That Valencia coach Nuno Espírito Santo is proving to be a roaring success is a surprise to many, but not to anyone at Rio Ave. So says former Porto winger Ukra, who commented that he was certain Nuno and his "phenomenal coaching team" - who were at Rio Ave from 2012 to 2014 - would enjoy big success if given the tools.
Speaking to PortuGOAL after Rio Ave's 4-2 defeat at Sporting, Ukra said he expects Rio Ave to be challenging strongly for a second successive Europa League qualification, especially as the team will be fresher than in the first half of the season when its commitments in Europe meant the Vilacondenses played more matches than any other team in Portugal.
On Sporting 4-2 Rio Ave:
"We knew we were facing a great team, Sporting are in excellent form, this is their eighth successive win, but we also know what we can do and what we had planned for this game. We know we have a good team and play good football, as was shown again here. We have a team to compete against any of the "Grandes". I think a draw would have been a fairer result. After falling 3-1 down we made it 3-2 almost immediately and had two or three good chances to equalise. We didn't manage, we made some mistakes that we can't allow at this level, but above all the team is to be congratulated because we again showed excellent football."
On the push for Europa League qualification:
"We're not far from the European places. Given the way we have played and the football we have demonstrated, we believe it's possible. We'll try to qualify through the Liga, but we also know we have the possibility of qualifying for the Europa League through the Cup.
"We are the Portuguese team that has played more games than any other this season. In the second half of the season we will earn more points, we will be much fresher. We also had lots of long journeys (in the Europa League), sometimes we only got back to Portugal at four or five in the morning. That doesn't affect you the next day, but it affects you three or four days later.
"But it's good to play Wednesday, Sunday, Wednesday, Sunday all the time. It's a sign we're in several competitions and we're a good team, and I think the club deserves the prestige it has attained."
On Nuno Espírito Santo's success:
"I'm not at all surprised with his success. He coached us for two years; we know his training techniques. He has a phenomenal coaching team with him. We knew that if he went to a team with a higher level he would have success because of the way he works, his way of being. Lots of people didn't believe in him but we knew. For us it's no surprise what is happening. He has better possibilities than at Rio Ave and the success he is having is there for all to see."
by Tom Kundert