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Tuesday, 03 November 2009 14:31
PortuGOAL exclusive

Portuguese football’s lone Englishman rewarded for daring to be different

Matt Jones: from West Brom to Santa Clara via New York

Matt JonesOver recent years a steady stream of Portuguese football talent has made its way to England’s Premier League. However, if we look at the movement in the opposite direction, the number of English professional footballers currently plying their trade in Portugal amounts to the grand total of… one.
Matt Jones is a one-off. The 22-year-old is not afraid of breaking convention to achieve his dream of making it as a professional footballer. And judging by the rave reviews he has been earning so far this season, his decisions appear to have been wise, as well as courageous ones.
PortuGOAL.net caught up with Jones to find out how he arrived at Santa Clara (playing in the Liga Vitalis, Portugal’s 2nd tier), how he evaluates Portuguese football and what his hopes for the future are.
PortuGOAL: Can you give us a quick overview of your career thus far. It has been quite unconventional.
Yeah, I’ve been around a bit! I started off at West Brom where I never got to play in the first team, just the reserves. When I was there West Brom were in the Premiership and had great keepers ahead of me like Tomasz Kuszczak, who’s at Man Utd now, and Russell Hoult, so it was difficult to break into the first team.
Basically, West Brom said they didn’t think I was good enough to make it in the Premiership and they let me go. I got an offer from America to go over there and I thought “Why not? A fresh start.” The good thing about America was the fact that I could get my education as well, so now I have my degree [business & marketing] plus four years of valuable playing experience. College sports are as big as professional sports over there, if not bigger in some cases. 

PortuGOAL: How did your move to Santa Clara come about?
In America I had a Portuguese coach who had some contacts. When I came over in the summer I had trials at Belenenses and Santa Clara. It was my current agent who put me in contact with Santa Clara and things went from there.

PortuGOAL: What is your opinion of the standard of football in the Liga Vitalis?
It’s really good. It’s obviously a lot better than the standard I was playing in England or America. It’s a lot more tactical over here. Everything is very analytical. Every process of the game is broken down. Every movement is broken down. It’s a lot different from England where it’s a faster pace and everything is box to box constantly, and then compared to America it’s different again, where it’s a lot more about athletic ability, who’s bigger and who’s stronger.

PortuGOAL: Santa Clara are currently 4th. After just missing out on promotion several times in recent seasons it seems the club will be pushing hard again to get into the top flight. How do you and your team-mates rate you chances of achieving that?
It’s a seven-point difference from the top team to the bottom team at the moment so you can see how close it is. Last season the boys missed out on promotion on the last day of the season, so this year the only goal is to get promoted. We feel that the club’s got the team and the facilities behind us to make us a top-flight team, and the coach said plain and simple at the start of the season: “The goal this year is to get promoted.” Anything less than that will be a failure on our part.
Santa Clara StadiumPortuGOAL: That’s quite a tough target you’ve set yourself?
It’s a tough target but it’s an achievable target. We’ve got players who are good enough to play in the top flight. We’ve shown that so far this season. Out of the three Liga Sagres teams we’ve played we beat Maritimo, we drew with Naval and we lost to Leiria but they were all games we should have won.

I didn’t notice a difference in class between Santa Clara and those sides. On every occasion we were the better team in my opinion. Against Naval we went down to ten men which hurt us, but against Maritimo we completely dominated the game, it was a just result or perhaps we could have won it by more, and then against Leiria it was a case of we didn’t take our chances – they had two attempts on goal and scored two goals.

PortuGOAL: How about life in the Azores
? Have you adapted well to living on the island? Have you made progress with the language?
I like the place. It’s a lot smaller than what I’m used to. In America I was right next to New York, so it’s a little bit different! But I love it over here. It’s a great place for me to be at the moment. It gives me the chance to just play my football. There are no distractions. I feel the club and the place have helped me develop as a person and as a player, which can only be good for me.
As for the language, it’s a difficult one to learn. I speak French which was a lot easier to learn than Portuguese. But I go to school twice a week now to learn Portuguese, and being around it constantly you pick things up every day. I’ll keep working at it and I’ll get there eventually. At the moment I speak enough Portuguese to get by, although conversations can be tricky. Saying that, I’d say around 60% of the guys at the club speak English and 8 or 9 of the group – the coach and a lot of the Brazilian lads – are actually having English classes. It makes the changing room an interesting place! 
PortuGOAL: Does having to fly to every away match bother you?
Yeah every away game we have to fly to – it would take a lot longer by boat! But the preparation is good; it’s not as if we fly out the day before or on the morning of the game. We fly out two or three days before so we fully adjust to the continent, get back into training over there, then we take the games from there so the flying is not a problem. And at the end of the day it would be the same if we were based in Chaves or the Algarve.

PortuGOAL: What are your ambitions for the future? Do you see yourself staying in Portugal for some time? What would be your preferred next career step: a move to a bigger Portuguese club, a move to another country or a return to England?
To be honest I don’t really know. I’m the kind of person that just takes things as they come. Before I went to America I didn’t plan that – it came up and it turned out to be a great move for me. The same with Santa Clara – I didn’t plan on coming to Portugal – it just fell that way.
The goal for me at the moment is obviously to get promoted with Santa Clara. And then just play it by ear. A move to one of the big Portuguese clubs would definitely interest me. The Premiership is the best league in the world at the moment, so for a long-term goal that’s obviously one place I’d love to play. But for now everything’s good in Portugal. I’m happy where I am. I play my football over here and if anything comes up it comes up.
by Tom Kundert
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Comments (3)
@Vasco thank you
3 Monday, 21 October 2013 10:04
Tom Kundert / Lisbon
Thanks Vasco. I agree that line was not very clear. I meant that he was the only Englishman playing in Portugal at the time (the article was written). I've amended it now to make it clearer.

Corrections again (or not :))
2 Sunday, 20 October 2013 22:50
Vasco Amaral / Portugal
First of all, i don't know if this article is about MATT JONES, the first English footballer to have played in Portugal or about MATT JONES, the only footballer from England playing in Portugal right now (before the arrival of ERIC DIER of course).

If it's the the latter then i apologize, my confusion. But, if it's the former, then it's not correct, lots of English players from England have moved to Portugal not just Wellings as i stated below, you have (at least!) RALPH MEADE and TONY SEALY in Sporting, and who can forget the English legion brought in by GRAEME SOUNESS during his 1997/99 tenure?

Best regards again, sorry for any inconvenience i may have incurred in.
1 Sunday, 20 October 2013 17:52
Vasco Amaral / Portugal
Not correct, BARRY WELLINGS played from 1984/89 in Académica. See here http://www.foradejogo.net/player.php?player=195806100001).

Best regards

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