Portuguese coach Paulo Fonseca joined Roma in the summer of 2019, looking to take the next step in a managerial career that has always shown impressive promise. There have been ups and downs – as there are with almost any manager in the modern game – but Fonseca undoubtedly joined the Giallorossi on the up, after most recently enjoying a glittering three-year spell at Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk.
That glittering spell, however, had perhaps reached its natural conclusion. Having won the domestic league and cup double in all three seasons with Shakhtar, Fonseca admitted after the last of them that it was “impossible to do better” with the club. He had also enjoyed notable success in Europe, reaching the knockout phases of both the Europa League and Champions League in different campaigns, although it was the trophies that the Ukrainian club’s president focused on when he gave Fonseca his blessing to leave, saying that the coach had, “left his mark in the history of the club, his name will remain in the hearts of fans.”
If that is true, then Shakhtar are just the latest club to feel that way. Born in Mozambique (then a Portuguese colony) in 1973, as a player Fonseca was an uncompromising central defender who made over 100 appearances in Portugal’s top division without ever really becoming a big name. An early move to Porto never quite worked out for him – he failed to make an appearance for the club – and that was an experience he would essentially repeat as a coach, although that is about the only similarity his two footballing careers have shared to date.
As a coach, Fonseca quickly reached greater heights then his playing talents could ever bring him. A succession of decent jobs done in the lower leagues culminated in a move to Desportivo Aves, a third division side that he soon got promoted and led – not once, but twice – to the quarter-finals of the Portuguese Cup. Those eye-catching runs alerted top-flight side Pacos de Ferreira to his talent and, when Fonseca went on to lead them to a third-place finish and a Champions League play-off spot, soon enough the rest of Portugal, and Europe, was alerted to.
That ill-fated second move to Porto then followed – although before his sacking after 10 months it did bring the first silverware of Fonseca’s career, the 2013 Portuguese Super Cup – but a rehabilitating second spell at Pacos soon saw him earn another shot at the big time with Braga. There he would finish fourth in the league, reach the Europa League quarter-finals and win the Portuguese Cup (against Porto, no less); an impressive and rounded campaign that saw Shakhtar, who actually knocked Braga out in Europe that season, to peg Fonseca as the man to replace the almost irreplaceable Mircea Lucescu.
That Fonseca did, and more – despite never once playing a home game at Shakhtar’s Donbass Arena in his three seasons there, due to the ongoing fighting in that area of the country. Yet that off-field disruption did not stop his side from winning on it, Fonseca gaining notoriety throughout Europe with a well-structured 4-2-3-1 system that saw so many attacking players thrive.
The Portuguese tactician always had an eye on getting a chance in one of Europe’s biggest leagues though, with his name being linked with clubs throughout the continent. In the end, it was Roma’s project that attracted him.
“I am excited and motivated by the task ahead of us,” he said after his appointment. “Together, I believe we can create something special.”
Fonseca has acquired the experience, won the trophies, and built attractive sides. In the Italian capital, he will look to put that all together once again, at an even higher level.