RECORD – He turns 70 today. Can you take stock of your career, including your seasons as a player?
LÁSZLÓ BÖLÖNI – Unfortunately 70 years have passed [risos]… I think I built a beautiful career. As a player I went international from Romania and, later, I became the coach of my country. In the first phase, playing, I won the European Cup [pelo Steaua Bucareste em 1986, numa final frente ao Barcelona] and the European Super Cup[1-0 ao Dínamo Kiev]. I didn’t win everything, but I’m proud of my accomplishments. What I have achieved makes me very satisfied.
R – Of all the titles, which one makes you most proud?
LB – I have to say he was winning the European Cup. It was a great achievement, even at world level, that final against Barcelona, which we won on penalties [0-0, 2/0]. As a coach, I am very proud to come from Romania and succeed in Western football. This data demonstrates the value of my work and surpasses all other things. I managed to carry out my work in France, Portugal, Belgium… It was something difficult but I managed it and I am very happy about it. Then there are also the titles and cups I won at Sporting and Standard. They are also very important memories for me.
R – By the way, what made you accept Sporting in 2001?
LB – Before accepting the position of Romanian coach, I had already worked in French football and I really liked it. For me, the French league is among the four best in the world. It is normal to say that the best football is played in England, Italy and Germany, but French football is at the same level as these leagues. After leaving the national team I thought that if I had the opportunity to return to Western football, I would take it quickly. There were also personal factors that led me to accept Sporting’s offer at that time.
R – Were you surprised by the quality of the team, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Quaresma…
LB – [interrompe a pergunta] We must remember that, at the stage I met them, they were not yet mature players. They were young and at a lower level. At Sporting, I had really great players like João Vieira Pinto, Rui Jorge, Paulo Bento, Pedro Barbosa, who were already great. Then there was Jardel, who had a fantastic season, and Niculae himself. I had really good players and I also had the courage to bring in youngsters like Hugo Viana – I think he was the first, Custódio, Quaresma and Ronaldo… That was my second great satisfaction at Sporting: after I got these youngsters and I started working with them from my arrival. I was very happy to see them reach the National team, and some even at the highest level worldwide, like Cristiano Ronaldo. This work was only possible because of the courage shown by me and the management at that time. Together we managed to form a very valuable generation of players for Sporting.
R – During this time, did you ever think that you would have to give so many interviews talking about Ronaldo?
LB – I never thought about that. It was a great joy to see a young man who I gave a chance to break into the first team so young and succeed. Ronaldo immediately showed a lot of courage and a lot of enthusiasm in the work he was doing and that helped me tap into his innate talent.
R – About Hugo Viana, he currently holds the position of sporting director at Sporting. Have you ever imagined him in these roles?
LB – Yes, I imagined it. He and Cristiano Ronaldo already had a lot of maturity, in fact it was this maturity of the two that surprised me when I started working with them. Hugo Viana had an excellent left foot and, apart from his footballing quality, both he and Cristiano Ronaldo already had that maturity. Ronaldo, Quaresma and Viana looked like children in the dressing room, but later, on the pitch, they proved to be grown men. About Viana, he managed to create a list of knowledge because he has always been a very intelligent person. I met him again after many years at the Emirates and, at the time, I was immediately convinced that Viana was going to return as a coach at Sporting. I remember that in that conversation he was already speaking like a young leader who, despite his age, also showed great experience. We never guess what will happen in the future, but I vividly remember talking to a very intelligent person who is still endowed with very deep human qualities.
R – After 20 years he continues to be fondly remembered by fans. Do you wish you had stayed longer?
LB – This question did not come up. I had a good offer to work at Sporting, I developed my job and returned to France to pursue my career. Portugal was a chapter I closed, but I kept in touch with Sporting and Miguel Ribeiro Telles [ex-presidente da SAD] who is an excellent person. I also continued to follow Ronaldo’s career as he won Ballon d’Or after Ballon d’Or – and continued to break all the records – as well as that of other players. Honestly, I never thought they would go so many years without winning a league after I left, as it is an important club for millions of Portuguese people. Sporting stayed in my heart.
R – Can you name the game that gave you the most pleasure to win in Portugal and explain why?
LB – The first derby against Porto, which we won 1-0 with a goal from Niculae. This is hard to forget [risos]. It’s hard to choose because at Sporting we won a lot of games. The wins against Boavista were also difficult because the club was very strong at the time. We won and lost games against Benfica and Porto, but I also remember the last derby with Benfica, played at the Estádio Nacional, which we won 2-1. What my last derby was like is unforgettable for me, but I challenge the Sporting fans to choose the best.
R – And who was the player you enjoyed training the most?
LB – This question is very difficult. I have already mentioned a group of more experienced players, who were then close to 30 years old, such as Rui Jorge, João Pinto, Beto, Barbosa… We are talking about internationals who played in World Cups. Good players are those who resist and stay at the highest level for years and then add a set of human qualities to that skill. It would be a mistake to pick one, because then I had this youth group. Cristiano is great, but I also had my Mustang, Quaresma, with whom I had a strong relationship. And I can’t forget Hugo Viana. It is true that Ronaldo broke all the records, but for me everything was excellent. I can only say that everyone helped Sporting stay in my heart. Of course I respect Porto and Benfica, they are two fantastic clubs, but Sporting for me will always be the best.