Fernando Santos leaves Portugal job after World Cup exit and Ronaldo bench saga

Fernando Santos has left his role as head coach of Portugal, bringing an end to a reign which saw him become the most successful boss in the team’s history.

Fernando Santos (L) has stepped down as coach of Portugal, days after dropping Cristiano Ronaldo (R) at the World Cup

The 68-year-old departs in the wake of a World Cup quarter-final defeat to Morocco, a frustrating end to a terrific spell in charge that saw him lead Portugal to Euro 2016 and Nations League title triumphs.

His departure was confirmed by the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF), which said in a statement: “The FPF and Fernando Santos agreed to end the highly successful journey that began in September 2014.

“After one of the best participations ever by the national team in the final stages of the World Cup, in Qatar, FPF and Fernando Santos understand that this is the right moment to start a new cycle.

“It was an honour to have a coach and a person like Fernando Santos at the head of the national team.

“The FPF thanks Fernando Santos and his technical team for the services provided over eight unique years and believes that this thanks is also made on behalf of the Portuguese people.”

Santos departs at a time when doubts remain regarding whether Cristiano Ronaldo will extend his own international career.

The most prolific goalscorer in international football history struggled for form at the World Cup, and with his 38th birthday coming up in February, his days as a force at the top level may be over.

Santos reduced Ronaldo to the role of substitute for Portugal’s two knockout games at the World Cup, a 6-1 win over Switzerland and the 1-0 loss to Morocco.

While Ronaldo came off the bench in both games, his impact was minimal. Santos later said he had “no regrets” about dropping the five-time Ballon d’Or winner.

He still faced criticism from Ronaldo’s partner Georgina Rodriguez, who posted on Instagram that the coach “decided wrong”, adding: “You can’t underestimate the best player in the world and the most powerful weapon you have, just as you can’t stand up for someone who doesn’t deserve it.”

The titles that Santos won with Portugal are the country’s only major honours, with a 1-0 victory over France in the Euro 2016 final made all the more impressive by the fact Ronaldo was withdrawn after suffering an early injury.

Portugal then hosted and won the 2019 Nations League finals, defeating the Netherlands 1-0 in the final, but they lost to Belgium in the last 16 at Euro 2020.

The shock defeat to Morocco prompted Santos and Portugal to part ways despite the head coach having a contract that was due to run until 2024.

Roma coach Jose Mourinho has been linked with the job, having previously expressed a desire to move into international football.

Should Portugal hire Mourinho, they would be taking on one of the most successful coaches of the modern era, who has led Porto and Inter to Champions League glory.

Besides his rich success with those sides, Mourinho has stacked up many more trophies during spells at Chelsea, Real Madrid and Manchester United, while he steered Roma to the inaugural Europa Conference League title last season.

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