Don’t let his distinctive Scouse accent fool you. Aaron Barton (@aaronbartonUK) is an expert on all things Portuguese when it comes to the ‘Beautiful Game’, and runs Proxima Jornada (@proximajornada1) – the only dedicated football journalism site devoted solely to Portuguese football and their players.
His hard-work and determination has seen him and his team nominated for the prestigious Best New Content Creator award in the 2020 Football Content Awards. I spent some time with him to discuss why Portuguese football captured his heart, and chew the fat over some of the Portuguese Blues we’ve seen gracing Stamford Bridge (or not, as the case may be), over recent years.
Rob: Hi Aaron, a delight to talk to you and many congratulations on your nomination. So, the big question: Why Portuguese Football and how did the love affair begin?
Aaron: I see it as a chance to represent Portuguese football and push it forward to the mainstream audience. I’m looking forward to the FCAs to be honest, just being nominated is amazing but I’m not sure about the chances of the award.
Rob: On that note, I apologise in advance for my pronunciation of Portuguese player names! So take me back to the beginning – how did you become enthralled by Portugal?
Aaron: It started around the 2003/04 season, watching Jose Mourinho’s Porto and also the European Championships in Liverpool. I used to have football kits from around the world. My mum worked for Liverpool (even though I’m an Evertonian!) and she would pick my up kits from opponents of Liverpool when she travelled around Europe. Most notably I remember having AC Milan kits from Istanbul and Athens.
When it came around the 2004 Euros, she asked which kit I wanted for a European kit and I loved the Portugal kit. They had talent all over the pitch and young talent coming through: names like Deco, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Figo, Paulo Ferreira. It was a match made in heaven and I absolutely loved them.
Rob: I imagine it became difficult when they faced England in that tournament?
Aaron: I was fully Portuguese for that game! There is a funny story about it actually – my mum went to JJB Sports next to the Liverpool FC store and picked up a Portugal flag, she said ‘hang it up in your room’ and was very supportive. Obviously both teams met in the knockout stage and our street were all flying England flags out of the window. So, the day before the match, I woke up at midnight and opened the window and hung the Portugal flag out. The next day the game happened and my mum went ballistic! But she was overall very supportive and it carried on into the later years, and we played England again in 2006.
Rob: And presumably a short time after this, you got interested in the club sides?
Aaron: Yes, around the age of 13 or 14. I started getting invested in the club football, but I couldn’t watch games anywhere. There wasn’t anywhere near as much online streaming as now and you couldn’t find something by using a search engine. It was difficult, just keeping up with international games because although I wanted to find out about the club sides, I couldn’t watch them.
Rob: What was the catalyst for the interest in club football in Portugal?
Aaron: It was the 2004 Porto team. They are my entry point and my team. When they won the Champions League and Jose Mourinho came to England, with players like Ricardo Carvalho, it was amazing to see. By 2009-10 I was full invested in the club football and catching any games I could.
I was constantly checking streaming rights to find out. Matches were previously on BT Sport, but now they are on Freesports. By the age of 16 or 17, I was going into 6th Form and looking at flights. I’d been to Portugal before with my family, but I wanted to go on my own volition.
In the Europa League in 2015, Borussia Dortmund played Porto and I know I had to go. I texted my brother-in-law and told him I could find two tickets (they were overpriced as they were being sold on), and we went to Porto. It was incredible – Porto lost but it was still an incredible moment.
Rob: Do you think it’s the passion for football is why it’s stuck so much?
Aaron: As a kid, when you are into something, it’s a phase or a fad usually. An example – I loved the Rocky films when I was younger and was super invested – I haven’t watched them now for 15 years. It was a phase. Portuguese football hasn’t been the same story, it has never left me. I have a love for the game and I’ve expanded it more as there has been more interest in it and more facilities to watch games, the expansion of TV rights and more money. Players coming to the Premier League is a dream come true.
I loved it back then and I’ve only built on it. That’s why I started Proxima Jornada and we’ve already grown so much in just one year and eight months.
Rob: I totally agree on your comments. You mentioned Jose’s Porto and obviously, the Special One came to Chelsea afterwards and brought Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira with him. Why were these signings so important in establishing that dominant Chelsea side of 2004 to 2007? Do they typify the ideal ‘Mourinho player’?
Aaron: For the Mourinho player archetype, I’d say yes and no. Let’s start with Carvalho. There is a big misconception about Carvalho that he was very young when he joined and people speak of him as this unknown player. They suggest Jose turned him into what he was.
This is a defender who was 9th in Balon D’Or in 2004, was named in the UEFA Team of the Year, Champions League Team of the Year, Euro 2004 Team of the Tournament – everyone was after him!
Chelsea signed him at the beginning of the dominance under Roman and I think English fans view him as a typical Portuguese defender and the perfect Jose player. A great compliment to John Terry, with a little bit more flair. I do have to say though, people see John Terry as the ‘Captain, Leader, Legend’, but it is worth remembering that Carvalho was 26/27 and Terry was 23/24. People see Terry as the classic English defender who put his body on the line.
Rob: I agree, and that I think detracts from Carvalho a little bit?
Aaron: Exactly. Carvalho was still imposing and still a big player – just not as bulky as Terry. He admitted the physicality took him by surprise, but I think this detracts from his ability, instinct, speed and intelligence. His reading of the game was phenomenal. He couldn’t just throw his head on the line so that cliché of bulldog spirit was replaced by footballing intelligence.
When you watch clips, you’ll always see the positions he found himself in was with the right side of the ball, and he’d always known what was behind him. Some central defenders can look static when the ball is played over the top. You couldn’t do that with Ricardo Carvalho. That’s why he was so important to Chelsea and Porto’s successes.
Rob: What about Paulo Ferreira?
Aaron: Paulo Ferreira is an interesting case because was originally the archetype wide midfielder. Jose was responsible for moving him back; he saw that Ferreira was good going forward and good defensively so he said ‘okay, let’s work on what you are good at’. He was athletic, could track back and could tackle well. It’s worth remembering that Jose thought there were better wide midfielders at Porto, hence why he moved him back.
Rob: That’s interesting, as Chelsea fans always know him as a more conservative full back.
Aaron: Right, as Chelsea had the money go out and buy world class wingers like Arjen Robben or Damien Duff. I think Paulo Ferreira still doesn’t get enough credit off other fans.
Chelsea fans still rate him highly and whenever Proxima Jornada post about him, there is always a lot of good will towards him, he was solid and always a 7 or 8 out of 10. But outside of the Chelsea and Portugal bubble, he doesn’t get enough respect.
I speak for the FC Porto fans: it was a massive blow to lose him and Ricardo Carvalho in one window.
Rob: I know we’re going to speak about Jose in more detail later, but just quickly, your thoughts on him signing both of those so early in his Chelsea reign?
Aaron: In bringing these Porto players to the Premier League, Jose Mourinho showed he had faith in the players by bringing in players of his own nationality. You can see this nowadays with Nuno Espirito Santo and Wolves.
Mourinho was the trailblazer with this sixteen years ago as the convention was to sign Premier League tried-and-tested players. He was very thrifty, picking up players who were cast off like Deco and turning them into ‘Mourinho Players’.
Players wanted to do well for him because he was very good at generating the ‘us against them mentality.’
Rob: Of course, it doesn’t always work out brilliantly for Portuguese Blues. Let’s discuss Fabio Paim: too much, too soon, or just overhyped? Is he Portugal’s Freddy Adu?
Aaron: Fabio Paim. Wow. It’s just. What a story, what a sad story, it’s actually very melancholic.
I’m aware some fans might not be familiar with Fabio Paim. He was tipped to be the ‘next Cristiano Ronaldo’. Supposedly, the Portuguese star even said: ‘If you think I’m good, wait till you see Fabio Paim.’ He was linked with Jorge Mendes, the super-agent at such a young age and Sporting didn’t want to lose him for free. They saw him going on to bigger and better things and needed to tie him down to avoid losing him for free.
Rob: Which is kind of ironic, with what happened next.
Aaron: There was a huge battle to offer him financial rewards and Paim wanted to secure his family’s future too. There a big discrepancies about how much he was actually paid, but even the official numbers are ridiculous money for a 16 year old. He went out and brought a fleet of cars before he had a driving license. There was a rumour he had 10 at once.
Paim grew up in Estoril in a modest area in Portugal, so you can imagine how he reacted to having more money than he could ever use. He was bouncing around teams on loan with not much success before he even joined Chelsea.
Rob: The Chelsea transfer does just seem utterly bizarre. Can you shed any light on it?
Aaron: Jorge Mendes pushed for it, which is the only reason the move ever got the greenlight. There was so much pressure on his young shoulders, he had been exposed to so much. I’m not a player, but I think giving young players too much too young can affect their hunger. When you add in that the English media and Portuguese media love to build a player up and wait for them to fall.
Paim is very similar to Freddy Adu, who was meant win the Balon D’Or. It’s so easy in a football career for things to go awry. Paim didn’t make a senior appearance at Chelsea and spent time bounding around clubs, trying to get his career back on track.
Rob: That never really happened, of course. Obviously, we’ll never really know why, but do you have any thoughts?
Aaron: It seems between that time he lost his passion and desire, trying to get his fitness back. He was training with 3rd, 4th, 5th tier clubs, it must have been mentally draining to use those facilities. Paim must have been thinking: ‘I was training at Cobham, I was in Sporting’s Academy.
It would be unfair for me to say Paim didn’t work hard, but the general consensus is that it was too much, too soon and he lost his way. Once you lose it in football, it’s hard to get it back. Paim was 22 in 2010, he’s now 32 or 33 in 2020.
Still younger than Ronaldo of course, but it feels like his career has been inactive since 2009.
Rob: Moving on, it wouldn’t be an interview without me asking about a transfer target! Alex Telles: discuss!
Aaron: Alex Telles, I am a massive fan of him, he’s a fantastic player. He’s available for cheap, around £23m. Porto are looking at him and wishing they could get more money for him. They need to balance the books and he’s going into the latter stages of his contract.
He’s a lot more than a £23m player. As a football fan, but also a journalist, he’s a very good player. Arguably FC Porto’s best player, he’s the main creative outlet from fullback, Porto’s top goal-scorer, he gets a lot of assists.
Additionally, he’s got tremendous heart, he gets up and down the field well and is very intense at winning the ball back. In addition, he’s fantastic at free kicks, so whoever gets him will be very happy.
Rob: I know some people have commented on his perceived defensive frailties, do you agree with this? Do you think he’ll adapt well to the Premier League?
Aaron: I don’t see why he wouldn’t fit in, he might need to adjust to the physicality, but I know he will rise to the challenge. This isn’t a player fresh out of an academy. He has played for Galatasaray in some of the most intense atmospheres, in the Serie A with a slower pace of the game at Inter Milan. It was at FC Porto where Telles really kicked on, he is now a Brazil international, a real top talent.
On a personal level, if Chelsea can get a hold of him, I’d rather see him the Premier League than Ligue 1. One thing is sure, Porto will not just accept seeing it out, they need to offload players and they need to balance the books.
Telles is the main prospect to make money on. It’s not unusual – other players have left FC Porto for less value than expected.
Rob: On the topic of Chelsea, and also Inter Milan, I have to ask: Jose Mourinho: Greatest foreign manager – why, or why not?
Aaron: Greatest foreign manager, thar’s a massive question and immediately, I’ll say it is not a yes or no!
Let’s look at his beginnings, and his track record. He has two Champions Leagues with teams that historically don’t win the competition: FC Porto and Inter Milan.
The season before for Porto, he had won the UEFA Cup. This was the start of his dominance and Jose was unknown because people didn’t care who won the UEFA cup, especially in England. Jose was just warming up though. He told his players, ‘We’re going to win the UEFA Cup and next year, we’ll win the Champions League.’
You can take it two ways: either think he is deluded, or buy into it.
Rob: Which of course, so many players did.
Aaron: Yes. Look at Deco, he was deemed not good enough, and Mourinho turned him into a Champions League winner. A player let go by Benfica, who never made an appearance for Brazil who switched allegiance to Portugal at a late age. That’s where Jose’s power and his greatness lies, making players believe and then going out and fulfilling it.
Then you have Inter Milan: the first Italian side to win the Serie A, Italian Cup and Champions League and then announces he is leaving to go to Spain and Real Madrid. The clash against a Barcelona side considered the greatest club side of modern football. And of course, Jose comes in and wins La Liga which seems like an impossible task.
It’s Real Madrid where it all starts to go wrong, though. The final season against Real, he instils that us against them mentality, you have the ugly scenes in the Classico, his scuffle with Tito Vilanova.
Rob: So, what is Jose’s biggest achievement, in your view?
Aaron: I did a poll on this recently with Chelsea 04-05, FC Porto 2003-04, Real Madrid 2010-2011, Man Utd 2017-18 and it was split evenly. Of course, Jose says Manchester United but you have to take everything he says with a pinch of salt. But he did win three trophies and when you see United in the Post-Ferguson era, Jose did what he was asked. United fans were so used to being at the top of the game that the Europa League win was ignored.
Jose has achievement after achievement. When you think of a manager to define the modern era, you look at Jose and Pep. I am a huge admirer of Pep and aside from Portuguse teams, I grew up watching his Barcelona and loving their style of play. I don’t prescribe to the belief that Pep just walks into winning teams either.
But when you look at examples like Jose going to that Inter Milan team and convincing them to win the treble – and actually following it through – it’s mind-blowing confidence. Or Porto winning the Champions League, knocking out United and then winning 3-0 in the final. You won’t see that again. He’s the best for me.
Rob: Finally, your 3 wildcard players for Premier League transfers this summer – not necessarily to Chelsea. To make it hard for you: no one from Porto or Benfica!
Aaron: My first player is very much a wildcard. Marcus Edwards, he grew up in the Sours academy, this season has been a coming of age year. Vitoria have been nothing short of superb in the league, he’s proved it in the Europa League.
He’s dynamic, energetic and courageous. He’s only started 10 or 11 games and has 5 goals and 7 assists. In many ways he is similar to Jadon Sancho, although Sancho is on another stratosphere to Edwards.
My next player is a bit of a cheat as he is linked heavily with Wolves. Joao Palhinha. He’s a type of player that Wolves don’t have. He breaks up play so well, his reading of the game is terrific . Palhinha is not just a destroyer, he adds much more to the side and he is different to what they have. And obviously Wolves have a big Portuguese contingent so he fits in well.
People might say it’s lazy journalism as the links are obvious, but it seems deeper than that. Palhinha might be the missing piece for Wolves, despite some people suggesting he isn’t good enough. He’s done well in my view.
My final player is someone who has really impressed me: Pedro Goncalves. He’s played football in three countries, he is getting first team football for Familicao. He’s captained them several times which is massive at 21 years old. His versatility is impressive too, he can play central midfield, No. 10 or even No. 8.
He has chipped in with goals and has 6 assists. He’s very good at both sides of the game, more of an attacking player, a really solid player. He might not want to make the decision to move again but I think we’ll be talking about him in the future.
Rob: Thanks again for your time Aaron and good luck in the FCAs!
Written by Rob Pratley