Polish soccer federation president Cezary Kulesza (right) presents Fernando Santos (left) as the new coach of the national team in Warsaw, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Michal Dyjuk)
WARSAW (AP) — Fernando Santos will transition from managing Cristiano Ronaldo to another world soccer star, Robert Lewandowski.
A month after parting ways as coach of his native Portugal, Santos was introduced on Tuesday as the Poland coach for a cycle that will cover the European Championship in 2024 and the World Cup in 2026.
Santos, 68, became the third foreign helmsman to command Poland, following in the footsteps of Leo Beenhakker and Paulo Sousa. He arrives with the experience of having managed top players like Cristiano, whom Santos relegated to the substitute bench last month during the knockout phase of the World Cup in Qatar.
Now, Santos will lead a team that has Lewandowski as captain. The Barcelona striker is 34 years old, he is closer to the end of his career, and he is left with the 2024 Euro Cup and, possibly, the 2026 World Cup, as his last major international commitments.
“We want to qualify for the Euro and keep winning,” said Santos, who stressed his conviction that Poland has the potential to compete on an equal footing with anyone.
“As of today, I am a Pole. I am one of you,” Santos said in his first statements as a coach, greeting the journalists in Polish.
Santos will have to include Poles among his assistants to gain experience for the future. Cezary Kulesza, the president of the federation, said that this was one of the conditions that were imposed to hire Santos.
Santos will try to get Poland out of mediocrity in the big tournaments.
Since 1986, the national team could only get past the group stage in a World Cup (2022) and a Euro (2016).
Santos, known for being a conservative strategist, boasts excellent records leading national teams. In his eight-year spell with Portugal, he crowned the Portuguese champions at Euro 2016 — the team’s first major international title — and in the first UEFA Nations League in 2019. He also led Greece at Euro 2012, reaching the quarterfinals, and at the 2014 World Cup.
Asked about Lewandowski’s future, Santos replied — without mentioning the striker’s name — that every individual talent will have the opportunity to shine on the pitch, but they must have an attitude that they are part of a collective.
Kulesza pointed out that the criteria they set for the new coach were to have a track record in command of national teams, good results, charisma and experience working with stars.
“We can afford to have the best coach available,” Kulesza said.
Poland decided not to renew the contract of Santos’ predecessor, Czeslaw Michniewicz, after reaching the knockout phase of a World Cup for the first time in 36 years.
Fernando Santos during a press conference to be presented as the new coach of the Polish national team in Warsaw, Tuesday, January 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Michal Dyjuk)FILE – Portugal’s coach during the World Cup quarterfinal match against Morocco in Doha, Qatar, on Dec. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
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