Hi Marcos, before we speak about the national team maybe we can talk about hockey in Portugal? Portugal is not a country which is associated with hockey, what is it like in the league? How many people play hockey?
Hockey in Portugal is very small comparing to when I started playing at age 11, in my hometown club GDS Cascais. In that time there were more than 5000 players and a lot of clubs some of them very emblematic like FC Porto or Benfica Lisbon. Due to covid the number of players has dropped I would say below 500 and now it’s going up again with the new federation board. They are trying to build up more youth teams, and it is now more than 1000. The main league has 7 teams on the men’s and 4 on the women’s side, on the Youth Competition there are more clubs and schools/colleges/academies that are starting with youth teams U-8, U11, U16 etc, that creates a lot of fun for the younger players. The league is very small and not as competitive as it should be, the average age of a senior players is I would say around almost 30 years old, due to a lot of issues that also affect other countries. In overall hockey in Portugal is suffering from lack of players but also lack of infrastructures, there are only 3 dedicated hockey pitches and 2 of them have reach their lifetime, only 3 clubs have their own/municipal facilities. The costs to rent some of these pitches are very high. Comparing to others also if we see the economic side, hockey is not a cheap sport for the normal Portuguese Kid/Player, and in overall/worldwide I would say the sport of hockey is not growing and EHF and FIH and not taking the rights steps to overcome this momentum and problems that affect not only the lower ranked countries but also the big ones.
Is the sport growing?
Like described previously, its growing slowly, but how much can hockey grow in countries such as Portugal, Croatia, Slovakia, and so on, we are not big in numbers, Portugal is a football country, here the word hockey is related to roller hockey, that is a professional sport. It is not easy to attract people in our country to play hockey, there is a significant % of the Portuguese players that are foreigners, from NL, GER, ARG, UK, ESP, that are here for professional or academic reasons. This means that some of them are in Portugal for no more than 1, 2 or 3 years, and the rotation of this players in some clubs is a lot. Like I have said the sport hockey worldwide is facing grey times, a lot of uncertainty regarding what is the future of the sport. However, I’m sure that the Portuguese universe of hockey with the right steps by the federation has a lot of potential. With the right steps the clubs can reach in the coming decade 2000 Players, what would be very good for the sport.
Now lets get to the national team, do you have a nickname?
Ahhhh, of course. Everybody in Portugal and abroad knows me by my nickname which is PILHAS, translate it into English this means BATERIES. I have started in the national Team in 2002, as a 28 years old, in the men’s team. I was never in the youth national team path like others, and I have ended my career in the national team in 2011. I have played 103 matches overall indoor and Outdoor. After that I was having the role of assistant coach some of the times in the Women’s, Team, U21 and men’s team, for the moment I’m the Main Coach of the Portuguese National side, but I’m part of a team of 4 persons that overseas all the planning/training along with the Federation staff.
How was the tournament? Are you happy with the results?
The tournament was a bit frustrating at the Group stage we had the chance to be in the semifinals if we did not conceded some mistakes. This is the 3rd time we had ever played this B division and the difference to the C division is huge; the level, the type of teams, everything is completely different. All matches are very competitive, and we were facing teams ranked 20 spots above us. I think this new format of the Euros is good, for small countries in terms of logistic and funds difficult but good for the development of lower ranked teams. At the End we placed 7th, if we didn‘t have a bad result against Turkey, we would even place on 6th but the main thing is that we have grow in our path to what we want in the future. We have grown in our game, grown as a team inside and outside the pitch, and only playing this level we can grow more, and in overall end I’m quite happy because we have step forward as a team, and we have showed we can play and deserve to be in this division.
That sounds tough. Where do you see the future: what would be your dream in 5 years? Do you think we could see Portugal at the Olympic Games?
Not a chance, we must be realistic, I would say not one single team in the Championship that we have played in Dublin will be qualified for the Olympic games, Ireland probably is the only one that can achieve it, but even to reach there I would say its really really hard. It’s all about the environment and the background, to achieve an Olympic spot. The path to do it and how the FIH have made this, makes it very hard and almost impossible for countries like Portugal. For Portugal and other countries to be in an Olympic games via qualification a lot needs to be done. I would say in the near and far future this is impossible, even Pakistan and Korea sometimes did not qualify. It would be a dream to have Portugal in the Olympic games but for that we first must find our way to be in a Euro A division first, one day. It’s easier to go to a world cup because there are 16 teams than to the Olympic Games that are only 12 teams.
What are some of the challenges you face? I’m guessing that funding can be quite tough? Do you have enough to cover the travel and training costs?
This is the one of the big questions these days not only for Portugal but I would say even for the top countries. The FIH and EHF, deciding a calendar that is a heavy burden for everybody, Associations clubs, players etc. Even a team in the Portugese league is spending only for this an extra 1 Million€, so imagine a team like us. To prepare and find games, training camps, flights accommodation all of this, I would say an operation like Dublin is costing us a lot of money. The funds are coming from the government budget that must divided through all sports associations, with several criterias, number of players, results in international competitions, etc. even not being in the Olympic planning also gives us less funds, then there is no sponsoring for the Portuguese team. There are some supports from brands but without any money involved, like TK Sports for example. On top of this all the players and staff must take vacations to attend training camps and competitions, leave their jobs and family, only for the love of the sports and honour to the country and flag they are representing, we have players that are having almost no personal vacations in these days. It is very hard and lot has to be taken in consideration when preparing and planning a competition like this.
Where do your players play? Are many in Portugal, or are they based all over Europe?
We have a group of players that plays in some of the most important hockey countries in Europe, like Germany, Belgium and Holland, and others in the UK and Spain. Some of them in the first leagues, not only outdoor but also indoor. This gives us a very good spinal cord as we are talking about half a team, around 7-8 Players. The main problem is the difference we then find within the team, we have players come from very competitive leagues and then merging this with the player for the Portuguese league it’s not easy to find a balance between them. This has always one of our challenges each year when we start the preparation. The good thing is that we have been contacted by players that have Portuguese parents some of them already played for other countries that want to play for Portugal, and most of them can be a very good option to improve the level of the team.
Is there anything you would like to be known about Portugese hockey? Maybe some surprises or achievements you are particularly proud of?
I would say we would like to be known as a competitive team in all competitions we are in but for that there is a lot of work that needs to be done. We don’t have the tools and resources like other countries, but one thing is for sure, we are dedicated to the sport and people like to play and are proud to be in the national team. In 2024 we have a chance to return to the A division in indoor after more than 20 years, here we are much better than outdoor, due to the fact that a lot of generations in Portugal have started their hockey in indoor. I would even say, with the right planning we can achieve to be in an Indoor world Cup for the first time. This goal is much more realistic and achievable that the Olympic Games or World Cup. Austria is a good example who managed to first achieve succes in indoor and then continue the good work outdoor. So why not dream a little bit here, in would say if we achieved to go to the A division wining one of the Indoor Trophies next year probably, we could qualify for the next Indoor world Cup
Thank you so much for your time Marcos! We wish you and your squad the best of luck in all future endeavours!