“FC Porto really has a ‘team’. With every passing game…″

Paulo Assunção praises Conceição and FC Porto players.

FC Porto’s 30th national championship title “had the hand of coach” Sérgio Conceição, distinguishes former footballer Paulo Assunção, valuing the reaction to the farewells of the influential Luis Díaz, Sérgio Oliveira and Jesús Corona in January.

“The team lost an important player, Luis Díaz, but he remained at the same level. It is not easy to lose one of these elements and then continue at the same pace. I believe that the coach is the base, because, even losing athletes who have weight, the team has grown and been champions”, explained to the Lusa agency the former Brazilian midfielder of the Dragons (2005-2008).

FC Porto won the 2021/22 edition of the I Liga with a record 91 points, six ahead of former scepter-holders Sporting, surpassing the 88 mark set by Benfica (2015/16) and in the first success of Sérgio Conceição with the northerners (2017/18).

“The objective of this season was the title and the team achieved it playing beautifully and with courage. The season has been very good and all the fans are happy to see FC Porto being champions. The coach really deserves to win a title in such a contested championship like this. Then, I also really like the players and the way they play at FC Porto.

Paulo Assunção finds “ADN FC Porto” in Sérgio Conceição, who won the third championship (2017/18, 2019/20 and 2021/22) in five seasons at the head of the “dragões”, repeating the successes he had as a player at the same club (1996/97, 1997/98 and 2003/04).

“He’s a great coach and an excellent person. If FC Porto manages to keep him for longer, they can only win. Sérgio Conceição has been at the club for a long time and is respected by everyone. He appears up front. Any game is like a final for him. Whether it’s the Champions League, League I or the Portuguese Cup, he will do his best to win it. That’s the mystique of FC Porto.”

In a course enhanced by the record of 58 games without defeat in the league, which was beaten in the only defeat suffered in 34 days (0-1 with Sporting de Braga, in the 31st), the former midfielder appoints “key moments” the “classics” took place in the second round.

“The home game with Sporting [empate 2-2, à 22.ª jornada] it was important. FC Porto couldn’t lose, but they had to win or draw. I think it was a key match for the title. However, the fight went all the way, with a tough win at Benfica [1-0, à 33.ª]”, he recalled, alluding to Zaidu’s decisive goal, which sealed the conquest of the trophy.

Paulo Assunção, 42, admits to liking “almost everything” the team, having highlighted the performances of goalkeeper Diogo Costa, defender Pepe, midfielders Otávio and Vítor Ferreira and forwards Mehdi Taremi, Evanilson, Pepê and Francisco Conceição.

“FC Porto really has a ‘team’. With each passing game, the players grow. It’s very difficult to face them, because they defend very well and then have this very quick exit towards the attack, through which they can overcome any team”, he analysed, praising the “exceptional and formidable professional” that is Pepe.

The Brazilian shared a dressing room in 2005/06 and 2006/07 with the 39-year-old Portugal international, speaking of a midfielder who, two decades on from his debut in the top flight, “seems to have 20 years old, runs everywhere and brings that typical race and mystique of FC Porto”.

“To get to that level at that age, to run the way you run and command the defense, it’s because you train a lot and are dedicated on and off the pitch. Maybe you don’t lose any nights, or don’t drink. When you rest, rest. It helps a lot. For me, he is going to play a long time and I would like to see him play in the World Cup. [com a seleção nacional]“, he assured.

The winner of three championships, two Portuguese Cups and a Super Cup praises the conquest of the 64th trophy of the “blues and whites” in the “era” Pinto da Costa, almost a month after the 40th anniversary of the first election of the current President .

“We have to take our hats off to him and he deserved much more for what he did at FC Porto in those 40 years. To be national champion was already very good, but to win the Portuguese Cup final [frente ao Tondela, em 22 de maio] would be a great gift for him. Now I’m very happy for the club and for our president, because I learned a lot there,” he said.

Apart from this possible ninth double, after 1955/56, 1987/88, 1997/98, 2002/03, 2005/06, 2008/09, 2010/11 and 2019/20, Paulo Assunção regrets the eliminations in the League Cup and Champions League groups, in a campaign in European competitions which ended in the knockout stages of the Europa League, against French club Lyon.

“FC Porto fell into a very complicated group in the Champions League. Playing with Liverpool, AC Milan and Atlético de Madrid is very difficult. I think it was a bit of bad luck. With a group more or less, you could have passed, like in the Europa League. I think the right time will come soon and FC Porto will be European champions again.”

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