LISBON, Portugal – When Paulo Bento was hired to salvage Portugal's calamitous qualifying campaign for the 2012 European Championship, he had only four years of experience as a top-flight coach and had quit Sporting Lisbon after failing to win a league match in two months.
Since then, he has guided Portugal to two international tournaments — Euro 2012 and this year's World Cup in Brazil.
The 44-year-old Bento is no household name outside Portugal, but his low profile conceals a no-nonsense feistiness that has helped Portugal keep its place among the world's top teams.
Bento's combative spirit showed on the field when he made 35 appearances for Portugal as a defensive midfielder. In a Euro 2000 semifinal match against France, he was sent off with two others for aggressively badgering the referee and was handed a five-month suspension by UEFA.
As a coach, he has also been unbending in spats with his players.
When defender Ricardo Carvalho stormed out of a Portugal training camp in 2011, Bento branded him a deserter and vowed never to pick him again. That same year, Bento accused Jose Bosingwa of faking an injury and banished him.
When Bento took over from Carlos Queiroz, Portugal had taken one point from a possible six — including a 4-4 home draw against Cyprus — in Euro 2012 qualifying.
Since then, the coach has profited from the star quality of Cristiano Ronaldo, who has repeatedly dug Portugal out of holes as the team missed automatic qualification for its last two tournaments before advancing through the playoffs.
Bento concedes he designs the team to accommodate Ronaldo.
"With a player of his tremendous talent, you can't avoid building a team around him," Bento said.
Bento was playing at Sporting Lisbon when Ronaldo and Nani, another Portugal mainstay, were in the club's youth team. He also coached Portugal midfielder Joao Moutinho when he was in charge of the youth squad.
Bento ended his playing career in 2004 at Sporting and the following year became the club's head coach. He led the team to the quarterfinals of the UEFA Cup in 2007-08 and to the last 16 of the Champions League in 2008-09. He won two Portuguese Cup titles and snared four consecutive second-place finishes in the Portuguese league.