Have Port Vale made the right choice by appointing Bruno Ribeiro?

Have Port Vale made the right choice by appointing Bruno Ribeiro?

After a month of speculation, uncertainty and excitement at potential managerial appointments, it was “The Recommended One” now revealed to be José Mourinho’s close friend Bruno Ribeiro, who was given Norman Smurthwaite’s blessing to become the new manager of Port Vale. He has signed a three-year contract, and was officially unveiled at a press conference on Monday 20th July.

He is joined at the club by new assistant manager Peter Farrell, who was once a record signing for the Valiants during his playing days and in terms of coaching pedigree has previously served as Number Two to Uwe Rosler during his time at Brentford. Vale’s veteran midfielder Michael Brown; once a team-mate of Ribeiro at Sheffield United, has been promoted to first team coach.

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Ribeiro’s track record is an interesting one, including the fact that he has never managed in the UK prior to taking the reins at Vale Park. He has however had experience of the English game during his playing days when he left home-town club Vitoria Setubal to head to Leeds United in 1997. Two years later, he would join Sheffield United where he would play alongside his current colleague at Vale Park, Michael Brown.

His home-town club Setubal also gave him his break in management in the Portuguese top flight, before stints in the lower divisions in his home country with Farense, Moura, Pinhalnovense and Academico Viseu. His only coaching experience outside Portugal came in Bulgaria with Ludogorets Razgrad last summer, where he remained until September. He has never stayed at more than one club for more than a matter of months.

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So, considering his links with Mourinho, and potentially therefore with Manchester United despite his underwhelming track record, is the appointment of Ribeiro a masterstroke by Chairman Norman Smurthwaite, or potentially somewhat of a gamble?

His lack of experience in English football management certainly seems to have divided opinion amongst supporters, with some finding cause for much excitement and optimism, and others not holding their breath on any progress.

A first-time manager in English football from abroad certainly is a risk in the lower leagues; there can be no illusions on that. However, all coaches require a springboard, and something about Mourinho’s man obviously made Smurthwaite think that this was the right call to make.

Having finally got his man, Smurthwaite said of the Portuguese coach:

“I’m very pleased to be able to announce Bruno as the club’s new manager. It has been a long and extensive process, but I am absolutely certain that we have the right man for the job”.  

Having finally filled the vacancy after previous manager Rob Page departed for Northampton, the Chairman has immediately set about bringing a buzz back to Vale Park that has been waning in recent seasons amidst enforced budget cuts. Smurthwaite has however assured supporters that his new manager would receive his full backing, with an increased budget closer to that of the £2.4 million issued in the club’s first season back in the third tier in 2013-14.

With the confirmation of his new manager, Smurthwaite has also declared success will not be regarded by the club as “punching above its weight”, describing the term “painful upon hearing”, and that everyone at the club following Ribeiro’s appointment will be working tirelessly to propel the Valiants into the top six of League One, in an interview with BBC Radio Stoke.

Smurthwaite has also appreciated the sentiment of risk amongst many supporters, and stated that should the worst happen regarding Ribeiro’s appointment, the financial windfall would be covered fully.

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The new man himself certainly seems to be saying all the right things in the eyes of most Valiants ahead of his maiden season in English football. Interviewed shortly after his unveiling as manager, Ribeiro described Port Vale as a “Championship club”, whilst also praising the facilities.

Ribeiro’s ambition from the offset has been outlined as promotion to the second tier. Rather sensibly, he wasn’t bold enough to promise it this season, but over the duration of his three-year contract he declared “in these next three years, we, together, will take this club to the Championship”.

Ribeiro was also willing to discuss his transfer plan. He stated in his own radio interview with BBC Radio Stoke following the press conference that thirteen players from “other top flights in Europe” would be arriving at the club to hold talks about signing over the coming weeks, and this was confirmed by Norman Smurthwaite on Twitter.

Understandably, this has raised some anxiety amongst supporters regarding the scale of the gamble the Chairman has taken. The prospect of a foreign manager, and potentially a team bolstered with foreign players having to adjust to the pace of the English lower leagues is a cause for some concern, particularly in the opening weeks of the season.

Ribeiro however has played down the idea that he would be looking to create a legion of foreign players at the club, and hinted more at the fact he is seeking out quality to improve the club, rather than simply bring in players from overseas.

“I want players who will give 200 percent for the club”, Ribeiro said. “I want a player who will not just play for himself, but will play for this club.”

The new boss also had an answer for supporters regarding his previous track record.

“I feel that now I am in my place. I love England and I love the football in this country. In Portugal it is very difficult operating outside of the top three teams. Many of my players were not paid for four or five months and it was a difficult situation.

“During my last job at Viseu, there wasn’t even water provided to the players during training. I need quality facilities and provisions for the training, thus I only stayed there for three weeks. Here I have three years, and we have the infrastructure to get to work and get this club into the Championship”.

The fact that the inexperienced 40-year-old has an assistant beside him who knows the English game could well prove critical. This man, Peter Farrell, and Michael Brown have been working closely with Ribeiro already and have been involved in identifying the targets who will be heading into the club over the coming weeks.  Farrell has a history of working with the academy at Bolton Wanderers, and of course served under Uwe Rosler at Brentford.

Farrell is known for a philosophy of working with the ball daily and encouraging creativity, which is undoubtedly the style of play he will be building alongside Ribeiro at Vale Park. His knowledge of the lower divisions will be a huge advantage in terms of recruitment and helping the new manager find the right blend of players from the English lower leagues to help bolster his team and bed in new signings from abroad.

It will undoubtedly prove important in getting the club to hit the ground running under the new coach, despite his lack of knowledge regarding the lower divisions. His and Brown’s contacts will be important as far as identifying English players is concerned, whilst the club will use Ribeiro’s knowledge of the European leagues to tap into foreign pools of players.

One aspect in particular regarding the new manager that helped tip the scales for Smurthwaite in making his decision, and an important factor in winning over many supporters, is Ribeiro’s close friendship with ‘The Special One’, José Mourinho. It certainly helps to have allies in high places, and the privilege of calling the man running the show at Old Trafford a friend takes some beating in that regard.

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The new manager has indeed hinted at the possibility of calling upon Mourinho if required regarding the possibility of loaning players from Manchester United, but not as a priority as he begins to assemble a squad to challenge in League One next season.

The connection between the two has sparked much speculation amongst fans regarding the possibility of Mourinho sending United’s youngsters to ply their trade in the lower leagues at Vale Park next season.

Both Mourinho and his compatriot hail from Setubal, and of course “The Recommended One” was initially put forward as a contender for the post by The Special One himself.  Ribeiro’s priority though will be permanent signings before he looks to his close friend for the possibility of loan deals to bolster his new squad.

“We are looking for the players that we need and afterwards we will decide what is best- some players in on loan, or not”, he said. “If I feel I need some players from Manchester United, I will call him. Whether or not he can help is no problem, but for now looking for our own players is more important”. 

Despite it not being a priority during the opening weeks of his tenure, there is good reason why building a relationship with the Premier League giants could be something the club may pursue in future. The prospect of youngsters coming to the club from the top flight is of course exciting for Vale supporters. Away from this, Mourinho and co. would certainly reap the benefits from ensuring their fruits of the Carrington production line are getting valuable game-time and experience in the lower divisions, something former Vale manager Rob Page was keen to do with the club’s own academy stars during his stint in charge.

It will be interesting for fans of both clubs to see whether such a relationship does indeed come to fruition considering the close friendship between the two coaches.

Although inquiries for players are already underway, Norman Smurthwaite has declared that he would like the club to make better use of the loan market over the coming season. Ribeiro and his back-room staff however will need to be astute in their approach, for with changes to the loan system ready to be implemented during the coming season, clubs will be unable to take youngsters on month-to-month loans and instead will be required to make full or half season signings.

This of course will bring inevitable competition for the most promising youngsters, but could prove advantageous in deterring some other clubs around the lower divisions from taking the chance, and this is a decision that Ribeiro and his staff will have to mull over.

For the club, the first gamble has already been taken in this appointment, and it spells a complete change of direction for the club and a very fresh way of conducting business on and off the field. With Ribeiro’s ambitions outlined and his exciting transfer policy out in the open for supporters, there is reason for optimism that the club could be a long-term home for the Portuguese coach and be a place where he can begin to construct a dynasty.

Stability at Vale Park is something supporters have been desperate for since returning to League One, in the hopes of consolidating and pushing forward to the next level to mount a serious challenge for the top six and therefore the Championship.

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An inexperienced manager would always be a risk, but it seems that Norman Smurthwaite has shown sleight of hand in getting the necessary experience in the backroom alongside him from the beginning, and already started the blueprints for recruitment and building a squad capable of challenging for promotion over the next three years.

It is a gamble, but with all the positivity from Ribeiro’s opening day in charge, the experience at his side and his connections in higher echelons of the game, there is no reason to believe that this bold, new endeavour, and indeed rather a pioneering one for a League One club, is destined for failure.

Disciples of The Special One of course have succeeded in English football before. Carlos Carvalhal steered Sheffield Wednesday to the Championship play-off final in his first season in charge, and Aitor Karanka – another ally of Mourinho – took Middlesbrough back to the Premier League in 2015/16 after a seven-year absence for the North East outfit.

Only time will tell if Norman Smurthwaite’s biggest roll of the dice at Port Vale is destined to pay off, and whether Mourinho’s latest ace is to succeed in the English game.

If met with success the rewards for Port Vale could be staggering. If not, then it may be back to the drawing board once again and the second tier may seem a whole world away once more. Though one thing is for certain, it is the dawn of a new era at Vale Park, and this potentially exciting new season is one that the majority of Vale supporters simply cannot wait for.

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