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Thursday, 05 March 2009 16:00

Manuel Lopes: “I don’t want to be like Pauleta”

Midfielder open to return home

manuel lopesGreek football is proving an increasingly popular choice for Portuguese looking to continue their careers abroad. The country has recently been home to established stars Sergio Conceicao and Helder Postiga, while ex-Sporting coach Jose Peseiro and former Benfica boss Fernando Santos have tested their managerial skills in the south of the Balkan Peninsula.

The Super League is also home to some less fashionable exports, as is the case with Manuel de Jesus Lopes, a 26-year-old midfielder who even the staunchest students of the Portuguese domestic game would struggle to recognise.

"I'm a workhorse, a grafting defensive midfielder, who likes to play box to box,” he says when asked for a description of his playing style. “A few weeks ago I was leading the table of ball recoveries in the League."

Born in Mozambique, Lopes moved with his family to Portugal when the youngster was six years old, initially landing in Lisbon but soon settling in Madeira. While there, he played under Jose Peseiro at Nacional, although a lack of opportunities soon saw him shipped out to local minnows Camacha.

After playing his first season as a first-team regular with the Madeiran club, Lopes, shortly before turning 24, opted to make the jump abroad and take up an offer to join Bulgarian outfit FC Beroe Stara Zagora.

“The coach was Nikolay Iliev, who played at Benfica and had also been in Madeira, with Maritimo,” Lopes recalls. “The experience went well. The championship is not very strong, but there is organisation.

Greek move

“After that, I had some offers from Portugal. I wanted to return, for the second division or for a smaller team in the top flight. Then the offer from Greece came and I accepted it.”

The proposal had come from the Greek second tier and Panthrakikos, a small club with a 3000-seater stadium, who under the ownership of a local businessman worked their way up from the regional leagues to challenge for a place in the country’s top flight.

“The city (Komotini) is small, but I’m living well. The first season we spent in the second division, but the club went up and now is in the biggest league. The target is to guarantee survival.”

Portugal return?

That objective appears realistic, with the team currently in 9th place in the 16-team Super League, but Lopes’ thoughts are already beginning to switch towards his next move, with a return to Portugal appearing his favoured option.

“In December I was set to leave for Aris Saloniki, but the clubs did not arrive at an agreement, and the manager also did not want me to leave. All the same, I feel good at Panthrakikos.

“It’s difficult. My first son will be born in May and his mother is in Madeira. I am not going to be like Pauleta, who always played abroad. I think I have the quality to play in the Portuguese first division.”

By Sean Gillen

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