From a coach little or not known in Brazil to one of the greatest managers in the history of Brazilian football. The three years of Abel Ferreira and his coaching staff on Brazilian soil, especially being one of the most important figures of the Palmeiras Family, have been driven by the mottos “todos somos um” (we are all one) and “cabeça fria e coração quente” (cool head and warm heart) since his arrival.
As a Player
Abel Ferreira stood out for his drive and intensity on the field, even though he wasn’t a football superstar. Nevertheless, he built a solid career as a right-back, even earning caps for the Portuguese national team.
He began his professional career with Penafiel in 1997, the club from his hometown, and stayed there until 2000, playing 67 professional matches before transferring to Vitoria de Guimarães.
During his four years at Vitoria, he had his first encounter with a Brazilian coach, none other than the Club World Cup-winning coach with São Paulo, Paulo Autuori.
After 86 appearances as a right-back for Vitoria de Guimarães, Abel Ferreira’s intensity and determination caught the eye of Braga, where he remained for just one season but was a key starter for the team, and his football skills continued to evolve.
Because of his performance, the intense right-back attracted the interest of a Portuguese giant, Sporting. He moved there and spent the best years of his playing career.
In total, he played five seasons with the Green and White side of Lisbon from 2006 to 2011, participating in 182 matches and scoring six goals. This included Portuguese National Championships, the Champions League, as well as contributing to the team’s two Portuguese Cup and two Portuguese Super Cup victories.
Abel Ferreira was an active part of Sporting’s squad and had excellent relationships with his coaches, teammates, and club staff. However, in 2011, he had to retire from professional football due to a serious knee injury.
Despite his retirement as a player, Sporting didn’t want to lose him and turned him into the coach of the club’s under-19 team, where, at just 34 years old, Abel Ferreira embarked on a beautiful journey as a coach.
As a player, he even represented the Portuguese national team in 2008, called up by coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, or “Felipão,” whose destiny would lead both of them to become two of the greatest coaches in the history of Palmeiras.
As a Manager
As previously mentioned, Abel Ferreira had to hang up his boots suddenly and prematurely due to a serious knee injury. However, this injury led the Portuguese, who was already a graduate in physical education, to explore new horizons. And what horizons they were…
Being highly regarded and trusted by everyone at Sporting, the Portuguese club immediately appointed him as the coach of the under-19 team. It was there that the football boots were replaced by a pen and a clipboard, or rather a hand, as Abel insists on using to write things that perhaps only he, or maybe not even he, understands.
At Sporting, Abel Ferreira won the National Junior Championship in the 2011-2012 season. He was promoted to coach the B team of the Green and Whites, where he led the team during the 2013-2014 season. After three years as a coach in Sporting’s youth teams, Abel Ferreira was invited to become the coach of Braga’s B team, a club where he had also played.
It was at Braga that Abel Ferreira began to make a name for himself as a coach. After two years of leading Braga’s B team, Abel became the head coach of the first team for the 2017-2018 season. This was a magical and historic season for the Minho Warriors, as under the passionate leadership of Abel, they achieved a remarkable 4th place in the Portuguese League. Furthermore, the team set a record for the most goals scored (101) and victories (33) in a single season. Abel also achieved an impressive 64% win rate with the club, the highest ever attained by a coach at Braga.
After two successful seasons at Braga, Abel Ferreira moved to PAOK in Greece, which paid his €2.5 million release clause to hire him. Interestingly, this release clause payment made Abel the fifth most expensive Portuguese coach in history. In Greece, Abel did more solid work, leading PAOK to a second-place finish in the Greek Super League in the 2019-2020 season.
Abel Ferreira in Palmeiras
In 2020, Palmeiras was looking to restructure its squad, primarily making a few targeted signings, such as Rony, and utilizing players from its youth academy, which had been winning every possible title. Some of the emerging talents included Gabriel Menino, Patrick de Paula, Danilo, and Gabriel Verón. Palmeiras then saw the legendary Vanderlei Luxemburgo as the right person for the job. Although “Profexô” managed to win the 2020 Paulistão and promote young talents from the academy, the team struggled to find its rhythm and deliver what the fans expected after the COVID-induced break.
After Luxemburgo’s dismissal, Andrey Lopes, also known as Cebola, took over as the interim manager while the club searched for a new coach. The options were limited, and Palmeiras was seeking a forward-thinking coach who could deliver results. The club’s top priority was the hiring of Miguel Ángel Ramírez, the Spanish coach who had been doing a magnificent job at Independiente del Valle in Ecuador. However, Ramírez accepted the offer but stated that he would only take charge of the team after the expiration of his contract with the Ecuadorian club.
As a result, Palmeiras decided to look for another coach, and that’s when the name Abel Ferreira came into the picture. A young Portuguese coach who had made history with Braga and was doing a good job at PAOK, he was also a compatriot of Jorge Jesus, who had an unforgettable season with Flamengo in 2019. Abel seemed like the right fit for Palmeiras, and the club paid a €600,000 release clause to secure his services from PAOK.
After much speculation and negotiations, on October 30, 2020, Abel Ferreira was officially presented as Palmeiras’ head coach. Little did anyone know that after three years, he would become one of the most successful coaches in the club’s history and, for many, the best and greatest coach to have ever managed Palmeiras. This recognition is a result of the following achievements, which came after a highly structured work methodology, particularly with the support of his exceptional coaching staff.
In addition to Abel, the coaching staff consists of:
- João Martins: Responsible for physical preparation and logistical support.
- Vitor Castanheira: Responsible for the connection to the youth academy and recruitment department.
- Carlos Martinho: Responsible for team analysis and the recruitment department.
- Tiago Costa: Responsible for opponent analysis and communication.
In his first meeting with Palmeiras’ board of directors, Abel Ferreira made sure to demonstrate his work methodology, organizational structure, and the composition of his team. This included a presentation, such as the one used in his meeting with the Palmeiras board.
First Season 2020
After his presentation, the Portuguese coach made his debut in the return leg of the Copa do Brasil Round of 16 against Bragantino just five days later. Since Abel Ferreira and his coaching staff didn’t have much time to train the team, they implemented the following strategy: they held a meeting with the team’s captains and conducted an extensive analysis of Palmeiras’ matches throughout the season. This served as a way to develop the team and players through discussions and games, even without extensive training sessions.
Initially, Abel Ferreira and his coaching staff wisely decided to maintain the tactical formation and nearly all the regular starters who had been playing under the interim coach, Cebola. The interim coach had been doing an excellent job and had gained the respect of the players. Therefore, the Portuguese coach initially focused on building rapport with the squad with his unique and astute approach, which made a significant difference in the fast-paced season that involved playing matches every three days due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Palmeiras team maintained its performance, and players who had not been performing as well started to improve their football skills under the guidance of the Portuguese coach. This included Rony, Gustavo Scarpa, Zé Rafael, Raphael Veiga, and Gabriel Menino, all of whom were crucial to the triumphs of the 2020 season, which extended into 2021.
With a well-oiled team, Abel’s Verdão progressed through the Copa do Brasil and Libertadores stages with apparent ease, demonstrating continuous improvement from game to game. The board of directors, who had initially expected an offensive-minded coach, found themselves pleasantly surprised, as Abel Ferreira’s Palmeiras transformed into a resilient team that rarely conceded goals and proved challenging to beat.
In the Copa do Brasil, Palmeiras clinched the title comfortably against Grêmio, with two final victories. The first game was held at the Grêmio Arena, and Palmeiras won 1-0 with a goal from Gustavo Gómez. In the return leg, Palmeiras dominated the Gauchos with a 2-0 victory, featuring goals from the recently recovered Wesley and Gabriel Menino, both products of the youth academy. Verdão raised its fourth Copa do Brasil trophy in front of its supporters.
Before winning the Copa do Brasil, one of the most significant achievements in the club’s history occurred – the Eternal Glory came with a victory over Santos at Maracanã on January 30, 2021. This match exemplified the short yet powerful impact of Abel Ferreira’s work at Palestra Itália, especially in the realm of human development of the players, which consequently boosted their individual and collective confidence.
This, combined with a highly structured positional tactical system, swiftly transformed Palmeiras into Brazil’s most consistent team, winning the 2020 Copa Libertadores title. Worth noting, it was Breno Lopes, who had faced harsh criticism, who scored the winning goal in the final – a player backed by Abel when the fans expected and wanted otherwise. Abel demonstrated that he was not just an ordinary coach and that good things happen when you work towards a common goal.
With this fantastic debut season, Abel has already made history at the Verdão, becoming the first foreign coach to win a trophy for Palmeiras since the Argentine Filpo Nuñez in 1965. Furthermore, he is one of the few to win more than one trophy in his debut year at the club, alongside Del Debbio (1942) and Luxemburgo (1993).
Second Season 2021
Now, with more time for training, everything indicated that Abel Ferreira’s Palmeiras would take off, and that’s exactly what happened, despite the defeat to São Paulo in the final of the Paulista Championship. The Verdão started strong in the Copa Libertadores, securing first place in Group A with 15 points in 6 matches.
However, as we know, in Brazilian football, not everything goes smoothly. There were losses to Tigres in the Club World Cup, Flamengo in the Supercopa do Brasil, Defensa y Justicia in the Recopa, São Paulo in the Paulista final, and an early exit from the Copa do Brasil against the modest CRB. From that point on, many believed that Abel and his coaching staff were no longer fit for the job. However, the club’s management, led by President Galiotte, along with a significant portion of the fan base, supported the Portuguese coach’s continued tenure.
This support turned out to be crucial for the season’s unfolding because, once again, Abel and his team were poised to make history. The Copa Libertadores that year was filled with thrilling matches. In the round of 16, Palmeiras faced the traditional Universidad Católica from Chile, winning both legs 1-0. In the quarter-finals, there was the classic match against São Paulo, marked by breaking the longstanding curse where Palmeiras had never advanced over São Paulo in the knockout stages of the Libertadores. This occurred after a 1-1 draw at the Morumbi and a 3-0 victory at Allianz Parque.
In the semi-finals, they faced the in-form Atlético Mineiro, who were playing beautiful football and were comfortably leading the Brazilian Championship. After two intense matches, where the mantras “all for one” and “cool head and warm heart” made a difference, the journey continued with a 0-0 draw at Allianz Parque, including a penalty saved by Hulk, and a 1-1 draw at the Mineirão, with a spectacular goal by Dudu after a brilliant play by the revelation Gabriel Verón.
In the final, Palmeiras encountered the feared Flamengo, who the entire press deemed as the favorites for the showdown. However, things didn’t go as expected. The Centenario Stadium in Montevideo was filled with Flamengo and Palmeiras fans, but the Palmeiras supporters sang louder and provided more support, which was one of the key factors driving the intensity displayed by Palmeiras in that match.
Abel Ferreira is adept at crafting a team strategy tailored to the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent, and on that occasion, he executed it masterfully. He noticed that the left-back Filipe Luís was frequently involved in constructing plays through the middle, leaving space in the corridor. The first goal for Palmeiras came from that space, just 5 minutes into the first half.
After a ball recovery, Gustavo Gómez delivered a beautiful pass to Mayke, who exploited the corridor left by Filipe Luís. The right-back received the ball, looked up, and found Veiga unmarked at the edge of the box. The midfielder struck a firm and low shot that gave Diego Alves no chance.
Another crucial adjustment made by Abel was ensuring there were no spaces for Everton Ribeiro and Arrascaeta to operate between Palmeiras’ lines. He deployed Danilo and Zé Rafael in more defensive roles for this match, effectively nullifying these two key weapons of the opposition.
In the end, at the 27th minute of the second half, Gabigol equalized for Flamengo. But it seemed like Abel had another card up his sleeve. At the start of extra time, Abel substituted Veiga with Deyverson. Just 5 minutes in, the “crazy boy” took advantage of a mistake by Andreas Pereira, stole the ball, and struck with his left foot, dislodging the goalkeeper, who still managed to graze the ball as it slowly and elegantly found its way into the net.
Abel Ferreira’s Palmeiras became the Copa Libertadores champions for the second consecutive time, once again with a decisive goal coming from a substitute.
At the end of the season, Palmeiras represented South American football in the FIFA Club World Cup. Unlike the 2020 edition, this time the Verdão had an impressive performance, winning 2-0 in the first round against Al Ahly but narrowly losing 2-1 to Chelsea in the final, with both teams competing on equal terms throughout the match.
Third Season 2022
The third season was initially marked by the permanent relocation of the Ferreira family to Brazil, making the situation more comfortable for the Green coach.
The Verdão started the year by winning the Recopa against Athletico Paranaense.
At the beginning of the season, Palmeiras became the Paulista Champion, defeating São Paulo after a magnificent comeback at Allianz Parque. In the first match, São Paulo won 3-1 at Morumbi, but in the return game, Abel did everything to motivate his players, and it worked. Palmeiras was crowned Paulista Champion after a 4-0 thrashing at Allianz Parque.
The season continued, and Palmeiras remained remarkably consistent, a hallmark of Abel Ferreira’s team – a side that conceded few goals and was highly incisive when in possession of the ball.
In the Libertadores, they were once again doing an excellent job, having the best group stage in the competition’s history with 6 wins in 6 games and 25 goals scored. However, their dream of a third Libertadores title was dashed as they were eliminated by Felipão’s Athletico Paranaense amid controversies involving the referees.
A similar fate awaited them in the Copa do Brasil, where they were knocked out by São Paulo.
However, all of these setbacks served as motivation for Palmeiras to have a perfect Brasileirão season and secure their 11th Brazilian Championship title. This team led by Abel Ferreira might have been one of the best in Brazilian football, mainly due to their consistency, intensity, and ability to endure and change circumstances in the most adverse moments.
Fourth Season 2023
The year 2023 started brilliantly, with Palmeiras winning both the Supercopa do Brasil against Flamengo and the Campeonato Paulista against Água Santa.
However, once again, Palmeiras fell to São Paulo in the Copa do Brasil and seemed to be pinning all their hopes on the Copa Libertadores, as the Brazilian Championship appeared distant due to the points dropped in the competition, especially considering the remarkable campaign Botafogo was having.
Palmeiras eventually exited the Libertadores in the semifinals, facing the traditional Boca Juniors.
Therefore, Abel’s Palmeiras is giving its all to chase down Botafogo and secure the Brazilian Championship title.
As seen above, Abel Ferreira and his coaching staff seem tailor-made for Palmeiras. It’s one of the most enduring marriages in the modern era of Brazilian football, and this is because Palmeiras is a well-structured club, and Abel and his team can work meticulously within that structure, making the most of every opportunity, whether on or off the field. Moreover, they show that football isn’t just about the physical aspect but also the mental aspect of overcoming adversity and learning from losses.
In the three years with the club, there have been 242 games, 139 wins, 59 draws, and 44 losses, with 415 goals scored and 192 conceded, 2 Copa Libertadores titles, 1 Copa do Brasil, 2 Paulistão titles, 1 Recopa, 1 Supercopa, and 1 Brasileirão.
Abel holds the record for the most finals contested (11) and is the only one to win at least one state, national, and international title.
Furthermore, Abel has proven himself to be a great scholar of Brazilian football and quite a character who occasionally has his differences with the media but always reconciles.
Finally, it’s worth noting the affection that Abel Ferreira has for his players, coaching staff, and club employees, which, for this writer, is the main reason the Portuguese coach with a not-so-calm head and a warm heart does the work he does at one of Brazil’s biggest clubs.
Congratulations to Abel Ferreira, Carlos Martinho, João Martins, Tiago Costa, and Vitor Castanheira.
Written by João Felipe Miller.