Braga v Rangers: Carlos Carvalhal on Europa League showdown

Carlos Carvalhal’s Braga have already knocked Monaco out of the Europa League
Venue: Braga Municipal Stadium, Portugal At your place: 7 April Kick-off: 20:00 BST
Coverage: Listen to commentary on BBC Radio Scotland & online; follow live text on the BBC Sport website and app.

“My kids are now adults. The club told me, my wife, my father and mother ‘OK, let’s go’.”

Carlos Carvalhal has journeyed from the searing summer heat of Tripoli and Dubai, to the packed streets of Istanbul and across to sunny Swansea in pursuit of his footballing nirvana. Yet even the philosophical Portuguese might not have expected to find it in the most unexpected – and unforgiving – of places. Home.

Now 56, Carvalhal is living the dream of the young boy within. Born, raised and then reared in the footballing academy of Braga, the ex-Sheffield Wednesday and Besiktas boss is attempting something unique with the club he played for in three spells and has now managed twice.

The Portuguese Cup was claimed last season after also being runners-up in the league cup and Super Cup. Now, Scottish champions Rangers stand in the way of a place in the Europa League semi-finals.

“I put in my mind I will put my name and the name of my players in a museum,” he told BBC Scotland.

“After the first season, we won one of the most important trophies. In the second season I had the opportunity to leave for a different club with more money, and I decided to stay.”

‘I said I couldn’t stay’

Carvalhal is in his fifth stint with Braga as player and manager, so this is an opportunity many years in the making.

Back in 2006, the local lad took over his beloved club. Despite him having the experience of it being his eighth job di lui as a manager, he admits it brought a struggle and pressure which he and his family di lui toiled with.

“It’s very hard in Portugal, and indeed across the world, to manage the team in your hometown and that is your club. You can’t imagine.

“I had experience in the past where I stayed three or four months before deciding to leave. I spoke to the chairman and said that my kids are very young, there is a lot of pressure about their father, they are crying all the time. I said ‘sorry, I can’t stay’. “

Now, things are much different.

Carvalhal’s reputation as an effervescent coach was a big part of his persona in the UK, both in south Yorkshire and south Wales. Fans and journalists were left in awe, as well as at times bemusement, listening to his football philosophies di lui in pre and post-match press conferences.

But speaking from his home in Braga, Carvalhal – who studied psychology and philosophy at university – talks with an air of authority as well as plenty of pragmatism after a period in English football that began promisingly but ended in disappointment.

He took the Owls to the play-offs twice before parting company while he was unable to save an already struggling Swansea from relegation during his six months in Wales.

After returning to Portugal he guided Rio Ave to the Europa League in his first season, accumulating the club’s record points tally in the process, before his Braga fairytale fluttered into existence.

“We wished to stay at Swansea and in the Premier League, but life took it a different way,” said Carvalhal, who took a Swans side anchored to the foot of the table to within touching distance of survival.

“We were sure if we had more time we would have saved the team. We achieved a lot of points and gave our all for the team.

“I hope Swansea is back in their correct place in the Premier League soon.”

‘I’m his football father’

Rangers overcame Braga two years ago but two different managers and one radically changed side will meet on Thursday.

Under Carvalhal, a philosophy of youth underpins everything. They are the youngest side in the Europa League, but one which has already dispatched FC Sheriff and Monaco en route to the meeting with Rangers.

You get the feeling something special is brewing in the city nestled in the north of Portugal.

“We are in a period of transformation. We have a lot of boys in the first team,” he said.

“We are the youngest team in the competition, and when you have the most shots on goal and most attacks in the Europa League, we are doing amazing.

“It’s something I’d dreamed of since I was born that I wished to play in the stadium I went to with my father and my mother. Now I’m giving the opportunities to those boys, it’s very emotional and important to me.”

Braga winger Roger Fernandes is injured and will not play on Thursday, but his tale is worthy of mention.

Last year, Carvalhal gave a debut to the then 15-year-old, who shone brightly after being hoisted from club’s academy.

A few months later, the Guinea-Bissau-born teenager scored his first senior goal just days after being unable to return home for his father’s funeral because of pandemic travel restrictions.

“He has a special story,” Carvalhal explains. “It was a special moment. One or two weeks before his father di lui died he had the opportunity to play in the cup game.

“He scored a goal and he came to me to hug me like a sports father, a second father. I was very emotional about the boy.”

Emotions generally run high with the Portuguese coach, who claims the chances of his side reaching the last four are “50-50”.

The man who is out of contract in the summer remains optimistic but, at all times, realistic.

“We’ll go with a lot of ambition and try to do a surprise,” said Carvalhal, whose team are fourth in the Portuguese League on the back of defeating Champions League quarter-finalists Benfica 3-2 on Friday. “It’s the same as I said against Monaco.

“In Portugal, we have our bag ready all the time because clubs move managers so fast. Our dream can’t be long term. It must all the time be the next game.”

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