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Is Fernando Santos the right man to take this star-studded Portuguese side to greater heights?

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There is no doubt regarding the "legacy" that Fernando Santos has created as the head coach of the Portugal national men's football team where he has won two glorious trophies which will undoubtedly go down in history.

Fernando Santos took on a Portuguese side that was far away from being amongst the contenders to win the Euro's in 2016.

Portugal's preparation for the illustrious Euro 2016 campaign began with a shocking 1-0 defeat at home against Bulgaria, but that defeat only meant that Cristiano Ronaldo and co were on to greater things as the Euro's kicked on.

Portugal began their group stages with a 1-1 draw against tournament newcomers, Iceland. They went ahead to the knockout stages by finishing as one of the best third place finishers amongst all the other teams in the tournament.

In their final group game against Hungary, Portugal found themselves on the verge of packing their bags to go home on three different occasions, but it was Cristiano Ronaldo who played a huge part in securing a comeback for his nation as he supplied an assist and scored twice to pull his team back once again into the tournament.

Fernando Santos and crew progressed into the knockout stages where they took on Croatia in a game which saw Ricardo Quaresma score a sensational extra-time goal to book Portugal's place in the Quarter finals.

The Portuguese took on the Poles and edged that game as winners on penalties which saw the limelight on Renato Sanches who scored a brilliant goal in that game.

Portugal reached the Semifinals where they took on Wales where Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani secured a 2-0 win which saw Portugal into the finals.

On the 11th of July 2016, Portugal faced France who were heavy favourites to win the final as the squad depth and talent that they had on display surpassed the Portuguese squad on paper.

It was a night of mixed emotions for Cristiano Ronaldo as he limped off injured after Dmitri Payet and Blaise Matuidi clattered into Ronaldo which jarred the knee of the Portuguese superstar.

Later on that night, Eder came out as the unlikely hero for Portugal as he fired the ball on target beyond the outstretched arms of Hugo Lloris which saw the Portuguese fans reach ecstasy.

Ronaldo was seen sending out coaching instructions during the final stages of the final as he was brought to tears at the full-time whistle as he lifted Portugal's first ever international trophy.

It is worth knowing that Portugal won the tournament in a way which nobody expected as they completed just one game within 90 minutes which was against Wales.

That trophy was the beginning of the Fernando Santos legacy as he took "that" Portuguese squad and them European champions.

If Cristiano Ronaldo didn't do enough to let you know that Portugal were on the map in southern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula, then that European trophy will surely add clarity to the Portuguese nation.

Three years down the line, on the 9th of June 2019, Fernando Santos and Cristiano Ronaldo defeated the Dutch in the inaugural UEFA Nations League Cup which saw Goncalo Guedes score at the hour mark to secure the first ever Nations League trophy. That in itself is worthy of an entry into the history books.

That trophy brought along a cheeky smile in Ronaldo as he picked up the trophy and raised it.

Expectations

Holy Moly! Fernando Santos is certainly one of Portugal's most decorated head coaches of all time. He's been sensational since he took over Paulo Bento on the 23rd of September, 2014.

Santos is the longest serving head coach of the Portuguese Selecao. One might say that he rightly deserves to be the Portugal head coach after all that he's done for his country in the soccer world.

As the years rolled by, he was blessed with a much more talented bunch of players with Renato Sanches, Goncalo Guedes, Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes all emerging as a few veterans lost their touch.

With these talented bunch of players, the expectations from the fans and the football world grew. Of course, with a better bunch of players, you have a much bigger shot at claiming what's out there for grabs.

The expectations from the players to perform and for the coach to find the right balance in the squad raised a few questions as the pressure increased on Santos.

However, ever since Portugal lifted the 2019 UEFA Nations League Cup, their performances have been way below par. There are no signs that they have been playing at their absolute best in the last 2-2.5 years.

It seems as though the pressure is getting to the manager to find a winning solution in every game with the team that he's got at his disposal.

When Santos took over in 2014, it was just about getting over the line for most parts. Winning was certainly on the agenda back then, but now, it's about winning.

Unfortunately for Fernando Santos, he's in the results-based business. It's an industry where your past can be easily forgotten because the demands are such that you need to keep proving people wrong again and again.

Unconvincing

Portugal have been disappointing in the results that they've been putting on the board.

There are few games where they have edged past their opponent's to claim all 3 points. Those 3 points were bagged due to individual brilliance on many occasions.

A recent World Cup qualifying game in September against the Republic of Ireland was a clear indicator of how Fernando Santos has been able to get results under his belt as Cristiano Ronaldo emerged from the pack to head in two stunning headers in the dying minutes of the game.

At the Euro's in 2021, Portugal were quite far off their best in the tournament. Yes, they found themselves in the group of death, but the performances put in were really disappointing.

They nearly let it slip against Hungary in their opening fixture of the tournament, but once again, Cristiano Ronaldo came in the main frame and calmed the storm.

In their following game, Germany rolled through them with a 4-2 scoreline in a game which saw the Germans dominate proceedings through the game. Portugal were blown away in the first half of that game which saw Ruben Dias and Raphael Guerreiro score own goals.

The game after that saw France taking on the 2016 European champions. Portugal took the lead through Ronaldo while Karim Benzema scored twice to put the French back in command.

However, Cristiano Ronaldo earned and converted a penalty to level the scoreline.

Portugal went through to the knockout stages as the best third placed team in the group of death and Belgium were next in line for Fernando Santos' men. They were outplayed in that game by a fair margin. Consequently, Portugal were knocked out of the Euro's and it strongly seemed like the defending champions didn't put up a fight for the crown.

If you look at the way the games have panned out, Portugal have always been second best against the big boys. Yes, you could say that they've been slightly unfortunate to be facing France, Germany and Belgium in the Euro's in 2021, but they could have performed much better with the names they've got on their team sheet.

The performance levels have been nowhere near the standards that they are capable of playing at.

At the Euro's 2020, in the game against Belgium, Fernando Santos made a number of changes in one go which included the likes of Joao Felix. That substitution was weird!

Fernando Santos wasn't in good communication terms with Felix throughout the tournament which resulted in him sending Felix into the stands for the opening game of their campaign against Hungary.

It seemed odd as the Portuguese head coach turned to a player who was unused throughout the tournament, he turned towards a player who was extremely low on confidence to make a huge difference in the game by helping Portugal get back in that R-16 tie. It was a substitution made out of desperation from Santos. Unfortunately, it didn't work any miracle for him.

What now for Fernando Santos?

After Portugal's home loss against Serbia, the pressure and criticism in and around the Portugal national team is escalating to greater heights as the hour passes.

In their last World Cup qualifier against Serbia, Portugal needed a win or a draw to secure their place in the main draw for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar next year, but they scrambled and lost it in terms of structure and planning towards the end of the game.

At this point of time, under Santos, Portugal lack a certain brand of football that they play and demonstrate on the field. They look like a side that heads out to take the lead and then sit back and contain the lead they've got for themselves. Seems like that strategy comes from the Jose Mourinho coaching guide.

In an important game, Portugal were beaten in possession by Serbia. That just speaks volumes of how severe the situation is at the heart of the Portuguese management so far now.

With all due respect to this Serbian side, they truly deserve the victory they worked for. They were hungry for it. Football is a game of fine margins.

One may recall the disallowed goal for Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal when these two sides met earlier in the World Cup qualifying campaign, but that cannot be used as an excuse for what Portugal showed on the pitch on home turf.

Fernando Santos has received a lot of criticism of late given how he manages this talented pool of players at his disposal.

It is fair to say that he is struggling to find the right balance, identity and brand of football with the stars he's got.

The Portuguese fans will be clearly disappointed with the way their side has been performing off late. According to us, Santos is a traditional coach where he looks to keep things simple and defensive.

Unfortunately, his style of play and his strategies have a small window of survival in the world of modern football where goals are the best form of defence.

With this Portuguese side, one may expect them to go for it and dominate games week after week, but then, they are managed by a coach who is conservative in nature which will not bring the best out of this side who have attacking players in Joao Cancelo and Nuno Mendes as their full backs along with their dazzling midfield and attacking players at the prospect.

If you look at it, Serbia dominated the game totally as Bernardo Silva stated in an interview that "there wasn't a 10-minute spell where we were better than them."

That just shows that there is no pathway that Portugal has under the management of Fernando Santos.

Fernando Santos is probably the culprit here for Portugal's poor form. He may not show it, but he's certainly not able to find a winning solution with the players available, which is really sad to see.

Cristiano Ronaldo was seen upset and flattered by the result as he lashed out at his coach at the end of the game.

Ronaldo isn't the problem. He's just out there to do what he does best, which is to score goals, but he's not able to score them on a regular basis because he's not getting the required service from the wide men around him.

It's the job of the manager to ensure that Ronaldo gets the service required, but that is not the case with this style of management.