‘We deserved to win silverware’: Exclusive Interview with Benfica and Portugal Legend Nuno Gomes

689 club appearances, 254 goals. 79 international caps, 29 goals. He represented the Seleção at 3 UEFA European Championships and 2 FIFA World Cups. A man revered throughout Europe for his technical ability, his craft and a deadly eye for goal. We are of course talking about Nuno Gomes.

Nuno Gomes, born in Amarante, made his Primeira Liga debut for Porto outfit Boavista in the 1994/95 season. It was here for Os Axadrezados that Gomes first began to build a reputation as a talent, not only for his goalscoring but for his ingenuity, his craft with his back to goal and his link-up play. It wasn’t long before Portuguese heavy-weights SL Benfica came knocking, but before Nuno left for Portugal’s capital city, he still had unfinished business, the final of the Taça de Portugal against none other than SL Benfica.

“Come the Portuguese Cup final, I already knew I was leaving Boavista. It was a lovely send-off from a club that meant a lot in my career and I owe them a lot. Plus, that group of players really, really deserved to win that trophy.”

Nuno started and played 85 minutes of the final at the Estádio Nacional, scoring the Boavista’s goal in a 3-2 victory. This cup final victory remains the last time that Boavista lifted the Taça.

A move to Benfica allowed a burgeoning Nuno to develop further, he took his goalscoring exploits to another level in Lisbon scoring 22 goals in 40 games in his first season. He was Benfica’s top scorer in both the Primeira Liga and in all competitions at just 21 years of age. The following season saw him put up even better goalscoring numbers with 24 in the Liga and 34 in all competitions. In the final season of his first spell at Benfica, he was once again crowned top goal-scorer for SL Benfica but frustratingly for Nuno, he was yet to win the Primeira Liga title (finishing 2nd in his first season and 3rd in the last two seasons.)

Then came the iconic Euro 2000 tournament, Portugal’s squad, featuring the likes of Nuno, Luís Figo and Rui Costa was dubbed by the media as the ‘Golden Generation’. They were placed into a tough Group A with Germany, England and Romania. Nuno scored 4 goals throughout the tournament and was named in UEFA’s Team of the Tournament due to his fantastic performances. Unfortunately for the Golden Generation, these finals ended in bitter disappointment. After topping the group and subsequently knocking out Turkey, Portugal were drawn against France and with the game poised at 1-1, Zinedine Zidane scored the winning goal in the 117th minute to send Portugal crashing out of the semi-finals. France would go on to beat Italy in the final and win the tournament.

“I think that Portugal team was one of the best ever and we deserved to win silverware, just like the 2004 crop. It was very hard to take going out in the semi-finals like that. On a personal level that was my best Euros and I was very proud…For Portugal, I think my greatest memory is maybe my first goal in the match against England at Euro 2000.”

Nuno’s exploits at the Euro’s really highlighted his immense talent and potential, so much so that clubs across Europe began to declare their interest in him. The club to win his signature was Serie A outfit Fiorentina.

“A lot of my peers were already playing abroad at that time and I was intrigued by the prospect too. Fiorentina’s offer was a good deal for me and Benfica. The fact that Rui Costa played there too also helped me accept the transfer.”

Serie A, was undoubtedly one of the toughest leagues for a striker to succeed, given the calibre of defenders that played in Italy.
“Toughest opponent? I came up against lots of good defenders in my career. It’s hard to pick just one. Laurent Blanc, Nesta, Paolo Maldini, Fabio Cannavaro, Fernando Couto, Jorge Costa, Mozer, Ricardo Gomes.”

The fact that the first 5 names Nuno mentioned, all played in Serie A is a testament to the depth of defensive quality in Italy at that time.

In his first season in Florence, he won the Coppa Italia, scoring the decisive equaliser in the second leg of the final, meaning Fiorentina had won 2-1 on aggregate. La Viola have failed to win the Coppa Italia since. The season after however, was tumultuous, to say the least. The club were in a hole financially and performances dropped, Rui Costa was sold and La Viola were relegated. Nuno returned to SL Benfica for a second time, this time he opted to spend the majority of the rest of his career in Lisbon, with only short spells at Braga and Blackburn Rovers to come at the tail end.

It was 2004, the European Championships had arrived on Portuguese soil and Nuno was very much instrumental in Portugal’s performances. He played in every single match in Portugal’s run to the final, where their fairy tale was ended by surprise package Greece in the final. This tournament saw Portugal go from strength to strength and after knocking out Spain (courtesy of a Nuno Gomes winner), England and Holland, the majority of people had Portugal marked out as the eventual winners. Greece however, had other ideas.

“It was very, very hard to get over the defeat in the final of Euro 2004. But hey that’s football. You have to accept defeat and congratulate the winners. Greece were able to score a goal and managed the game well and we just couldn’t find a goal. However, the goal against Spain was one of my best moments on a personal level with the national team. I can almost still hear the roar in the stadium when I scored that goal.”

(You can watch the goal Nuno is describing here, below.)

A return to club action following the devastating defeat in Euro 2004 lifted Nuno’s mood, however. In the first league campaign following the European championships, his wait for a Primeira Liga title was over. Benfica won the 2004/05 title with 3 points to spare over our nearest rivals FC Porto.

“One of my career highlights is for sure winning the Portuguese league title in 2004/05, in particular, the moment the referee blew the whistle on the last day of the season at the Bessa and we finished the season as champions, as well as winning the title in 2009/10.”

Nuno currently spends his time doing media work and working for NPlayers. He is also an ambassador for both Liga Portugal and UEFA Euro 2020/21.

“NPlayers is a sports management agency. We look after players’ and coaches’ careers. I was asked by my business partners to help run it. I accepted because my experience in the world of football could be important and because I’m very interested in sports management.”

To find out more about NPlayers you can visit http://nplayers.pt/

Thank you to Nuno Gomes for his time, thank you to Patrick Kendrick for his help translating the interview and a big thank you Tiago Ribeiro for facilitating this interview.

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