His European adventure began in 1997, with Mallorca, and his start with Mallorca was what led to his career with Valencia, beginning in 1999.
But just as he was heading with sure steps up the ladder of success, getting ready to plant his flag of victory at the summit, he lost in the Champion’s League final to Real Madrid. However, he refused to give up, and took patient steps up that same path the following year, though facing off in the finals against Bayern Munich this time around. Once again he lost the cup, this time almost from the very palm of his hand! By now, he was becoming known as a man whose defeats were almost patented… Hector Cuper!
When, at the helm of the team Inter, he lost to Milan in the semi-finals of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League, it became inevitable that Cuper would experience a setback in his career. Having amassed a lot of experience at the head of many important teams, the Argentine coach now set his sights on Orduspor. And now, while expectations are high for Cuper’s performance and new successes leading Orduspor, he is busy presenting a number of unique ideas for his team’s entrance into the finals. Here is a conversation he had with Sunday’s Zaman:
What sort of atmosphere did you encounter in your remaining time with Ordu?
First and foremost, Orduspor is a very well directed team, with a great president. From the first day I arrived, everything I asked for was arranged by the president of the team. I received assistance on all of the transfers that took place, and great respect was shown towards me on the matter of any and all decisions. So I really encountered a team leadership that gave everything it could in terms of support.
Did it satisfy you to finish the league in 14th place?
We set out with an Orduspor that had, for the first time in years, risen to the Super League. So from the very start, just staying in the league was a success. Of course, our aim this year is to see a higher ranking for the team. Our short-term goal is to strengthen our position, and to use our self-confidence to see ourselves turned into a well-known and respected name.
Is it difficult for a well-known coach such as you to motivate a middle-ranked team such as Orduspor to become more successful?
The truth is, when I get an offer for work, I can analyze the situation without looking at the name of the team in question. When choosing Orduspor, I brought together all of the various elements that would prompt me to say yes or no. And as it turned out, there was not much I could say no to. In years before, I had received some work offers from other Turkish teams (Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray); but I was never able to accept these offers, as I was working with other teams at the time. Just as I held the utmost respect for Inter when working as a coach with them, I feel the same sense of respect for Orduspor now. Because, in the end, I am earning money.
Is it generally your preference to head up a team playing at the very top of the leagues, or a more modest team such as Orduspor?
I didn’t spend my whole life dreaming of coaching giant teams. Because of some of the successes I pulled off, I attracted the attention of some great teams. And if I do good work here, then more offers will come to me from even greater teams. And it is possible that, depending on the conditions at the time, I can think about these offers. If I wind up accepting such an offer, then those Orduspor fans can think about how I signed off on good work here, and be happy with that.
Can you talk about reaching the championships with Orduspor?
Well, when you look at the conditions realistically, this is not an easy thing to talk about really. To talk about reaching the championships with a team that has only recently risen to the Super League, after years of not being in it, would be like selling dreams. But it is certainly not an impossible goal in the long term, as long as you keep adding to your goals every year.
Did the fact that Bursaspor reached the championships encourage you?
There are exceptions which occur in the realm of football. But these do not necessarily lead the way towards general and realistic thoughts of what might be. The real struggle for a championship in Turkey takes place between the four best teams. This is the same way it is in Spain, between the teams of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and sometimes Valencia. There really aren’t any other teams capable of breaking these teams’ hegemony. We are selling people neither false hopes nor hopelessness. But we are not afraid of saying these things could be done through planning and projects.
Of the two Argentine football stars, Maradona and Messi, which do you believe is more valuable?
The whole world knows now what Maradona is like. These days, of course, Messi is at his peak. But I think we need to wait a bit longer to see. One needs to look at the whole picture. Maradona is someone who has taken teams from the very bottom of the league and brought them to the top. Napoli is the plainest example of this. As for Messi, he is playing at his peak on a team that is already at its peak! You can also reach some conclusions when you look at what Maradona did for the Argentine national team, as opposed to what Messi has done.
As someone who was heading teams that were unable to win six finals, two of which were in the Champion’s League, what sort of lessons did you learn from these experiences?
There are so many factors involved in my career, from working hard to lots of thought to simple luck. I believe that luck definitely played a role in the finals that my teams lost. There are always wins as well as losses in football, it’s just part of the game, and it will always be this way. The important thing is not to label yourself “unlucky,” and not to give up.
Did you have any problems adapting to life in Ordu?
Ordu is a quiet and pretty city. I have always loved a calm life. I prefer living in small cities to larger metropolitan areas. Most of my time passes at the football facilities anyway. I spent a lot of time working on tactics and analyzing the competitors.
What about problems with language differences?
I have a dictionary. Even though I have not really been able to learn Turkish, I can get what I need for myself when I go into the grocery store. People pay a lot of attention to me, and even though there is a linguistic barrier, we can usually work everything out through body language.
How would you characterize the people of Anatolia?
As far as I am concerned, one of the greatest virtues in life is modesty and decency. I do not know about Turkey in general, but these are traits which I see plainly in the people of Ordu, to a level that both surprises me and makes me very happy.
What do you think of the reigning football mentality in Turkey?
The Turkish Super League is a very quality league. They should definitely not be envious of other leagues. When I do my analysis on this matter, I set aside for the moment the first five teams. I look at the quality of the other teams, since the top five teams are really formed by the most elite teams of the league. And so it is not the teams in that first five that really provide one with an idea of the general quality of the league. And so, analyzing in this way, I have noted that outside the first five teams, the league is really quite [high] quality. For example, if you were to take the İstanbul Belediyespor team and stick it into the Spanish league, I could say it would definitely have a chance of winning against the top eight teams there.