Nuno Gomes: I wish I'd joined Blackburn Rovers sooner
NUNO Gomes appeared in two World Cups and three European Championships, but he does have a regret. He wishes he had played for Blackburn Rovers sooner.
Some might have regretted signing for Rovers at all, after only one start in the final seven months of a chaotic 2012/13 campaign that included boardroom infighting and five different managers.
But the Portuguese striker does not feel that way about his time in England, which ultimately proved to be the final act of an illustrious playing career.
He arrived at Ewood Park at the age of 35, after 79 caps and 29 goals for his country, and quickly netted four times in his first six games for the club.
He surprisingly faded out of the team though and his two-year contract was cut short at the halfway mark, as Rovers attempted to reduce their wage bill.
“I spent very good moments in Blackburn and I really enjoyed playing for them,” Gomes told the Lancashire Telegraph.
“I met some wonderful people and I still talk with some of them.
“It was sad for me that I had to leave but with my age and not playing we decided that was the best solution for everybody.
“I wish I had played for them when I was younger, and without the big confusion regarding the administration (at the club) that we were involved in last season.
“They did very well this season and I was always supporting them to reach the play-offs.
“I wish that they return to the Premier League as soon as possible because that is where they belong.”
Although technically not part of Portugal’s ‘golden generation’ – that tag is reserved for those who played in FIFA World Youth Championship victories in 1989 and 1991 – Gomes joined forces with the likes of Luis Figo, Joao Pinto, Rui Costa in one of his country’s greatest ever teams at senior level.
He had featured at the FIFA World Youth Championship himself in 1995, when Portugal finished third, before representing his country at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
But Gomes really made his name at Euro 2000, even if he actually ended the tournament with a seven-month international ban for pushing a referee.
That came at the end of a controversial semi final that France won from the penalty spot after a disputed handball by Abel Xavier, but Gomes had already scored in the game and just getting that far was a major achievement for Portugal.
A star with Benfica, his first international goal had been the winner in a dramatic group game against England, which Kevin Keegan’s side had led 2-0.
“The goal against England was one of the most important goals in my national career,” he said.
“It was my first goal ever with the national team after the under 21s.
“Euro 2000 was an important tournament for Portugal.
“We arrived into the semi finals and lost to France, who were the winners of the tournament.
“That tournament changed my life because I scored four goals and I was one of the revelations of that year.”
Expectations were high then for the World Cup in 2002, but it ended in disaster for Portugal. They were eliminated from a group included the USA, Poland and joint hosts South Korea.
The ‘golden generation’ tag proved a heavy burden on that occasion.
“It was normal for us to have that kind of pressure because we did very well in 2000,” says Gomes, who had moved to Fiorentina by 2002 but featured only twice as a substitute in the tournament after injury.
“We had a group of experienced players at that time and they were playing in a lot of big teams in Europe.
“It was very disappointing for us to return home after the group stage, because our expectations were very high.
“But we didn’t prepare for the tournament as well as we wished and I came from an injury that didn’t let me play more.”
The hosts in Euro 2004, Portugal had the emerging Cristiano Ronaldo alongside the experienced Figo.
“They were fantastic team-mates and for a striker they made my job easier,” Gomes says.
“They were both were very professional players and really worked hard to help our national team.”
Gomes scored the winner against Spain in the last group match to help Portugal recover from defeat to Greece in the opening game – only for the same opponents to beat them again in the final, thanks to an Angelos Charisteas header.
“It was a big tournament and the atmosphere was amazing,” Gomes remembers.
“We did very well and I scored the goal that we needed to reach the quarter finals.
“We were unlucky in the final. Greece did very well after they scored.”
There were mixed emotions for Gomes at the 2006 World Cup.
Portugal reached the semi finals with a win on penalties over England – two years after also winning a shoot-out against Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side at the European Championships.
But the former Rovers striker featured only twice in the tournament, although he did score in the third place play-off against Germany.
“The game against England was very intense with a very unpredictable result, like in 2004,” he says.
“I was expecting to play more, but I scored in the last game.”
A veteran of the side by then, Gomes was Portugal’s skipper at Euro 2008 as they reached the quarter finals before running into Germany.
“It was a very proud moment for me to be the captain of national team,” he says.
“We lost to a strong Germany team, but we were not worse than them.
“That can happen in big tournaments like the Euros or the World Cup when two big teams are playing.”
Now retired, Gomes is taking a watching brief for this World Cup, as Portugal face the USA in their second group game tomorrow.
“I'm working as a president’s advisor for Benfica now and I’m responsible for the overall international relations at the club,” he says.
“I’m happy to work for the club that I support, the club that for 12 seasons I played for.
“I’m doing well.”
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