Carlos Carvalhal: Eccentric architect of Swansea City's revival

Carlos Carvalhal
Carlos Carvalhal played for Portugal Under-21s before moving into coaching

He has compared player transfers to buying fish, discussed the philosophy of Descartes and handed out homemade custard tarts to journalists before a media conference.

Carlos Carvalhal is not your usual football manager.

There were a few raised eyebrows when Swansea, bottom of the Premier League and five points adrift of safety, turned to the Portuguese after sacking Paul Clement in December.

Just four days before moving to the Liberty Stadium, Carvalhal had left Sheffield Wednesday with the club 15th in the Championship, an underachievement for a side who had reached the play-offs in each of their previous two seasons.

Swansea, however, had earmarked the former Besiktas and Sporting Lisbon manager as early as 2015.

They trusted their instincts and, seven weeks later, their perceived gamble appears to be paying off handsomely.

Swansea are now out of the relegation zone, having won six, drawn four and lost only one of their 11 games under Carvalhal in all competitions.

As the 52-year-old puts it in his own inimitable style, the Swans are swimming to safety.

"Before we were in the deep of the ocean, we only saw fishes, stones and a lot of black things, but we can look to the coast now," he says.

"We start swimming now. Between now and the coast is still a long run, we must continue to swim a lot to be safe."

Swansea are a team transformed and, on Saturday, the architect of their revival returns "home" as he takes his new side to Sheffield Wednesday in the fifth round of the FA Cup.

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Carvalhal surprises reporters with Portuguese tarts

Philosophy football

Carvalhal took over at Wednesday in the summer of 2015, something of an unknown quantity in England but having managed extensively in Portugal and for a couple of seasons in Turkey.

Born in Braga in 1965, he enjoyed an accomplished playing career as a centre-back in the Portuguese top flight before starting life as a coach with second-tier Espinho in 1998.

Carvalhal's life has revolved around football but, as his whimsical analogies may suggest, he has a hinterland.

Before concentrating on a degree in sports science, he studied philosophy for a year at university in Braga, sparking his interest in the 17th-century French philosopher Descartes.

Broadly speaking, Carvalhal is interested in the "complex phenomena" of Cartesianism and its emphasis on interconnectivity - how he thinks his football teams should work.

"I understand that football is a complex phenomenon," Carvalhal says.

"If we understand the complexity, we will understand football a little better.

"Everything is connected. It's not just about one part that is important - motivational, physical or tactical. All the things must be connected and all of them are important."

Despite speaking animatedly about the subject, Carvalhal is at pains to point out he does not want the conversation to turn into a philosophical seminar.

In his words: "I am a football person."

Carvalhal's 'A' face and 'B' face

Ki (left) with Carlos Carvalhal
Carlos Carvalhal congratulates Ki Sung-yueng on his winning goal for Swansea against Burnley

Thanks to his colourful turns of phrase, Carvalhal has endeared himself to football fans further afield than Swansea and Sheffield.

He has described his substitutions as "putting all the meat in the barbecue", likened beating Liverpool to putting a Formula 1 car in traffic, and said he will not concern himself with thoughts of next season because he wants to "marry before thinking about the honeymoon".

Yet for all his eccentricities, the Portuguese is serious about coaching and he has turned Swansea's season around.

"He tells us he's got an 'A' face and a 'B' face," says the Swans' midfielder Ki Sung-yueng.

"Sometimes when you feel tension, he tells a lot of stories which make us laugh but when it's business, he's very serious.

"When we have a laugh, we laugh, but when we work, we concentrate.

"We want to keep the atmosphere happy, we want to maintain these performances until the end of the season and then we can stay up."

Carvalhal's novel approach has had the desired effect, with the players' enjoyment translating into vastly improved displays.

Before his arrival, Swansea had mustered only three wins in 20 Premier League games. They have won four in seven since.

The Swans are now playing with more conviction, keeping possession with crisper passing and a quicker tempo, scoring nine in seven league games compared to 13 in 20 beforehand.

"He has played a huge role in helping the team turn results around," says forward Andre Ayew, who rejoined Swansea for a club-record £18m on January transfer deadline day.

"He has style and a way of working and he believes in his plan. That is important for players. If you feel the boss knows his plans and is confident, it pushes you to follow the steps."

A big hug from an old friend at Hillsborough

Lee Bullen
Lee Bullen was placed in temporary charge of Sheffield Wednesday after Carlos Carvalhal left in December

Carvalhal is unequivocal about where Swansea's priorities lie: Premier League survival.

But his return to Sheffield Wednesday for Saturday's fifth-round FA Cup tie will be a distraction with a difference.

He is proud of his time in Yorkshire, guiding the Owls to the Championship play-off final in his first season and the semi-finals in his second.

The third campaign, however, proved more difficult, with some factions of the Wednesday support venting their fury about their team, languishing in mid table, and the manager.

Their calls for Carvalhal's dismissal were eventually answered but his assistant manager there, former Wednesday centre-back Lee Bullen, expects a warm welcome for his old friend at Hillsborough.

"I expect overall he'll get a very good reception," says Bullen.

"There was a small minority at the end of his time who were a bit frustrated but, overall, if they looked back at Carlos' time at the club in the cold light of day, they'll realise what a good job he did.

"He can certainly return with his head held high."

Bullen stayed at Wednesday after Carvalhal's departure and is now assistant to Jos Luhukay, though the two remain close.

Carvalhal promoted Bullen from his position as a coach with Wednesday's development team to his current role shortly after joining the club in 2015.

After a nomadic career which had seen him play in his native Scotland, China and Greece, Bullen had become a hugely popular figure as a player at Hillsborough before turning his attention to coaching.

It proved to be a sound decision by Carvalhal, giving him invaluable local knowledge and providing his new colleague with his first taste of coaching at a senior level.

The bond between Bullen and Carvalhal is clearly a strong one, so will the protege have any nice surprises planned for his friend's return? Maybe a special bottle of wine for their post-match drink?

"Absolutely not - he's getting nothing from us," Bullen says with a laugh.

"We're going to make it as cold and dowdy and as difficult as possible. And I'll give him a big warm hug at the end of the game if we beat them."

Carvalhal beams when I tell him about Bullen's plans, and the Swansea manager would not have it any other way.

"Absolutely. You can't mix personal things with professional things," he says.

"One thing is for before the game and another thing is for after the game.

"After your career maybe you have 10 friends that last all your life that have worked with you in football.

"Lee Bullen is one of those friends that will stay with me forever. It is about friendship, loyalty and commitment."

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