“I get immense joy out of playing football, and of course, the most beautiful thing for a player is to play for his national team. Right now I feel like a child who’s arriving here for the first time.”

Those were the words uttered by the beaming Tiago Mendes, the 33-year-old La Liga champion, after ending a self-imposed four-year absence from the national team.

When Fernando Santos announced his first Portugal squad last Friday, Tiago’s inclusion was greeted with universal approval by the Portuguese public and press. And as the players congregated in Óbidos yesterday, the Atletico Madrid midfielder made no attempt to hide his delight at returning to the Seleção.

“It’s a good feeling coming back and being received by so many people who only want the best for me. I’m very thankful and very happy.”

Change of heart

Tiago decided to retire from international football shortly after the 2010 World Cup, and refused to go back on his decision despite several attempts to persuade him otherwise by former Portugal coach Paulo Bento. So what changed? The ex Benfica, Lyon and Chelsea player was happy to respond to this question.

“I spoke several times to Paulo Bento but I felt tired, and that I needed to spend more time with my family on breaks from club football. When I retired Portugal was in good shape, we had just beaten Spain 4-0, so I decided to leave the Seleção because I felt I wouldn’t be needed.

“But there is always that animal inside you. Looking back, I regret sending the fax [to the Federation saying I was no longer available]. I had the chance at the end of last season to return, but I didn’t want people to think I was coming back just to play in the World Cup. That wasn’t in my thoughts.”

With the Seleção turning over a new leaf, Tiago felt the time was right to make his return.

“Fernando Santos phoned me and said that for him age was not an issue, that he was counting on all the players available and as I feel in good shape I said I would love to return.

“This squad is very different. There are lots of young players. Perhaps that is why Fernando Santos recalled some of the older players, because you need a mix of youth and experience.

“I’m certain that like me Ricardo Carvalho is also overjoyed to return to the Seleção and reencounter so many friendly faces. We realise we are not going to have much future in the Seleção, but we want to make a big contribution in the present. We want to start by building a strong squad. Our goal is to quality for Euro 2016.”

Coentrão blow

The upbeat atmosphere of a new beginning was evident as the players arrived at the training camp yesterday, ahead of the friendly match against France on Saturday, then the Euro 2016 qualifier in Copenhagen, Denmark, the following Tuesday.

It was not all good news however. Real Madrid defender Fábio Coentrão was declared unfit and has had to drop out of the squad. The enforced absence of Portugal’s first choice left-back was not a surprise however, with Santos having selected back-ups for the position precisely because of doubts about Coentrão’s fitness.

As such, there will be no addition to the original squad selection.

by Tom Kundert

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  • Rated 5 out of 5 stars

    Tiago Mendes is one of my favourite players. I am very happy he is back.

    I am old enough to remember him playing for Benfica and thinking "he is a little weak on the ball", LOL! He changed alot from those days. I guess for anyone who has never watched Tiago, he is a poor man's Rui Costa. Which is not a slight on him but more praise for how good Rui Costa was.

    Often overlooked in favour of Deco. Tiago did not get into as many selecao games as perhaps he could have and in 2010, with Deco really struggling to find his form Tiago got into the games and proved his worth. He has actually improved with age, which is fantastic!

    I am very excited to see how Tiago and Moutinho can be worked into the midfield. That would give Portugal creativity and skill we havent seen since the mid to early 2000's. It would also provide Ronaldo with another outlet for world class passes. Tiago not only has tremendous passing ability, he covers for the back end as well. He can transition from defend to attack like very few players.

    Great addition!

    from Peniche, Portugal
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  • Guest - andrew/ny

    Rated 5 out of 5 stars

    Santos has brought back Tiago and Carvalho, it was such a good decision. Add Jose Fonte's first call, these guys are motivated and overjoyed. These are the types of players that will play their hearts' out. This will surely spread throughout the rest of the squad. It is great that the younger players see this, and they will now understand that it is a great honour to be selected. I supported this decision of Santos as coach. It looks like I am not being let down. Forca Portugal!

    from New York, NY, USA
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  • Guest - Melo

    I've been a visitor here on Portugoal for a number of years , I've read many posts and have made a few myself. The odd time people would agree with me and the odd time I would get under some peoples skin by merely stating my opinion. I've tried not to attack or make others feel less intelligent than myself. That being said which has no relationship to the article above for the first time here on Portugoal I do not know what to make of this coach and this squad ( I am speechless ). I will continue reading other posters comments and hopefully learn something new here as always. Thanks

    from Toronto, ON, Canada
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  • Guest - Andre/UK

    Yeah I agree, I am pleased with the recalls of both Tiago and Ricardo Carvalho to the squad, and I would actually start both players in the matches coming up, certainly in the qualifier in Denmark which we can't afford to lose and where we will need all the experience we can get. Tiago is a real all rounder of a central midfielder, very versatile. In his Benfica days he was a goal scoring CM, I believe he even finished as the club's top scorer in one of those seasons. Nowadays he's more of a defensive midfielder at Atletico and is one of the key players in Simeone's defensive, super intensive high pressing approach. So this versatility and experience will be very useful and I'd put him straight into the midfield.

    Same goes for Carvalho. Top class CB with loads of experience and still performing at the highest level at 36. That actually isn't as old for a player as it used to be in the past, just look at Pirlo and Totti (scored in the CL the other day at 38!). Center-backs in particular are not normally as inhibited by age, and experience is just as important as anything else in that position on the pitch. In any case, even at 36 Carvalho is way better than Bruno Alves or any other CB option we have, and imo should partner Pepe, certainly in the Denmark game.

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  • Guest - Jerrold

    Whats wrong with Coentrao?

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  • Guest - Nelson - Toronto

    Excellent squad selection my starting 11 would be:


    Cedric - R.carvalho - Pepe - Antunes

    Moutinho- Gomes

    Quaresma Ronaldo Nani

    Ronaldo's been playing a lot more central this year at RM (4-2-2) and I'd say that's working out alright for him

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