Rui Costa, Portugal's prince
Rui Costa is a living legend. After a top-flight career spanning 17 years, the former Benfica, Fiorentina and AC Milan midfielder said farewell to the beautiful game on 11 May 2008. And he did so just the way he had always wanted: in front of a packed crowd at the Estadio da Luz.
He may have hung up his boots, but Rui Costa has not said goodbye to Benfica. He has since been appointed sporting director of the Portuguese giants and has already begun planning for the 2008-09 season, helping to chose As Águias' new head coach. Yet despite his busy schedule, Rui Costa took the time to answer a selection of questions from FIFA.com users, chosen out of the hundreds we received, and to look back on his glittering career.
MANYA928: Why did you decide to retire? With your ability
you could have played on for much longer.
Rui Costa: Often the hardest thing is to know when to stop. Between the desire to carry on playing and the tendency to focus on what you still have to offer on the field of play, we footballers can often keep going too long. First and foremost, I didn't want to run that risk. I stopped when I felt I ought to and I think I made the right choice. I rejoined Benfica when I was still in a position to help the team out on the pitch and that's something that was universally recognised. I finished my career back where I started, in front of my home fans, and that for me was the most important thing.
Duende: How are you adapting to your new role as sporting
director, and having to wear a suit and tie instead of training
I often used to wear a suit and tie before, so the clothes aren't new - even if the demands of the role are. I enjoy doing what I'm doing and I feel that I'm capable enough to meet the level of expectation that has built up, but it's not just about the work of one person. It's about an entire team that will work alongside me and will help me to shape Benfica's future. It's clear that I'm still in a learning process, but I'm still involved in football - and at Benfica - and that's what matters.
Pimental1: Rui, would you ever consider taking the
Portuguese national team job? We could do with someone as
passionate as you.
I can use my passion and drive to do many things, but coaching the national team is not one of them. Everybody knows the special bond I've got with the national team, . I love discussing football, tactics, players and everything that happens out on the pitch, but taking a coaching role has never appealed to me. You should never say never, but being the coach of a football team, whichever it might be, just isn't on the horizon for me.
riquelme100: Who was your boyhood idol?
[Michel] Platini, no doubt about it. It was the way he played, the intelligence with which he positioned himself on the field, the way he dictated play, and let us not forget those mazy dribbles and cool decision-making. On top of all that, Platini played in a position where I dreamed of playing one day. He was one of those players who always inspired me. Here in Portugal, Carlos Manuel was also one of my childhood heroes. And looking at the nickname of the person who asked this question, I'll take the opportunity to say that [Juan Roman] Riquelme is, in my opinion, the best No10 around at this moment in time.
Milloscol: You played for a number of clubs. Which is
closest to your heart and where did you have the most memorable
I only played for three clubs over the course of my career and they all had a huge impact on me. Of course, Benfica was where I started out and grew as a player. I spent eight years in the club's youth system, so a big chunk of my childhood and my adolescence were spent at the club. There were many moments that I'll never forget, some happier than others, but all of which left an indelible mark on me. Fiorentina were a club who welcomed me on board as if I'd actually been born in the city, I spent seven incredible years there and the very deep bond I had with the club's fans is another thing I won't forget. I've got a great deal of affection and a lot of respect for that city and that club. Finally there's Milan, an extremely strong and well-organised club where I also learned a lot of new things, where I won the Champions League and the Italian championship and where I was welcomed as if I'd been playing there all my life. Their supporters too are uniquely passionate and they always treated me with great affection.
sapey. : How did you feel after scoring the decisive
penalty against Brazil at the FIFA World Youth Championship in
It was incredible, there was such a strong outpouring of joy. There were more than 120,000 people in the stadium - in my home stadium. The responsibility for taking the decisive penalty fell to me. When I was walking up to the ball I had mixed feelings. On the one hand there was the anxiety and the burden of being able to decide the game, and on the other my belief that I was capable of winning the title for Portugal. It was fantastic, unforgettable. Even today I get shivers down my spine just thinking about the explosion of joy that followed that goal.
NunOliveira: Rui, how did it feel to score for Fiorentina
against Benfica, a goal you later said was the worst of your
career, in front of a full house at the Estadio da Luz?
It was difficult. On the one hand I had to show respect for the shirt I was wearing and the club I was playing for and obviously I had to be professional. But, on the other side of things were Benfica and all I'd experienced there over so many years. My own story was linked to Benfica. It was, in fact, one of the hardest moments I've had to handle in my career.
JPNathan: If you could turn the clock back, is there
anything you would change about your career?
Honestly, Perhaps, if I could change the past I'd ask to have won the European Championship in 2004 as well as some more silverware for Benfica in my final spell at the club as a player.
TUGAMAN: Do you think that there was ever a point in your
career when you ought to have won the FIFA World Player of the Year
It's always very difficult to be your own judge. I had some fantastic seasons in Florence and in Milan but I was never fortunate enough to win that award. Despite the importance of that prize, however, what really matters is that the fans of the clubs I've played for know that I gave my all, that I did everything I could. I played my football and they always knew how to show their appreciation for that. That's my greatest trophy.
Carvalhal: Who was the best coach you ever had and who was
the best motivator?
Carlos Queiroz was the coach who oversaw my formative years, who helped me achieve a high level of footballing consistency, for someone of my age. [Sven-Goran] Eriksson was my first coach at Benfica, the one who had faith in my ability and drafted me into the first-team squad. They were the two coaches who, for different reasons, shaped my career, but I can add other names to that list such as [Luiz Felipe] Scolari, [Carlo] Ancelotti, [Alberto] Malesani. They all taught me so much. I haven't had many coaches who have been disappointing; on the contrary I've learned new things from most of them.
ludo1070: Which was your most disappointing defeat in
Portuguese national team colours? And which was the greatest
victory of your career?
Without a shadow of a doubt, the most painful defeat of my career was the one against Greece in the final of EURO 2004 in Portugal. Being crowned European champions would have been the perfect way to say farewell to the national team. Unfortunately, and in spite of how well we played, the Greek team were more clinical than us. They scored a goal and concentrated on defending their lead. That was, without doubt, the biggest disappointment of my career.
Another low point came during a game against Germany in 1997, during the qualifiers for the 1998 World Cup. Portugal needed to win and we were winning, when my number was held up showing I was to be substituted. The substitutes' board was right there, showing my number on it. So I slowly made my way over to the touchline, trying to use up a bit of time but staying within the rules. There's nothing in the rules that says a player must leave the pitch within a set period of time, they only say that a player is obliged to set off in a straight line towards the exit area. My substitution only took 22 seconds but the referee showed me a red card. Portugal had to play with ten men and ended up drawing the game and failing to qualify for the World Cup. The referee actually wasted more time by showing me the red card than I'd taken to leave the pitch. It was very difficult to swallow; it was the only time I've ever been sent off in my entire footballing career. That was my biggest disappointment.
As far as my greatest victory is concerned, it was without doubt the win over Brazil in the final of the World Youth Championship in 1991, in front of more than 120,000 people in the old Estadio da Luz.
Vengador07: Which striker did you have the best
understanding with out on the pitch? Was it [Gabriel] Batistuta?
Can you tell us more about your relationship with him?
It was definitely with Gabriel Omar Batistuta. I'd create the space for him and he'd put the ball in the net.
puyol0504: Is it true that Johan Cruyff wanted to sign you
for Barcelona and that this very nearly came to fruition in
It's true. During what became known in Portugal as "the hot summer of 1993", Benfica were submerged in a serious financial crisis and some players jumped ship to Sporting, but I decided to stay. It wasn't about money for me, even though I was still owed some wages. That attitude led then Benfica President Jorge Brito to promise me that if I went to a foreign club, I could choose who I joined. Barcelona subsequently came in for me and we reached a full agreement for me to join them ahead of the 1994-95 season. I even had my photo taken in a Barça shirt. Meanwhile Benfica underwent a change of president, in came Manuel Damasio and the deal collapsed.
Portoking: Why didn't you take part in the 2006 World
Cup in Germany when everyone knows you were good enough to play? Do
you think Figo was right to participate?
We come back to the issue of choosing the right moment to retire. I felt that that the time to bring the curtain down on my international career was at the end of EURO 2004. That was my decision, and I considered it was the right time to bow out. However, these kinds of decisions are personal. Luis is still playing, having gone to Germany and performed well. So yes, he was right to take part.
Naxo1989: Do you think your generation of Portuguese
players could have achieved even greater things, like winning a
World or European title for example, and if so, why didn't it
do just that?
I have a different perspective on that. I believe my generation did something unique, which was to begin a new era in Portuguese football in which the national team became ever-present at the finals of major competitions. That hadn't happened before. As for honours, I think second and third at the European Championships (2004 and 2000) and fourth place at the (2006) World Cup were good achievements.
Benficamad: If you could have a team with the best players
of all time, which 11 would you choose?
If I had to do it, then I'd need to pick about three teams. But as I don't want to do any of the greats an injustice, I'd rather not try. It's also because I think those type of exercises risk comparing players and eras that can't easily be compared. Football has evolved and the game played today is different to that of even 10 or 15 years back, never mind 30 or 40 years ago.
Chuygaytan: What's your opinion of the current
Portuguese squad, and do you think they will win a major
The Portuguese national squad contains individuals who play for some of Europe's top teams, and one member in particular who will be probably be crowned the world's best player this year. Therefore, there are reasons to be optimistic about this EURO. With hard work, dedication and humility, we could go a long way.
mohaELMOB: Do you think that Cristiano Ronaldo could go on
to become the best Portuguese player of all time?
That's always a difficult question to answer, for the reasons I mentioned earlier. . You can't compare things which are very different, and football has evolved a lot over time in terms of speed, tactical systems etc. In any case, Ronaldo will most definitely be one of the best Portuguese players of all time.
tomiking1993: Which team do you consider favourites to win
I'm backing Portugal, though I know that they'll face very tough competition. We cannot afford to ignore teams of the calibre of Italy, Germany or France.
FIFA.com: Which question did you like the most?
The one about how I felt when scoring the penalty at the World Youth Championship in 1991. That question brought back all the emotions that I'd felt at the time.
FIFA.com: Is there any question that you'd like to ask
As opposed to a question, I'd tell myself that the strong bond between me and the fans of the three clubs I played for is something to be thankful for every day. Even now the depth of feeling still takes me by surprise.
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