Not many university projects lead to the author standing on the touchline alongside Jose Mourinho on a Champions League night, but then Joao Sacramento was not the average student.
Sacramento was named as Mourinho’s No 2 when he put together a new-look coaching staff at Spurs. He is a relative unknown in England after spells coaching with Monaco and Lille. Ironically, though, his footballing journey really began in a leafy part of Wales.
Sacramento was just 18 years old when he decided to move from Portugal to the then-University of Glamorgan to study on their football coaching and performance programmes. He had wanted to be a player but accepted coaching was a likelier route into the game.
Joao Sacramento was announced as Jose Mourinho’s new No 2 at Spurs when he was hired
Sacramento got his start coaching students at the University of Glamorgan as a young man
Sacramento (back, second left) during his time helping with the team at Glamorgan
Even then, he had serious ambition. Steve Savage, the head of sport at the newly named University of South Wales, remembers his arrival well: ‘He said he’d be working in the Champions League within 10 years.
‘That’s where he is now and that’s how focused he is. For an 18-year-old Portuguese lad who has just rocked up in south Wales to say that… but he was always quite focused.
‘We made sure he was fine on the mental side and linking up into university life but it was quite clear that he had the drive, the desire, the ambition, and was probably a bit different to most students.
‘Fair play to him, he was in the Champions League last year with Lille and now with Tottenham.’
Mourinho speaks to his new trusted assistant during the game against West Ham
Sacramento’s arrival in Treforest, Pontypridd, where one of the university’s campuses is based, coincided with Mourinho’s rise as a manager. While studying in the village – which has a population of just 5,050, Sacramento kept an eye on Mourinho’s work.
Mourinho has has long been a model for a number of Portuguese coaches – Olympiacos’ Pedro Martins recently credited him with opening the door for managers from the nation.
And inevitably, Mourinho has always had a huge influence on Sacramento. Savage told Sportsmail: ‘He’s Portuguese and growing up he modelled how he wanted to be as a coach on Jose.
‘The tactical periodisation, the idea and method of doing everything around the ball and building up from the defence… this was 10 or 12 years ago and it revolutionised the Premier League, making it a more footballing league, bringing European ideas.
Sacramento makes up part of a new-look backroom staff for Mourinho at Tottenham
‘Jose Mourinho was Joao’s idol. Joao did a piece of work on the model, presented a bit of work on tactical periodisation to Dave Adams, his lecturer, who is now the technical director of the Welsh FA.
‘He sent that to Jose. Jose responded to him, “Thanks for this, this is very interesting”. That was probably their first point of contact.’
It was not just Mourinho that Sacramento impressed. He was a first-class student as an undergraduate, did his masters degree at the university and also picked up his UEFA B license.
Courtesy of the university’s various partnerships, he also did work at Cardiff City, and helped the Welsh FA at age group levels while Gary Speed and then Chris Coleman were the managers. Sacramento will have watched Brendan Rodgers’ training sessions at Swansea City as the now-Leicester manager kicked off his career in earnest.
Sacramento celebrating with the Glamorgan players – he is now coaching in the top flight
Sacramento also picked up paid work from the university. Savage continued: ‘His understanding of the game was great. We wanted to keep hold of him so we employed him as an hourly-paid lecturer and supporting us on the football programme at the age of 22.
‘Like a player though, if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. He was good enough to command respect from predominantly 18-plus students. It was not a risk to us.
‘His enthusiasm, his passion, his belief was great. His ability to get his ideas across and execute game plans… he had ability in abundance.’
That experience should stand the now-30-year-old in good stead at Spurs, where he is coaching players who are older than him.
Mourinho speaks to Sacramento as they plot a way past Olympiacos on Tuesday night
Savage is convinced he can earn their respect: ‘If the message is right and the players are improving from it, they will want to play under him.
‘He’s always been great. He’s humble, he’s well mannered, he’s enthusiastic. He’s detailed as such that players will want that information to improve.
‘I’ve got no worries about his commanding the dressing room and getting the message across.’
Sacramento picked up a number of skills in Wales. The language barrier, initially an issue, was overcome, and he now speaks English, Spanish, French as well as his native Portuguese.
Sacramento speaks to Mourinho during the Champions League clash with Olympiacos
He also heavily committed himself to his analysis work, which would later pay off when he got his first gig in the game under Leandro Jardim at Monaco.
‘When he then graduated and worked with us at the first team, he would do a lot of opposition analysis and games we played,’ Savage said.
‘He would study night and day to look at how they play, their weaknesses and how we could implement our game plan.
‘The last 10-15 years, the devil is in the detail and that 1 per cent can be the difference between winning and losing. His opposition analysis and also his own training shows his appetite.
Sacramento has impressed in his previous roles and was previously coach at Lille
‘He will also work so so hard to find that 1 per cent and pass that information on to help the team go on and win.’
Spurs might represent a new high-point on a path that has seen Sacramento coach at Monaco and Lille in France.
But Savage is convinced he will go even further. Asked whether he sees his former student as a future manager, he replied: ‘100 per cent. This is part of his journey. It might seem as though he’s risen very quickly but he was at Monaco for 18 months. He worked under Claudio Ranieri, Marcelo Bielsa at Lille, where he will have learned a lot, Christophe Galtier, fantastic.
Now he is working under one of his idols in Mourinho and coaching the stars at Tottenham
‘Jose Mourinho, a world-class manager, is going to help him forge his own path. He’s still young, he’s still learning, but his desire to improve won’t change.
‘Joao is the type of character who will want to manage if he continues to work in the professional game.’
And for those watching him from his former patch as he settles into this new job in north London, there’s only one sentiment: ‘We wish him all the best. We’re really proud of him, as one of our own, and we hope he does really well.’