HAVING HELD 22 separate managerial positions across 17 different Portuguese football clubs throughout his long and continuing career as a manager, Vítor Manuel Oliveira has proven himself to have an extraordinary and irrepressible nomadic streak. Impressive as his commitment to his peripatetic tendencies is, though, the 63-year-old is known throughout his country for far more than just his wanderlust.
Over the course of his 30-year career, Oliveira has brought to his country’s second tier an unparalleled prolificacy; achieving promotion on no less than 10 occasions, including an unprecedented five in a row in his last five seasons.
After calling time on his comparatively banal playing career in June 1985 at the age of 31, the midfielder was quickly installed at the helm of his most recent playing club, who just so happen to be the club he manages today: Portimonense. But during this first managerial appointment, Oliveira evidenced next to none of the tactical nouse he would later become known for and he soon found himself seeking alternative employment.
After a brief spell with Futebol Clube da Maia, Oliveira became manager of Paços de Ferreira, with whom he achieved the first of many promotions at the end of his third full season with Os Castores. Oliveira led his team to the Portuguese second tier title and was able to ensure they retained their newfound first division status the following season, rapidly improving his reputation and earning him a three-year spell as manager of established top tier side Gil Vicente, before taking the reigns at Vitória Guimarães.
Oliveira’s spell with Guimarães proved far from favourable and within less than a year he’d set sail again, this time to head up an ambitious project at Académica. His move to the city of Coimbra proved inspired as it was there Oliveira gained his second promotion, guiding Académica to the top tier after finishing third in the 1996/97 edition of what was then named the Segunda Divisão.
Oliveira remained with Académica for just one more season following their promotion before opting for another change of scenery, taking on the manager’s job at União de Leiria. There he stayed for a solitary campaign, a spell just long enough to guide his team to the league title and, of course, promotion to the Primeira Liga.
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After his time with União de Leiria came the chance to manage Braga, an opportunity which clearly indicated Oliveira’s flourishing fame throughout his home country. However, this position played out only as another short and rather sour spell with a top tier staple and so, after just three months and 14 fixtures, Oliveira set his sights south once more, geographically and competitively. He longed for a return to the division he had come to know so intimately.
Just a few weeks shy of Christmas in 1998, Oliveira became manager of Belenenses and, by the end of their first season together, O Belém had secured a runners-up place in the league and with it an immediate return to the top tier – their first promotion in almost a decade and Oliveira’s fourth in nine seasons.
Then came something of a barren spell, the worst of Oliveira’s career to date. The coach made few amendments to his tried and tested philosophy, continuing to abide by his club-hopping credo, ducking in and out of short-lived spells with clubs old and new – Rio Ave, Gil Vicente, Académica, Moreirense – but with none could replicate his recent success.
He was able to buck the becoming trend in the 2006/07 campaign when his second season with Leixões brought about his fifth promotion, but then came another six years of relative hardship, spells with União de Leiria, Trofense and Desportivo das Aves that brought scant success.
Fortunately for Oliveira, the unlikely situation that had become his one promotion in the space of 12 seasons was to be the precursor to a complete shift in fortunes as his move to Arouca in 2011 heralded an astoundingly successful period, even by his own previously lofty standards.
Oliveira steered Arouca to second place, secured his sixth promotion, then almost immediately stepped down in pursuit of a second spell at Moreirense. Faring far better than his last spell with the Minho-based club, with Moreirense Oliveira claimed second-tier title number four, along with his seventh promotion, then stepped down again and repeated his time-honoured process to an absurd level of success over the following three seasons.
União da Madeira were the next lucky recipients of the veteran’s close-your-eyes-and-point-at-the-map technique of job finding as they secured his services in the summer of 2014 and with it a seemingly inevitable promotion in the following season. Sure enough, tradition continued as they finished the very next campaign as runners-up, joining a cast featuring no fewer than nine of their coach’s exes in the top tier.
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By the time their opening first division fixture had rolled into town, Oliveira had already upped sticks again and was making eyes at headlining yet another promotion party, this time with Chaves. Together the experienced manager and the Flavienses under his tutelage secured Oliveira’s fourth promotion in as many years with another second-place finish.
Then, on the eve of Portugal’s most recent domestic season, Oliveira brought his three-decade-long managerial career full circle by joining the club with whom his grand journey first began: Portimonense. And how exactly did his old club fare with Oliveira at the helm? They achieved promotion, of course, as their division’s champions no less.
As the post-season draws closer into view and the month of May – the month in which Oliveira has departed as many as nine clubs, over the years – passes by, the allure of a sixth promotion in six years must entice the record-breaking coach like no other temptation.
Yet it appears Oliveira’s days of rebuffing the top league in favour of lower league success may have been put behind him as the coach recently took to quashing any rumours of another vintage resignation-promotion one-two in a public interview with Portuguese network Sport TV, delivering the most concise of statements regarding his future in which he said in no uncertain terms: “I’m going to continue in Portimão.”
How long exactly Oliveira will be able to stifle his inevitable impulse to drop a division in pursuit of another promotion-winning season will remain to be seen. It is likely his motivation to move again will depend heavily upon just how high he is able to climb the Primeira Liga with his beloved Portimonense. That, after all, remains one ascent he has yet to conquer.
But whether another change of scenery, and the likely following promotion, materialises or not shan’t matter all that much those keeping score in the Portuguese football record books. Were he to retire tomorrow morning, Oliveira’s achievements are sure to be safe for some time yet.
By Will Sharp @shillwarp