euro-spy; A ball-winner with a touch of class

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The Independent Online
MAN ON

THE SPOT

PAULO SOUSA

(PORTUGAL)

A re-watching of the European Cup final will emphasise the importance of Paulo Sousa. For an hour, until an injury he had taken into the match forced him to withdraw, the Juventus midfield player was a total pain to Ajax.

Harrying, running and tackling, he and Antonio Conte (who also left the field after 43 minutes) pushed the Dutch back, disrupted their flow and forced their passes to their front players to be longer than they wished. A pattern was set from which Ajax did not break. Del Piero, Ravanelli and Vialli may have grabbed the eye; it was Paulo Sousa who got them the ball.

The 25-year-old provides the same sort of service for Portugal. Playing just in front of the back four, he tackles until he drops, but also directs operations with distribution which is well above par for the ball-winner in the team.

Initially with Benfica and Sporting Lisbon, he moved to Italy in 1994 and was a massive influence in Juventus' title the following season. "I don't think there can be any doubt that he was the best player in Serie A," the Napoli coach, Vujadin Boskov, said. "He was at the heart of everything Juve did. He has a great passing game and his support play is excellent. What makes it more remarkable was that it was his first season in Italy. Only players of extraordinary intelligence who have a good tactical brain can adapt so quickly."

Sadly, his second year, which was undermined by a series of niggling muscular injuries, was not as successful, although it was pertinent that Marcello Lippi, the Juventus coach, persisted with him in the European Cup final despite his being less than fully fit. If he is now fully fit, however, Portugal will revolve round him. "I'm more of a strategist, a maker of chances," Paulo Sousa said. "My job is to get hold of the ball and create. I'm at the service of the team."

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