PEDRO MENDES was a midfielder of some renown at Porto, Tottenham Hotspur, Portsmouth and Rangers. An industrious worker and progressive passer, he was the kind of player who did the dirty work for others to prosper. If he was tasked with menial jobs on the pitch, they nevertheless brought him rewards, not least the Champions League medal he won with Porto in 2004 and 11 caps for his country, three of which were won at the World Cup in 2010.

Now an agent in his homeland, Mendes has a vested interest in Braga. Tomorrow night he will provide studio analysis for BT Sport when his old club Rangers take on the team making waves in Portugal where his former team-mate at international level, Ruben Amorim, is now the head coach. The club’s centre-forward Paulinho, scorer of 17 goals in 34 games this season, is part of his stable.

He has watched with intrigue as Amorim, who has yet to earn his full coaching badges, has made a scarcely believable start to life at the club from Minho province since succeeding Ricardo Sa Pinto in December. Traditionally one of the poorer relations in Portuguese football, Braga made their first appearance in European competition in the 2003/04 season but since then have been on fast-forward, qualifying every season since – including a Europa League final appearance in 2011 – last year notwithstanding.


Mendes has been so impressed by the changes made by Amorim in such a short time that he thinks Braga can challenge for the Europa League again. What he likes most about them is the way Amorim has set them up and how it has brought about a platform for success.

“The thing that catches your eye straight away is the way Braga attack and the way they defend; it’s just like a block up and down,” says Mendes. “The boys that he has up front are very talented. He gives them freedom to create, we call it freedom with responsibility.”

“He plays a 3-4-3 in possession and when it’s defensive it’s a 5-4-1. In possession, you can see the full-backs right up the pitch and at the back there are three central defenders, two open and one in the middle. When they lose possession the central defenders tuck in, the full-backs come down and they have a line of five, a line of four across the midfield and Paulinho up front.”

Mendes says it is too early to judge whether the former Benfica player has the potential to become Portugal’s next big coaching success story following on from such as Jose Mourinho, Fernando Santos, Jorge Jesus and current plat du jour Nuno Espirito Santos, nevertheless he says he could not have started much better.

“He’s completely changed the tactical aspect of the Braga game and that has suited the players that Braga have very well over their last eight or nine games. They’ve only had one draw, at home against Gil Vicente when they were 2-0 up and drew 2-2. They’ve won twice against Porto, they won against Benfica, they won against Sporting, they won the Taca de Liga. It’s terrific, it’s a real achievement what he is doing.”

“He’s a fantastic guy, a very good person. He was a good player, a team player. Everyone at Benfica respected him very, very much. He has his own ideas, he worked with top coaches at Benfica and he learned from all of them and now he’s started on his own path and he has the chance to be a very successful manager from what you can see so far. It’s still early stages but what he is doing is quite remarkable.”


Mendes was a player who did the hard yards but it is Braga’s attacking players, including his own star turn, Paulinho (left), who really enthuse him. Among the pick of the bunch is Francisco Trincao, who has agreed a €31m transfer to join Barcelona on July 1. Top scorer at the European Under-19 Championship in 2018 – a tournament Portugal won – the gifted forward leads Liga NOS in key passes per 90 minutes and is second behind club-mate Galeno in progressive runs per 90. The statistics give some insight into the fluidity with which Braga play.

“He has players who are highly rated with a market price that is really, really high and he can just gamble, put one [in] for one game and the other for another,” adds Mendes. “The team still plays, the system still works and the quality is still there. He’s doing a great job, but part of that is the squad.

“The attacking players of Braga are all outstanding. They have Galeno, Paulinho, Trincao, Ricardo Horta, Rui Fonte and Wilson Eduardo, so they have like six players and any of them can play and do damage. Of course, Paulinho is my player, I rate him, I really like him as a player, the way he is having the success he deserves. But then you have Galeno with the speed and technique, Ricardo Horta, the way he comes inside and can score goals. You have Trincao who is always looking for a one v one and isn’t afraid to gamble and try to do his tricks.

“Then you have the support from the guys in the middle: Fransergio shows up really, really well outside of the box to score. You have Ricardo Esgaio and Nuno Sequeira, the full-backs, who go really deep when attacking; Sequeira has a fantastic left foot and makes really fantastic crosses.”

To Mendes it all spells bad news for a Rangers side who have lumbered to wins over Livingston and Hibernian, and dropped points against Kilmarnock and Aberdeen to severely dent their SPFL Premiership hopes.

“Braga at the moment are flying, they are full of confidence,” he says. “Rangers will have to be really on top of their game to get a result. They are probably one of the strongest squads in Portugal right now. Look at the 11 on the pitch, the seven on the bench and you see players that can replace each other and the quality doesn’t go down.”

To have any hope of progressing to the last 16, he feels Rangers best work must be done on home soil on an Ibrox pitch that has borne the brunt of ferocious storms in recent weeks.

“It will be a tough one for both teams if the pitch is not good,” he said. “I think Rangers must take some advantage to the away game. Braga are strong at home, the pitch is good, the pitch is big, they take full advantage of the length of the pitch and it is a team that constantly looks to attack with their inside game and their outside game with Esgaio and Sequeira on the wing. There will be goals for sure in Braga so if Rangers can prevent Braga from scoring at Ibrox this will be an advantage for them.”