Portugal’s little genius: Fernando Chalana

Craig McCracken
Contributor

A small country with a large influence over the modern game – this summer will be dominated one again by the transfers of yet another batch of talented Portuguese footballers to Europe’s biggest clubs, in deals mostly negotiated by a compatriot – the formidable super-agent Jorge Mendes.

Here we rewind the clock to 1984 for a tale of another exceptional Portuguese footballer much in demand across Europe, a winger who also had Portugal’s most formidable agent of the time: his wife.

Fernando Chalana was a very different type of Portuguese footballer to the physical powerhouses of today so sought after by the giants of England, Spain and Italy. Standing just 5ft 5″ tall with a huge, drooping moustache, Chalana was an electrifying winger and a proper throwback to the good old days when wide players were a whirl of fancy footwork, mazy dribbles and an uncanny talent for hitting pinpoint accurate crosses onto the heads of teammates.

Fernando Chalana, Benfica
Image Source: Pinterest

He made his Benfica debut aged 17 and such was his impact that he was called up almost immediately to represent Portugal. Chalana was a fixture for his boyhood club over the next eight years and played a major role in Benfica’s great domestic success that included five national titles.

His skills earned him the nickname of Pequeno Genial (little genius) and his manager from 1982 to 1984, Sven-Göran Eriksson, in later years described him as the most skilful player he had ever worked with.

In contemporary times, Chalana would have been whisked away from the Portuguese game within eight months rather than eight seasons, though, this was a different Portugal still emerging into the European mainstream in its fledgling years of democracy. The winger’s wonderful performances at Euro ’84 suddenly gave him the sort of wider profile all those years in Portugal hadn’t.

The highlight of his and Portugal’s campaign came in the semi-final against the hosts, France. Chalana teased and taunted the French defence with his skill and pace and supplied the crosses for both Portuguese goals. France prevailed 3-2 but such was the impact he had made on his opponents that Ligue 1’s then-dominant side, Bordeaux, made overtures to sign him.

Fernando Chalana, Bordeaux
Source: Alchetron

This is where the Chalana story becomes as much about Anabel as it is Fernando; Anabel Chalana was the wife and agent of Fernando and by the zenith of his career in the summer of 1984 had already cast herself as a controversial and outspoken character.

An avowed feminist who modelled herself on the similarly forthright agent wife of Bernd Schuster, how much of her unpopularity was down to her actions or simply because she was a woman in the most masculine of environments is moot.

Certainly when she set her mind on something she tended to get it. Wanting to travel with her husband to that European Championship in France, she got round the ban on partners and girlfriends by getting herself journalistic accreditation instead.

When news emerged that Bordeaux had agreed a fee of just over £1m for Chalana, an aggrieved Boavista angrily announced it had a legal pre-contract negotiated and signed three months earlier with Anabel. Just to add more confusion, Fernando himself stated that he would have preferred to stay at Benfica and sign a contract extension there.

Eventually the mess was sorted out and he joined the French champions to play alongside luminaries like Giresse, Tigana, Battiston, Lacombe and Dieter Müller. Alas, the transfer proved to be an unmitigated disaster.

Early promise in his first season soon fell away to be replaced by perpetual injuries, complaints of homesickness and the ever-increasing demands of Anabel who was continually attempting to extract more money from the increasingly exasperated Bordeaux president Claude Bez – reportedly to support her rumoured profligate lifestyle.

Fernando Chalana, Bordeaux
Source: Twitter

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Bordeaux continued to dominate the French game with Fernando Chalana a broadly incidental member of their squad. During his three years in Ligue 1 he managed just 22 appearances and two goals. A return to Benfica in 1987 failed to reignite his career as injuries and Anabel-inspired issues off the pitch marginalised him once more. Fernando Chalana ended his career with inconsequential spells with Beleneses and he retired in 1992 at the the of 33.

There are few better examples of a career of two halves than that of this mercurial left-footed magician. The first half was all about dazzling skill, individual acclaim and multiple honours; the second of injury, unhappiness, bad career guidance and the sense of a talent sorely wasted.

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