THE THURSDAY INTERVIEW: HILARIO

Posted on: Fri 30 Mar 2012

Today Hilario will be rejoined in training by his many international team mates. He knows his short spell in the Chelsa first team is likely to be over come Saturday but such is the life of the back-up goalkeeper. It's a job he signed up for again in the summer and one he has been analysing.


'I feel de-stressed,' Hilario tells the Chelsea website, which quickly attempts to correct his English.

Having overcome a moment's confusion when his Portuguese accent made it sound like he is 'distressed' in the build-up to first team appearances, it is suggested to our goalkeeper that he means 'unstressed'. He immediately accepts the correction.

Hilario had been asked if he feels much tension or many nerves when he is called upon to perform between the posts in an important game. An example of such an occasion is not hard to find. The memorable win over Liverpool before the international break is still fresh in the mind.

It is only some time after the interview is over, with Hilario having departed from another day's full training at Cobham while many of his colleagues are dotted around Europe preparing for internationals, that the thought occurs - de-stressed was a more accurate word for the way he approaches his occasional moments under a bright spotlight.

Hilario turns 34 next Wednesday and the more often he comes in and does what he did against Liverpool, the greater the appreciation of his quality as a back-up goalie becomes.

It was shown on his debut, a 1-0 win over Barcelona three years ago this weekend; and again in a shut-out when he came on away at Blackburn the next season after 11 months without a first team game. Then there was a save at home against Fenerbahçe when he was again a sub. That kept Chelsea in the Champions League and on route to Moscow. Even his one appearance last season, the disappointing 0-0 draw at home to Hull that brought the curtain down on the Scolari era, was a personal success.

That many admirable performances when thrown in at the deep end can't be a fluke. The statistic that Hilario has only been on the losing side once in his 25 starts tells a story.

The Barça debut and this month's 2-0 win over Liverpool are occasions when any player could feel the pressure on, especially one with such limited first team action heading into the matches. So 'de-stressing' is a vital skill.

Hilario Chelsea Football Club

'The point is when you are young, you used to hear from the coaches that even when you are playing against the worst team in the world, you need to give some respect and you have to have humility,' Hilario begins to explain.

'You need to focus on what we you going to do, and you need to be ready for everything, it doesn't matter if you are playing Barcelona or any of the other teams.

'What makes the games different is the pressure and some games have more media around them, and that is a difference for the supporters and the press, but for the professional players, it is always the same - the same focus, the same attitude.'

If good habits learned early on are part of the coping mechanism for a number two keeper, so, in Hilario's opinion, is a calm temperament.

'It is my way [before a big game]. I feel good with myself, I feel okay, and after when everything has happened, I don't feel much.

'It is about personality and my personality is like that. I feel normal before a game, I feel de-stressed. My personality is like this and that helps me a lot.'

Comfortable with the English language even before his move to London, and a calm, quiet presence around the training ground, Hilario' self-assessment rings true.

His early catch under his crossbar against Liverpool was the action of man not afflicted by excessive nerves. Experience must count for something as well. He experienced major, high-pressure matches long before the move to Chelsea.

At 21 years of age he was playing in the Champions League for Porto against Manchester United. Three seasons later there were home and away encounters against Barcelona (pictured below) with Rivaldo and Luis Figo as red hot opponents.

Hilario Chelsea Football Club

This was Porto several seasons before Jose Mourinho arrived. This was the same season (1999/00) that Chelsea were playing in the Champions League for the first time. The keeper could have faced his future club a decade ago.

Results against Barça were not favourable for either Porto or Chelsea that season but the Portuguese matched us in making the quarter-finals with Hilario playing both legs against Bayern Munich. It was a stoppage-time goal by the Germans that knocked them out.

In total, he played 13 Champions League games before joining Chelsea, but would the Hilario of back then be able to do the job he does now?

'It was different then and if it wasn't it, it would not be good now,' he decides. 'You get older, you get experience, so something has to change and if it doesn't change for the better, it is a bad sign. That doesn't mean that when I was at that age I was no good, but it means that I have more experience.

'I feel that I am a lucky player because in my career I have been trained by very good coaches, not only goalkeeping coaches but my main coaches as well. That makes me feel stronger in every aspect.'

What doesn't appear to change is Porto as a strong Champions League side. They sold star Argentine players Lucho and Lisandro Lopez from last season's quarter-final team but typically have recruited more South Americans and are well-positioned to be Chelsea's strongest challenges in Group D, having beaten Atletico Madrid and with back-to-back matches against APOEL beginning next week. Our win over them at the Bridge in September was a narrow one.

'Every single season they go at least to the second stage and they often do more,' confirms their former player. 'They have good structures in the club, and they believe in themselves.

'That is because of the past achievements and it is also because of the people that are still there from my time, from a long time ago. Those people believe in themselves and they give confidence to the players.

'You see examples of players that don't work so well in the other teams but when they get the chance to play in Porto, they do absolutely fantastic.

'The atmosphere, the feelings, the belief there is good and when a player has quality and has this feeling, this confidence around him, it makes him a better player.'

The respect is clear.

'I am really proud of playing for Porto but I am really well where I am now at Chelsea. I have settled here and I feel at home but I started to play for Porto when I was 10 and it was almost 19 years that we were together, although some years I went to play in the other teams on loan.

'Porto is my city but I feel really good here.'

That was a feeling turned into something tangible in the summer when Hilario joined the list of Chelsea players who signed new contracts, in his case to keep him at the club until 2011.

'It was something that I was looking for and we were talking for a long time about this renewal, but I am pleased to be here. I love this club, I like very much the people around and I love London. I used to joke about this but it is true, my family is really settled, my kids too and I want to continue here, I want to do a good work.'

The match against Liverpool was already won when Hilario saved Steven Gerrard's stoppage-time volley but there can't have been a single Chelsea follower who wasn't pleased to see him secure his clean sheet. That included Petr Cech who was caught by camera congratulating his understudy after the final whistle.

Chelsea v Liverpool

'I have seen that picture. He is my friend and it has been an absolute pleasure to work every day with Petr. I feel proud that when I am playing, I have his support and it helps me a lot, not only when I am playing but because every single training we are together and we challenge ourselves.

'He is an absolutely fantastic goalkeeper and I learn a lot with him.'

Today Cech will return to training at Cobham no doubt hugely disappointed to have missed out on the World Cup Finals. He will almost certainly reclaim the keeper's position for Saturday, determined to compensate by winning trophies with Chelsea this season.

For Hilario, the wait will begin again. He has no knowledge of when his next major game will be, but whenever it comes it will be another test he will face without trepidation.