Comment and Analysis @ghostgoal
Jose Gomes exclusive interview: On Reading, Maritimo and more
With Jose Gomes seemingly on the brink of a move to Spanish side Almeria, Adam Bate caught up with the former Reading boss to find out how he guided Maritimo to safety in Portugal and how he reflects now on his time spent in the Championship…
Last Updated: 27/07/20 5:18pm
When Portuguese football contemplated its return following the coronavirus crisis, the idea of the season being played out at neutral grounds was floated. But there was nothing neutral about that proposal as far as Maritimo were concerned.
The club is based in Funchal on the island of Madeira, some 1000km away from the mainland.
Maritimo made their case and were eventually allowed to retain their home advantage, albeit without their supporters present in the stadium. Two months on, their unbeaten home record after the restart includes a victory over the mighty Benfica.
For the former Reading manager Jose Gomes, who assumed control with the team struggling back in November, Maritimo's form was a vindication of their stubbornness.
"From the beginning, we fought to play our games at home," Gomes tells Sky Sports.
"The football organisations put it on the table that maybe it was better to play in just five or six stadiums on the mainland. But we have a beautiful stadium and no [deaths from the] virus at all in Madeira so we fought for it.
"Even without fans, it is important to play in your stadium. Going away for 60 days away from the family would be a disaster. We knew that and we did not accept it. Our president was really brave in how he fought with the organisations."
How the supporters would have cherished being there for the 2-0 win over Benfica.
"That was special," says Gomes, "because we really needed the points and were facing the champions. The way that we organised ourselves defensively and exploited Benfica's weaknesses was fantastic."
The away form was not too shabby either. Back-to-back away wins in early July mean that a team that ranked in the bottom four prior to the restart, and at risk of relegation, were ranked among the top four after eight games of life after the restart.
Gomes worked hard on the fitness of his team. "It is part of my blood," he says, in reference to his time as a fitness coach under former Porto and Benfica boss Jesualdo Ferreira.
But he puts the turnaround down to a tactical change too.
"I like to build football from the back and give my players the chance to enjoy the game with possession and for the supporters to enjoy the quality of our game," Gomes explains.
"But somehow we always gave the opponent that small space to score and it was very difficult for the players to cope with that while keeping the same personality that is required to play this sort of game.
"So I decided to protect a bit our defensive line and keep the same idea but with one central defender more. The process is the same, the idea is the same, but we are more protected with one more defender at the back and it is still 3-4-3 when we attack.
"The players have shown that they feel more comfortable playing like that."
Gomes' success in steadying the ship at Maritimo will come as welcome news to his admirers among the Reading support, still grateful for his role in guiding the club to safety in the Championship last season.
Reading were only one place off the bottom when Gomes arrived just before Christmas in 2018, and facing the prospect of relegation to the third tier for the first time in almost two decades, but the Portuguese was able to galvanise the club in quick time.
"When I arrived things were terrible. The worst problem was that we could not feel any hope from anywhere. Even from the fans, the players, the board of directors. Everyone felt that we had no chance so it was a big challenge.
"We arrived at Christmas so it was games, games, games. Every two or three days we played again and again so there was no time to breathe. At the same time, there were so many important decisions to make. It was tough.
"Maybe for some players it was not fair because I reduced the number of players a lot. But it was something I had to do. It was not a choice because if you have too many players in the squad, after five or six games some players still have not played even one single minute.
"The result is that they do not feel part of a solution. This is a problem for a squad. The players must feel part of the solution. When we reduced the number of players, all the players felt part of the solution and the spirit felt completely different."
"We changed the team's organisation and the way that we played. We convinced the players to play in a different way that was better for us. Luckily, they bought into our idea and were a big part of everything we achieved. The fans started coming and believing and helping our players to give their maximum to save the club and that is what happened."
Gomes departed in October after a slow start to the following season when new players arrived too late to be brought up to speed. But his relationship with Reading remains strong and he left with fond memories - particularly thanks to the Portugal Day that was arranged for the final game of the season against Birmingham to honour his contribution.
"It was very special," he recalls. "I will keep this forever in my heart because when I heard them talking about it I thought that maybe it would be two or three guys with our flag but it was not like that. Part of the stand looked like a national team game with green and red on their faces and flags everywhere. It was a very nice moment.
"I have a fabulous relationship with the club and the people over there, the fans. They know that I really enjoyed my time at the club. I have a special feeling for them."
Indeed, it was such a positive experience that the prospect of a future return to English football is never too far from his mind. His time at Reading enhanced his reputation in the country, while his impact at Maritimo underscores his coaching ability. It seems that the next challenge will be in Spain with Almeria but he is not done with English football yet.
"You cannot feel the atmosphere anywhere more than in England," he says. "The way that people live football in England is different. It is special. It is like before the family plans are made, they need to know when the team is playing. Afterwards they make the family plans. We cannot find this anywhere else, you know, even in South America.
"I want to be there again one day and I will be there again one day."