Cybernetics, Cesarean Sections and Soccer’s Most Magnificent Mind

His great contribution to the sport is tactical periodization, an approach to management that is often characterized — much to his evident frustration — as a coaching style. “It is not a method,” he says, almost as soon as he sits down. “It is a methodology. You have a methodology so that you don’t need methods.” The last word is issued with disdain.


José Mourinho, right, is the best-known follower of Frade’s methodology, having used it with considerable success at Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid before arriving at Manchester United.

Martin Rickett/Press Association, via Associated Press

To Frade, his approach is a management philosophy, a personal dogma and a belief system rolled into one. It is a way of thinking more than a way of playing, one conceived and crafted in this office, at this university, but that can now claim devotees around the world.

Its most famous evangelist is José Mourinho, who deployed it to considerable success at Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid, and who now hopes it can revive Manchester United. But Mourinho is not alone. Most of the great Portuguese coaching diaspora carry some of Frade’s imprint: André Villas-Boas and Vítor Pereira most directly, from the time they spent at F.C. Porto, but also Monaco’s Leonardo Jardim and Hull City’s Marco Silva at one or more removes.

Then there are the foreign adherents, the managers and coaches whose ideas draw to a greater or lesser extent on Frade’s work. Brendan Rodgers, the coach of Celtic, became convinced of the approach’s value while working under Mourinho early in his career. Eddie Jones, the Australian coach of England’s rugby team, is a convert, too.

In recent months alone, Frade has welcomed, among others, visitors from Australia, Brazil, England and Scandinavia. Every so often, with the help of a friend, he puts together an email blast for anyone who has expressed an interest in his work. It goes out, he said, to 542 people, including Mourinho.

The emails contain poems composed by Frade — Pepijn Lijnders, a former Porto coach now working at Liverpool, shares them with the Brazilians Philippe Coutinho and Lucas Leiva — but also “articles I have read, interviews with interesting coaches, book recommendations and summaries.” Frade is as likely to include a paper on robotics or neuroscience as one on soccer itself, the product of a brain fizzing and whirring, its synapses forever fusing links between unrelated thoughts.

His answer to the question “What is tactical periodization?” for example, starts with a discourse on the structure of a cell, takes in cesarean sections, where alligators might live in the Mississippi, chameleons, quantum mechanics, and ends, no small number of hours later, with a…

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