No dark horses in EURO 2020 but Portugal could spring a surprise: Philippe De Ridder

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Arguably the finest managers to have coached in India, Belgium’s Philippe De Ridder has been away from action for some time now. The Federation Cup-winning former East Bengal coach’s last assignment was three months ago in Accra, Ghana to help the development of Crystal Palace Academy. Fondly called ‘Tintin of Brussels football’, de Ridder speaks to the Indian Express and shares his views on the pandemic-hit European Championship, the tactical nous of the managers, and his days in India.

The postponed Euro 2020

Here in Europe, the situation is getting better every day. Belgium, France, Portugal, Spain – everywhere we see improvement. The bars and restaurants are being opened with certain conditions. The economy is getting back to normal. People have been tired of lockdowns. The situation is much better now, we are following protocols like wearing a mask in public spaces, maintaining physical distances etc. The people will have to follow certain rules while watching matches from the stadium. Everybody respects the decision. From that point of view, it is okay to have spectators inside the stadium.

Every tournament has dark horses. Who could be the dark horses in this edition?

No team in this tournament will be a dark horse. But Portugal could spring a surprise.

Philippe de Ridder Philippe de Ridder with his trainees. (Special Arrangement)

Who will be your favourite team?

My bet would be on France. They are clear favourites. Now with Benzema joining the team, they will become a solid attacking force. Now, it is to be seen if they can perform according to their potential. To be among the best in the tournament, they must put aside their ego problem. I see them still going far but maybe … maybe not a champion.

What about Belgium?

Belgium is a top team. There’s no doubt about it. They should have beaten France in World Cup too. This current team is better than a couple of years ago. But they now have injury concerns to key players. Like Eden Hazard had spent some difficult time in Real Madrid. He got injured while playing against PSG (Hazard was tackled by PSG defender Thomas Meunier, a Belgium national player). Hazard has to be in top form when playing in such a big tournament. But he has not got time to recover. I do not think he can give his 100 percent this time. But we are hoping for the best. I wish I would be wrong. Another worry is Kevin De Bruyne who will be playing from the team’s second match as he too will not be at his usual best.

Belgium have worries in defence too. Vincent Kompany is no longer there. We have good players at the back who are ageing but their replacements are good too. Forwards and goalkeeping positions are okay for Belgium. But defence and midfield would be a worry. I’m a Belgian, I do not think this team can go very far in the tournament. But I wish they prove me wrong. But I hope Belgium coach Roberto Martinez would be able to bring out the best in the footballers.

Philippe de Ridder Philippe de Ridder (Special Arrangement)

Do you think that this Euro is going to be Cristiano Ronaldo’s last?

Ronaldo is fantastic. He is someone who can inspire the others of his generation. He has achieved number one status by working hard. I don’t think this Euro is going to be his last. Ronaldo is a living example. The way he prepares himself, he is surely at the top.

Why did you leave India after 2013?

After coaching in India for almost a decade, I wanted to take some challenge outside. I got offers from China, Georgia. As my guru (Pep) Guardiola said, you need to give yourself some rest, I wanted a break. I did not feel like coaching at that time. Last I was associated with a Spanish club. I was more like a director of development than being a coach. Then I travelled to Ghana and Senegal but as a technical person. I had enjoyed my time in India. At that time I did not find any project that would challenge me as a coach.

Are you still in touch with former footballers?

I did speak with Mehtab Hossain, Harmanjot Khabra. Baichung Bhutia was the most professional footballer of my time in India. He is a fantastic ambassador for Indian football. I wish him all the best in his future endeavours.

Are you aware of the developments in the East Bengal club?

I heard about East Bengal’s situation from my friends in Kolkata. For a club like East Bengal which has a huge fan base, management should be very accurate. I may offend my East Bengal supporters whom I love from the core of my heart but Mohun Bagan management is handling it much better. In East Bengal, it is just the opposite. In a club, officials should take responsibility just like coach and footballers. In Barcelona, we saw club president Josep Maria Bartomeu was removed. The success of a club depends on management. Right people should be put in the right position in a club structure. The art of management should be there.

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