Carlos Queiroz didn’t sign Bebe
Fergie’s former right- hand man on Beckham, Bebe and why working with Florentino Perez is no walk in the park
How did you become Manchester United’s assistant manager in 2002? Did you know Sir Alex Ferguson already?
I was managing South Africa at the time. Sir Alex wanted an assistant with the ability to communicate, as he was opening the club to different cultures and languages. I was able to speak English and Portuguese, and I could also help with French and Italian. In Sir Alex’s straightforward style, he phoned a couple of guys to find out more about me. One of them was Quinton Fortune, who played for South Africa. Sir Alex then called me to ask if I could meet him in Manchester. I went there and we talked, shook hands and agreed the deal. It was a privilege to work alongside him for all those years, and today I have the honour of saying that we are friends.
What was it like to work with him? Was he demanding of his staff?
With Sir Alex at Manchester United there was no such thing as second. When you work in that environment, you know that nothing less than number one is acceptable. You sleep, eat and work only with winning in mind. But in Sir Alex, I also had an exceptional boss. He supports you, and opens the door for you to dream. His intelligence is unique, and he’s an incredibly wise person.
Were you in the dressing room the day he kicked the boot and hit David Beckham? What was going through your head when that happened?
It’s time to establish the truth behind that story. Someone once said that if Sir Alex had intended that [ hitting Beckham in the face], his left foot must be real quality! I was there in the dressing room that day and, let’s put things right, it was not a good shot, because the boot first hit a table and only then went in Beckham’s direction. [ Laughs] Sir Alex, I’m very sorry but your left foot was not quite as good as you think!
What did Fergie say when you were offered the Real Madrid job?
When the opportunity to coach Real Madrid arrives, you decide first and think after. But the first thing I did was to schedule a private meeting with Sir Alex. He tried to stop me – he asked me to think hard about my decision. The day after, I called him and said, “I must go, it’s a great opportunity for me.” I’ll always keep his reply in my heart. He said, “Carlos, I’m proud of you. If you’d phoned me to say you wouldn’t be accepting Real Madrid’s offer, I’d be very disappointed with you.”
You had some fabulous players at Real, like Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo and Luis Figo, yet only finished fourth in 2003- 04. How come?
The team was imbalanced. That season we lost Fernando Hierro, Fernando Morientes and Claude Makelele. At a press conference I said, “Even a Ferrari can’t win a race on only three tyres.” My game plan was pretty simple. I’d play Ronaldo upfront, so opponents would need to put two or three players around him. Then the others would have to contend with Michel Salgado, Roberto Carlos, Figo, Zidane, Raul, Guti, Beckham... That worked until April, but we lost the title and I was the scapegoat.
How challenging is it to manage superstars with huge egos? Were there any problems?
No, because I had players full of confidence who believed they were champions in their minds. It was easy to manage the dressing room as they were the best professionals in the world. I think a Real Madrid’s manager’s role is 20 per cent football and 80 per cent dealing with the media. [ Laughs] Or maybe 40 with the media and 40 with the president!
How did you find Florentino Perez to work with? Would he occasionally get involved more than a manager would ideally like?
Florentino Perez was the president who gave me the chance to manage Real Madrid. I can never forget that, and I’ll always be grateful to him. He’s among the greatest presidents in the world; one of the best in football history. The only problem with Florentino is that he needs to accept that he’s not perfect. No one is perfect. When he starts to believe he knows football more than the managers, it doesn’t help the club.
After a year in Madrid you returned to Old Trafford – how did that move come about?
Everything had been going smoothly at Real, then suddenly we had injuries and our form started slipping. We lost in the semi- finals of the Champions League to Monaco, with those brilliant goals from Morientes who was our player [ out on loan]. After that defeat, I had a call from Sir Alex. He came to Madrid and we had brunch together. He’d been reading about my struggles and said, “I want to tell you one thing: if anything happens here, your place is still waiting for you at United.” At the end of the season [ after being sacked by Real] I had some other opportunities, but I’d given my word to Sir Alex. “Let’s finish our job and become European champions,” he told me. So I returned to Manchester.
In your final season at the club, United won both the Premier League and Champions League – what did it mean to you to go out on such a high?
To leave the club at that time was probably the hardest decision in my professional life. We were in a fantastic moment, and the club was one of the best in the world. To this day, I regret going, but the Portugal national team called and it’s very hard to turn that down. If I could turn back time, I’d never leave United.
Did things change much when United were taken over by the Glazers?
As far as I remember, our day- to- day work, from a leadership perspective, improved. We had straightforward communication, and the family was always very supportive of Sir Alex and [ former chief executive] David Gill. From a personal point of view, I’m so grateful that they understood my desire to leave [ in 2008]. They tried everything to keep me but it was too late. I’d already agreed to coach Portugal.
How do you assess your second spell as Portugal manager from 2008- 10? How sad were you about the way it ended?
It’s always a huge privilege to represent your country, but it was also a chance for me to re- establish my career as a head coach. The federation’s goal was to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, which we did. But that was just the start. You ask if it was sad how it all ended, but it was not sad – it was political and personal. Because of an agenda against me behind the scenes, I lost my job [ after it was suggested that he interfered with anti- doping procedures shortly before the World Cup] thanks to claims that were later disproved [ by the Court of Arbitration for Sport] and condemned. I hope to hear an apology from the Portuguese federation and government. It’s about principles.
Did you play any part in Bebe’s infamous move to United in 2010?
Once and for all, I want to make it clear that I had nothing to do with that. What’s more, no one from United ever sought my advice about him. Why would I have been involved? As everybody knows, at that time I was the Portugal manager. Bebe wasn’t even part of our national elite scouting list – I didn’t even know that he existed. I was the first one to be shocked and surprised with what happened.
Where might we see you next? Would you potentially return to England as a manager or assistant, or would you like to coach in another part of the world?
Now is the time for reflection and analysis – understanding where football is moving in order to be ready for the next step and next challenge. Returning to England is always in my mind and finishing my career there would be a dream, but as you know there are many opportunities in the rest of the world. Besides going back to England, I dream of qualifying for a fifth World Cup – something that would be unique. After South Africa [ 2002], Portugal [ 2010] and two qualifications with Iran [ 2014 and 2018], my World Cup ambition lives on.