The Portuguese national team goalkeeper Daniel Fernandes is a real globetrotter, having experienced nine different countries during his long career in the elite of world football, and speaks languages such as Greek, German, English, Spanish, and Portuguese fluently. In this second part of an informal conversation led by Nuno Milheiro, the current Birkirkara FC (Malta) player speaks about his experiences in the Portuguese national team, reflects on the evolution that national goalkeepers have had in the last decade, and reveals to us his post-career plans.
His debut for the U21 Portuguese national team occurred in 2016, in a friendly game against Italy, after a negative experience with the Canadian national team. “I started in the Canada national team when I was in FC Porto. The coach promised me many things, and a man must keep his word. He did not, and I was disappointed, so I moved forward. After one year and a half playing for PAOK, the Portugal national team called me through Agostinho Oliveira. We played against Italy, and he told me something I will never forget: «Do not take this as a banana split. This is not a banana split». Playing in that national team [U21], in that game, was more important than playing in the first national team. I was promising, and nothing was bothering me at all. It was just about winning. Then, a lot of things happened quickly. Six months later, I went to the first team. I had a good connection with Luiz Felipe Scolari. Being around guys like Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, and Ricardo Quaresma at that time (…). It was amazing to be there and too fast for me. Sometimes, I wish it happened a bit later than that soon. Leaving Canada at 17 and after four or five years joining the national team did not make sense”.
The most important thing is to be more knowledgeable because knowledge is power. You have to transmit that knowledge. If you do not, you did not learn anything.
It is undeniable: the goalkeeper position is extremely competitive. The chances of playing are frequently low in the national team, so it is essential to be mentally strong and have a high level of self-motivation. “I was taught that if I go inside, I have to give the game what the game needs: know all the situations, make the right movements, stick to the game, and nothing more. Everything outside of what is happening has nothing to do with what I got to do. That was what I thought all the time. If you let the pressure get you, it is game over. The main thing is to think about doing things as perfectly as you can”.
Despite being the third goalkeeper of the hierarchy in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Daniel Fernandes kept his motivation high and was grateful for the opportunity to represent his country. “I was only disappointed, to be honest, but at the same time, I was happy when I left, for being part of the national team. When I got back to my club, I was motivated to be better, maybe go to a bigger club and play. In that year, when I went to the World Cup, I played ten games in a Greek team [Iraklis] that was falling. [In that season] I also received a phone call from André Villas-Boas to go to Académica OAF, but I chose the Greek team. My dream as a kid was to be in a World Cup, but I am not a dreamer – I am a reality-kind of guy. I went to that team, and we only had ten games left. All my friends called me and said: «You are crazy! You will finish football next year for sure and will be playing in the village here!». I think I only conceded five goals or so, took my spot, saved everything, played well, took the team out of going down, and became a club hero. Then, I got a phone call from the national team. To be second or third? Everybody wants to be part of the national team. I always supported my colleagues when I was there: every game is important for a country, individually and collectively. It is all about being the best professional you can be”.
Regardless of the role that each player may play within the Portuguese national team, he believes that having a good team spirit is the key to building a cohesive working group. “You have competition, but you have to have respect and ideas when things need a little twist. Of course, you should not have bad vibes. There you need everybody to push for everybody. It cannot be any other vibe because everybody will get their chance. You can see what happened to us in the UEFA Euro 2016. We had great characters and good energy. They felt part of something good”.
These guys playing in top clubs make money from their clubs, not the national team. If they want to make even more money, they need to win a championship. To win a championship, you have to push for each other and work properly towards your teammates. Goalkeepers need stability. If the mind is not right, they can never play.
As a result of a solid internal investment over the last 15 years, Portuguese goalkeepers are now respected and worldwide acclaimed. “Portugal is producing a lot of great goalkeepers. You can see Luís Maximiano now, for example. He is doing great in Granada CF, but we have a lot of young eye-opener goalkeepers. The goalkeeping in general all over the world is better. Now all goalkeepers have to play better with their feet. It is more demanding. But I am always proud of my country. We are small, but the ones we have are really good. Germany always produces great goalkeepers too, because they are a goalkeeping country. They put them first before anything else. In Portugal, things changed because we invested, and brought new coaches. We have a handful of good goalkeepers that can have promising careers for the next 20 years”.
“He was in Hamburg SV, and we [VfL Bochum] lost 3-1 [2008–09 Bundesliga]. I never saw a guy running so hard. Never in my life! He was a typical beast. I spotted him on the pitch, and I was constantly telling “look at this, this is not normal”. In that year, we played three times against Hamburg SV. Olic was always a beast, but that game was something out of this world. I will never forget. I always liked him as a player because he was a hard worker. He was not that striker you could see all over the field – on the left, right, center, but his work ethic(…). He scored two goals, but I saved five shots”.
Although Daniel Fernandes still does not think about hanging up his boots, his post-career steps will inevitably be linked to football. “I am going to complete my UEFA B license and would like to be part of a good coaching staff, maybe start getting good experiences in a good level. If it is coaching or working for an agency… The whole purpose is to put people in the right direction. Football needs good influences. That is what I want to give back to football”.
Football is just about helping and nothing more. It is not about the big picture. It is about but the base, the foundation. Players can play better and be mentally more stable so that they are going to enjoy the game. When they enjoy their game, people will love what they see. It is the most beautiful show ever.
“When they enjoy their game, people will love what they see. It is the most beautiful show ever. I have some other plans related to financial literacy for people around, and it is something I am creating too: teach young players how to deal with their finances so that they can live a more prosperous life. They will not need to go to school to understand finance. Then, they can make the right decisions and help their families. When they finish football, they will be mentally stable, and will not go through depression, anxiety, and stuff like that. It is all about mental health, waking up to win and grow day by day”, he concluded.