2014 FIFA World Cup
Previous Clubs: Sporting
Honours: Portuguese Cup: 2007, 2008; Portuguese Super Cup: 2007, 2008;
Remembered most from his playing days for infamously receiving a six-month ban after accosting the referee who sent off Nuno Gomes in Portugal's Euro 2000 semifinal, Paulo Bento's rise to national team coach is something few in his homeland would have predicted. But after Carlos Quieroz's short, ill-fated spell left Portugal languishing second from bottom in their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, Bento completed his unlikely ascendancy; the former defensive midfielder has since shrugged off his critics to establish himself as one of the finest young coaches in European football.
Aside from that suspension, Bento enjoyed a respectable career as a player and was a regular at international level, winning 35 caps. He enjoyed spells with lower league sides Oriental, Futebol Benfica and Estrela Amadora in his native Portugal before competing in the top flight with Vitoria Guimaraes and Benfica, with whom he won the Portuguese Cup for a second time.
A move to Spain soon followed and he became a key member of the Real Oviedo side who battled bravely to avoid relegation from La Liga between 1996-2000, before Bento finished his career at Sporting Lisbon -- achieving a league and cup double in 2002. After hanging up his boots in 2004, he was appointed as the youth-team coach for Sporting's prestigious Alcochete academy.
It was working with this generation of players that Bento's reputation began to grow and after winning the youth title in 2005, he was promoted to manage the first-team after the sacking of Jose Peseiro in October. While he was expected to be a temporary stop-gap measure until the board found an experienced candidate, Bento convinced both the directors and the fans that he could steer Sporting to glory when he won ten consecutive matches to reverse the capital outfit's fortunes, eventually achieving a second-placed league finish.
Bento was devoted to building a team around his young academy talents and Rui Patricio, Nani, Miguel Veloso and Joao Moutinho all became integral members of the side which lifted the Portuguese Cup and Portuguese Super Cup in 2007. Bento masterminded another cup triumph the following campaign but Sporting could not usurp Porto in the league, finishing as runners-up for four consecutive seasons during his tenure. He also managed to raise Sporting's profile abroad as the Lions progressed to the Champions League knockout stages for the first time in 2008-09.
Having initially been touted as a short-term appointment, Bento ended up as the second-longest serving coach and the second-most successful in Sporting's history when he finally stepped down in November 2009 after a disappointing start to the season.
Bento's appointment as Portugal national coach raised many eyebrows but he soon swept aside any scepticism as he rallied the demoralised Iberian nation to victory in his first five Euro 2012 qualifiers, as well as a stunning 4-0 friendly win over world champions Spain. Bento then ensured that Portugal did not miss out on their first European Championship since 1992 as he inspired them to a memorable 6-2 aggregate play-off win over Bosnia, becoming the youngest coach to steer Portugal to a major tournament.
Drawn in the so-called Group of Death with Germany, Netherlands and Denmark, few predicted that Portugal would have made it to the knockout stages, let alone take Spain to a penalty shootout in the semifinals. Though Bruno Alves' crucial missed spot kick did cue national heartbreak, Bento had renewed public confidence in the national team and his ability to integrate many of his former Sporting talents whilst being able to get the best out of Cristiano Ronaldo has won him plaudits.
Portugal have, however, had a tendency to slip up against lower-ranked opponents and two draws with Israel and one at home against Northern Ireland ensured Bento's side once again had to settle for the play-offs in World Cup qualifying, finishing behind Russia in the race to Brazil. Pitted against Sweden, in the marquee match of the UEFA playoffs that was billed as Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Bento showed his tactical nous with a resilient 1-0 victory in Lisbon before ruthlessly exposing the Swedes on the counter-attack in Solna -- his side winning 4-2 on aggregate and booking their place in Brazil.
Having unleashed the full potential of Ronaldo at international level, Bento will arguably have the most powerful weapon at the World Cup in Brazil. If Portugal can overcome the first hurdle and advance through the group stages, they could once again prove a very tough team to beat.
Strengths: Bento is considered a disciplined and rigorous coach, while his insistence on respect and solidarity ensures a strong team spirit and mental strength runs through his teams. He has a good relationship with the media and a special knack for winning knockout matches, as demonstrated in his four-trophy haul at Sporting.
Weaknesses: His coaching style is often regarded as over-defensive and unattractive, while he has been criticised for his rigidity and failure to resort to a plan B when things aren't going to plan.
Career High: Became the second most successful manager in Sporting's history, after the legendary Josef Szabo, when guiding the Portuguese capital outfit to back-to-back Portuguese Cup successes in 2007 and 2008.
Career Low: Suffered a 12-1 aggregate loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League last-16 in the 2007-08 season. It remains the highest number of goals conceded by a team in a knockout match in the competition's history.
Tactics: Rigid. Bento is a firm believer in the 4-3-3 formation for Portugal with three box-to-box midfielders in the middle to compensate for the nation's lack of a natural playmaker. He instructs his team to get the ball out wide to the wingers as quickly as possible to exploit the opposition on the counter-attack.
Quotes: "I am fascinated how Paulo Bento has found the perfect, winning formula for Portugal. He deserves huge credit, it was a very astute tactical change to free (Cristiano) Ronaldo and allow all the good play." Everton manager Roberto Martinez praises Bento's tactical approach.
Trivia: Paulo Bento was the youngest coach, aged 42, at Euro 2012.
Words: Max Bentley