FC Stumbras is the youngest, most multi-national football club of the country. Two teams founded in 2013 and bought by foreign investors in 2015 include 20 legionnaires from Portugal, Brazil, Georgia, Mali, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, France, Ghana… Many athletes want to come to Kaunas and start their career as footballers here; the club proved that it’s taking care of the players well and helping them eventually move to solid clubs abroad. That’s the strategy of FC Stumbras.
Mariano Barreto, a Portuguese footballer who ended his professional career as a player 40 years ago, tells us all there is to know about what’s behind this strategy and the work he does with both young and youngest sportspeople. His three assistants are from Portugal too, but it’s the future of football in Lithuania that people like him hold in their hands.
Last March brought a new chapter to FC Stumbras and to you as well when you moved here. How have these 15 months been?
I’d separate last season from this one: last year we were greeted like foreigners who came here to establish their rules. This wasn’t new to me – I’ve worked in Germany, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Cyprus and Angola over the last two decades… Newcomers are always seen this way. So, we just kept on working – we shaped the team anew and tried to get the best results in the A league whilst also making sure the value of our young players increases. We achieved our goals and finished fifth, it was the best position for the team so far. Two Lithuanians and two foreigners were sent to camps in Portugal by me: we send the players to train, not to find happiness in a new country. They have to learn to be better before looking for new clubs. For example, Rimvydas Sadauskas has just come back from Cork City in Ireland; we’ve also recently signed a two-year deal for one of our youngest players Nauris Petkevičius to play in Lille, France.
Sounds like a lot of work!
It really is. We’re now forming the team again. Most of our athletes are very young, 16 to 22 if we don’t count the two who are 24. Keep in mind that these guys play against experienced 28- and 30-year-olds in the Lithuanian championship. It’s normal that FC Stumbras is not among the leaders – younger players tend to make mistakes and those cost us points. My choice to work with younger players comes as a surprise to many fans, however I don’t see the logic in buying older athletes and finishing sixth. I’d rather hold that same position with younger talents that will grow and gain experience on the way. I believe such tactics might have a good lasting effect on Lithuanian football – it’s great for us as we can then help those players find a place in the international market.
You also want to set up a football academy in Kaunas, right?
Definitely, we’ve talked this through with the Sporting club in Lisbon – they’re up for sharing the brand, experience and coaches. The Kaunas region and Lithuania as a whole will profit from this, but we need infrastructure, thus the meetings with the federation. Right now both Stumbras teams are renting a field and that’s not cheap, while the academy will provide a training platform for every interested kid from this region.
Maybe that’s what Lithuanian football is missing – solid work from very early on? Or do we lack local talent?
Look, I’ve met my fair share of young talents that went on to become stars, and one of the best players I’ve seen is Nauris Petkevičius. I noticed him when he was 15 and instantly told the coach to let us train him. I was right – he amazed Lisbon’s Benfica and other clubs with his abilities.
So, the problem lies in the way talents are treated rather than in the lack of them. Discipline, infrastructure and reliable coaching is all you need. Football is not just about a ball in a stadium, so playing well is not enough – athletes have to be educated and accompanied in their path to perfecting all of their skills. I’ve noticed many young talents that are not getting the needed attention and it pains me to see them fade away. That’s we seek to create our own academy.
All legionnaires of FC Stumbras live together in a hotel. They cook, clean after themselves – do you know many young athletes that wash their own clothes? We’ve established the rules and a year went by without any incidents. Respect to others, caring about education is all part of the training. The talent factor, obviously, is in this formula too.
Six players that I’ve trained became world champions in the under-21 group. Only two of them continued their international careers – Luís Figo and Emílio Peixe, the latter is now a youth coach. The rest of them, no matter how talented they once were, reached 40 and only had that one title in their roster. It happens, and that’s a problem not only for the players but for their coaches and managers too.
When did you learn to play football?
I was born in Goa yet only lived there for a year; my parents then came back to Portugal, where I started playing it. You know, all children are fascinated by different sports balls, whether it’s basketball, tennis, or in Portugal’s case, football. And it has always been like that back home – many promising athletes come to Portugal from former colonies like the African countries or Brazil, then they move on to European clubs. And in Portugal, football is played by anyone, everywhere, at any given time.
Everyone plays it, however only a few become coaches. What was your journey like?
It was a coincidence: I was a good player aged 20 yet suffered an injury of the Achilles tendon. My career stopped for a year while I was studying at the university. Eventually I realised I couldn’t be a professional as I experienced massive pain whenever even trying to play. So I said yes when FC Sporting offered me to train 10-year-olds. A year later I started working with the under-19 group, and in two years six of my players became world champions as I’ve mentioned earlier. I moved to the main team and helped coaches who came from abroad. Dortmund’s Borussia then invited me to work with a player who just had a trauma which everyone thought would be career-ending. In six months the club won the Champions League and that player was a fantastic asset to the final game. That’s when my international career began – I went on to consult coaches in Russia and to train national teams in Africa. My most precious medal is being lucky to work in such places with such great players.
We have to ask how Lithuania came up on such a diverse map.
A coincidence as well. I had plans to return to Portugal as I missed my friends, relatives which I only got to see once every few years. When the investors who bought the club in Kaunas asked me to join the team and work using my own methods, I agreed. It seemed like an interesting opportunity and I also own some shares of the club. I fly to my family in Portugal once a month – they used to live with me but we thought it’d be hard for my youngest son to keep changing schools. I feel happy in Kaunas. I hope that when I leave this city and then come back in a few years, I’ll see the athletes I’ve worked with playing for the best teams. That’s always my dream, my goal that motivates me. Sometimes players do get cross with me since I seek perfection and work 24/7. No weekends off.
Did you find places close to your heart in Kaunas? Apart from the stadium, of course.
Yes, I constantly need a spot to think: to find ways how to help the players, to look for clubs they could approach and solve an array of other problems. That spot is usually the Kaunas Castle. I also spend some time in Laisvės Alėja, especially in Soboras. I’m catholic yet I don’t come there to pray, I just like the place. Regular visitors already know me.