Chelsea get EPL title nod from Portuguese old boys
They have been there, done that and brought English Premier League titles to Stamford Bridge.
So Deco, Paulo Ferreira and Maniche - three former Portugal internationals who have represented the Blues in this millenium - know a winner when they see one.
The trio, who are in town for the Singapore leg of the Tiger Street Football, which kicks off today at the Singapore Sports Hub's Stadium Riverside Walk, see similar winning traits in this current Chelsea team as the one they played for.
"They have to be the favourites. They started very well with three straight wins and they have a young and strong team," said Deco, who also considers Arsenal, Manchester City and even Manchester United as contenders.
He may joke about bringing luck to the clubs he's played for but, when it comes to picking a winner, few are more Deco-rated than the 37-year-old, who has won league titles with Porto, Barcelona, Chelsea and Fluminense, as well as two Champions League victories with Porto in 2004 and Barcelona in 2006.
"Just look at the fantastic team Jose Mourinho has built. They have two top-class players in every position, and he knows how to get the best out of them," said Deco, who won the EPL and FA Cup Double with the Blues in 2010.
"Look at the midfield. There are Cesc Fabregas, Ramires, Oscar, Nemanja Matic, Eden Hazard, Willian and Jon Obi Mikel.
"Fabregas provides quality in the way he keeps the ball and delivers the final pass and he will be a big help to the team.
"Then look at the forwards. They've brought back Didier Drogba. He's a very good option, he's strong and he knows the Premier League very well.
"Diego Costa started very well with four goals in three games and there are also Andre Schuerrle and Loic Remy who performed well at the World Cup."
Close friend and former teammate Ferreira plied his trade at Stamford Bridge for nine seasons and played for as many managers.
But, for the recently-retired 35-year-old, none of them comes close to the Special One when it comes to keeping a star-studded cast happy and hungry for success, a vital factor for a title-chasing side.
Ferreira told TNP: "Every player wants to play, of course, but Jose has that special ability to motivate and unite the team, so much so that even if we are on the bench, we support our teammates who are on the field.
"And we know that when we play, we have the same support from our teammates on the bench."
Maniche, who featured in Chelsea's 2006 title-winning side, added: "Wherever Mourinho goes, he is a winner.He's definitely got the players' respect and he is more than capable of bringing more trophies to Chelsea."
Despite the firepower that has seen them score 11 goals - nine more than Manchester United - in just three league games, Ferreira feels that Chelsea's strong defence will also be key in their title bid.
Ferreira, who won three league titles in 2005, 2006 and 2010, as well as the Champions League in 2012 with the Blues, said: "Chelsea may have lost Ashley Cole and David Luiz but John Terry, if he can stay away from injury, is still a rock in defence.
"Filipe Luis and Cesar Azpilicueta are also wonderful fullbacks. With a good team spirit, and players fit to fight for every competition, I think Chelsea can do well in England and in Europe this season."
'We can't depend on only Ronaldo'
DECLINE: Ex-Portugal goalkeeper Vitor Baia (above) feels that current custodians Beto and Rui Patricio are not exceptional.
One minute they are joking, laughing and hamming it up for the cameras.
But ask them about their national team, and former Portugal internationals - Deco, Vitor Baia, Paulo Ferreira, Nuno Gomes and Maniche - turn pensive, for they know the line of questioning they are about to face.
Just why have Portugal continued to produce batch after batch of top-class players such as Eusebio, Nene, Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo, but contrive to be perennial underachievers who have not won a single major championship?
More recently, despite boasting Ronaldo, the reigning World Footballer of the Year, Portugal crashed out in the group stages at the World Cup, and their best performance remains a third-placed finish in 1966.
You could also see them wince at the thought of that heartbreaking European Championship final defeat by Greece on home soil in 2004.
But they all have their own idea of what is required to break the hoodoo.
Former Chelsea midfielder Maniche, 36, and part of the quintet here for the Tiger Street Football event, sums it up nicely by saying: "When you lose, it's always convenient to find excuses and everyone looks at Cristiano because he has worked his way to this status.
"But we need a strong squad, not just one player, strong character, humility, a good team relationship, and some luck."
Former Porto and Barcelona goalkeeper Vitor Baia, capped 80 times by his country, feels there is a need to "renovate" his national team and introduce more youth such as Valencia duo Ruben Vezo and Andre Gomes.
The 44-year-old said: "They have to renovate the team right now, change their mentality and bring in new players. We are a country with natural talents and we have fantastic young players that are technically skilled.
"We have top players like Cristiano Ronaldo, but we cannot rely on just Cristiano and that is the main problem. The coach has to ensure that all the players play at the same high level."
As Portugal leaked seven goals in three group games at this year's World Cup, Baia also bemoans the lack of a top goalkeeper, and added: "Beto and Rui Patricio played well last year, but they are not at the top level."
At the other end, former Benfica striker Nuno Gomes feels they also lack a prolific striker at international level despite having Ronaldo breaking scoring records with Real Madrid.
The 38-year-old said: "We always have some problems with scoring, and the number nines for a very long time."
Maybe it could be something to do with the manager, and the Special One could come to his country's rescue one day.
JOSE FOR PORTUGAL
Maniche said: "Wherever Jose Mourinho goes, he is a winner. He has said he would like to coach Portugal one day, and all the fans are expecting and hoping he will bring a major championship to Portugal.
"He has of course managed only at club level so far. But he is a clever man and he is probably waiting for the next high-quality generation before taking over the national team!
"That's not to say he's afraid of challenges. After all, he did deliver Chelsea's first league title in 50 years, and we hope he will eventually create history with Portugal, too."
Deco & Co the stars for Tiger Street Football
Tiger Street Football kicks off in Singapore today, returning with an innovative new format - bigger court, smaller ball, and the option of introducing a sixth player for two minutes - that will bring out the most creative, agile and instinctive style of play for street football.
Having kept a close eye on the Cambodian and Mongolian legs last month, former Portugal playmaker Deco is set to make the final two Star Selections for the Singapore exhibition match against his team, comprising some of Portugal's most decorated players - striker Nuno Gomes, defender Paulo Ferreira, midfielder Maniche and goalkeeper Vitor Baia.
One Singaporean, Eric Yap, will also be playing as the sixth man in Team Deco after being picked from respondents on Tiger Beer's Facebook page.
"The energy and passion for football in these Asian legs have been mesmerising, with every team and every player giving it their all in every game. Nuno, Paulo, Maniche, Vitor and I are very excited to see what Singapore has to offer, and look forward to an electric finals line-up," said Deco.
Rene de Monchy, head of marketing for Asia Pacific Breweries Singapore, added: "Tiger Street Football is a great platform for the brand to bring unique and enjoyable experiences to our fans, and one of this year's highlights is undoubtedly the all-star exhibition match between the region's best street footballers and five of Portugal's finest players."
The region's eight best street football teams, from Cambodia, Mongolia, Australia, Vietnam and Singapore, will battle for the ultimate prize of US$40,000 ($50,000).
Currently topping the table are Cambodia's Daniel FC, with Singapore teams Touch N Go and MNA-CPG in fifth and seventh positions respectively.
The round-robin matches kick off at 3pm at the Singapore Sports Hub's Stadium Riverside Walk, with the finals at 5pm and exhibition match at 6pm. The event is open to the public.
- DAVID LEE
WHAT: Tiger Street Football
WHERE: Singapore Sports Hub, Stadium Riverside Walk
WHEN: Today —
3pm: Round-robin matches
6pm: Exhibition match