.

Pauleta even went on to name some of the young guns who could lead the rejuvenation of Portugal. Andre Gomes, who’s currently on loan at Valencia from Benfica, is one of the youngsters marked out for a big future. Monaco’s Bernardo Silva and Sporting Club de Portugal’s William Carvalho were others who earned a mention from Pauleta.

The trio is in their early 20s and at clubs where they are likely to play regularly. It’s a luxury that’s not afforded to many youngsters nowadays.

As an ambassador of PSG academy, Pauleta would hope to provide similar opportunities. Whether he’ll be able to do that is highly uncertain, especially at the French club. The Parisian side’s recruitment strategy is heavily directed towards star names and only a fortunate few can even hope to find a place in the match-day squad. It’s noteworthy that none of the PSG’s regulars began their career at the club.

The club’s director of brand development, Fabien Allegre pointedly said that the PSG Academy’s primary target is to produce good footballers. Whether the academy products go on to represent the club isn’t a necessary objective.

Pauleta acknowledged that the current PSG squad is far superior to the one he represented. Obviously, in an official capacity, he sought to provide a positive spin to the club’s plans. “The current side has great ability and professionalism. So, the young players just need to adapt to those conditions and the challenge of playing with stars.” Pauleta certainly didn’t lack the opportunity to make it big at PSG. He finished with 109 goals in 212 appearances during his five-year stay in the French capital. Pauleta’s trademark celebration with his arms spread wide like wings added to his popularity among PSG fans.

Despite delivering some exceptional performances for the club, including scoring the winner in the 2004 French Cup final, Pauleta unsurprisingly remains rooted to the ground when it comes to assessing his qualities.

“I was a striker who worked a lot for the team. I think I was technically very good. I don’t really like to talk much about myself. But I had the skill to score a lot of goals,” said the Ponta Delgada-born striker and his humility sprang through once again.