MUCH has been said of new Zimbabwe football coach Baltemar Brito’s close relationship with the celebrated tactician José Mourinho, one of the most colourful characters in world football.
Brazil-born Brito was an assistant coach under Mourinho at European clubs Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan between 2001 and 2010.
The new Warriors coach has publicly been referred to as a “good friend” by Mourinho – a winner of two European Champions League trophies among a glut of other silverware.
And now at the advanced age of 71, Brito will in the next few days make his debut as an international coach following his interim appointment by a Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) temporary committee in September.
A month before landing the job, Brito had told local reporters that Mourinho encouraged him to apply for the vacant Zimbabwe position ahead of World Cup qualifiers beginning next week, the Roma boss showing trust in his acquaintance’s ability to turn around the fortunes of a country that has never qualified for the game’s biggest global showpiece.
Brito initially arrived in Zimbabwe in 2022 to coach club giants Highlanders, the country’s oldest domestic team, before he was handed the additional responsibility of the national side until July 2024.
Zimbabwe open their quest for a maiden World Cup appearance away to Rwanda on Wednesday at Huye Stadium in Butare, a small provincial town some 130-km from the capital city Kigali. Due to an international ban on Zimbabwe’s substandard stadiums, the Warriors will then stay put in Rwanda to host continental power Nigeria next Sunday to wrap back-to-back fixtures on the first week of the qualifiers.
It is the clash between Zimbabwe and Nigeria that appear to have a more interesting twist, in both teams’ dugouts, quite a distinctly Portuguese flavour to it.
If Mourinho’s endorsement had any sway over Zimbabwe’s decision to hire Brito, you will find the Special One’s hand even more visible in Nigeria’s appointment of José Peseiro as the Super Eagles coach.
The 63-year-old Portuguese was initially revealed as new Nigeria coach in December 2021, with the then Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) president Amaju Pinnick confirming to authoritative Nigerian newspaper, Punch, that “he met with Roma coach, Jose Mourinho, over the choice of manager for the Super Eagles.”
In November 2022, Pinnick said similar remarks, telling the Nigerian Daily Post that “Peseiro was recommended to the soccer body by Mourinho.”
Peseiro himself lavished high praise on Mourinho, crediting his fellow countryman with assisting Portuguese coaches to make their mark on the world stage.
“I’ve worked with him and we are good friends. He has proven to have enthusiasm and motivation over the years,” Peseiro told Tuttomercatoweb.
“He opened the door for many Portuguese coaches, proving that we have a strong school. We all have to thank him.
“At first, he won without money at Porto, then he became a fighter. He has created something everywhere he’s gone, bringing enthusiasm, attention, and results.”
Last month, the Super Eagles gaffer revealed how he 20 years ago sought a career-changing advice from Mourinho, one of the most decorated football coaches of the modern era.
Peseiro served as an assistant coach at Real Madrid in the 2003-04 season under former Manchester United manager Carlos Queiroz, who he calls his “old teacher.”
Because he was head coach of Portuguese outfit Nacional at the time, Peseiro told another Nigerian publication that he initially found it difficult to decide whether to accept the offer or not, as joining the Spanish and European giants meant him becoming somebody else’s right-hand man.
Peseiro however made up his mind following a phone call to Mourinho, who advised him: “Go. Because you can learn a lot there.”
It is indeed a unique Portuguese network because while Zimbabwe’s Brito hails from Brazil, he calls Portugal home, having been groomed in their football system and spending most of his adult life there.
So while the Warriors and the Eagles will fight tooth-and-nail for the crucial points at Butare, there will be no shortage of Portuguese pleasantries on the touch-line.