How Paulo Bento defied the critics to become South Korea's longest-serving manager
Somewhat counterintuitively, it was a defeat in what would later become Paulo Bento’s home that convinced Cha Du-ri of the Portuguese’s proficiency for coaching.
Bento’s South Korea had lost the 2019 friendly to Brazil in Abu Dhabi, beaten 3-0 by goals at the Mohamed bin Zayed Stadium from Lucas Paqueta, Philippe Coutinho and Danilo.
However, despite the reverse, Cha realised then that Bento was a coach cut from a different cloth. Much to the surprise of the then-assistant and the South Korea technical staff, Bento chose not to sit back against the five-time world champions. He resisted the reckoning that South Korea should lie deep and hope to catch Brazil on the break.
Instead, Bento stuck to his guns. Having committed to implementing a proactive style since his appointment the previous year, Bento’s team took the game to Brazil. Even against a country of such superior talent, South Korea played as they would have against more familiar Asian opposition.
It’s a stubborn streak that in fact served Bento well. South Korea had appointed the former Sporting and Portugal manager in August 2018 following a disheartening World Cup in Russia, with the remit of bringing order to the team’s reckless and rear-guard approach at the global finals. He had been favoured, apparently, over starrier candidates, including Quique Sanchez Flores and Claudio Ranieri.
In Korea, Bento’s selection was met with much criticism. Yes, he had managed one of the preeminent clubs in Portugal, and then his homeland through a European Championship and the 2014 World Cup. But from there his career was blotched by two months in Brazil with Cruzeiro, a season-and-a-bit with Greek side Olympiacos, and eight months in China at Chongqing Dangdai Lifan.