Twenty years after making his debut with Boavista, Portugal international Nuno Gomes announced on Tuesday that he is retiring from the game to join Benfica’s executive management team as the head of its international operations.
The Lisbon club, which currently heads the Portuguese league, officially confirmed the news, while Nuno Gomes spoke to FIFA.com about his decision, not without a tinge of regret: “Football was my life and I will always miss it. It’s a shame you can’t play forever, but the time has come to think about doing something else.”
Born Nuno Miguel Soares Pereira Ribeiro in the town of Amarante, Nuno Gomes will go down as one of Portugal’s great strikers, having scored 29 goals in 79 international appearances between 1996 and 2011, a time when he was mostly competing for a place with Pauleta, another of his country’s most outstanding marksmen.
Nuno Gomes began his career at Boavista, where he made his first-team debut as an 18-year-old in 1994. He quickly consolidated his place in the side and scored 31 goals in 98 appearances in his three seasons with the Porto club. Impressed by those statistics, Benfica came in for the striker, who terrorised defences up and down the country in netting 76 goals in 124 matches for the Lisbon giants.
Questioned about his prolific strike rate in the early years of his career, he said: “When you start out young, you mature faster, though you do miss out on a lot of the things that make growing up fun.”
Gomes managed to replicate his club form for Portugal, for whom he made his debut in 1996 against France. He was preferred by coach Humberto Coelho to Pauleta at UEFA EURO 2000 and responded by scoring against England and France and grabbing a brace against Turkey.
The striker then packed his bags for Serie A, where he spent two not altogether successful seasons with Fiorentina. Disappointed with his Italian experience, he returned home to his beloved Benfica, where he would stay for nine more seasons, scoring 90 in 278 outings and winning two league titles, a Portuguese Cup, three League Cups and a Super Cup in the process.
Despite helping himself to seven goals in six qualifying matches for the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™, he lost his place to Pauleta in the Portugal front line. Appearing as a substitute on home soil at UEFA EURO 2004, he struck the goal that downed Spain in the group phase and took the hosts into the quarter-finals.
He came on in the second half of the final against Greece, played on the eve of his 28th birthday, but could do nothing to prevent the Greeks from prevailing 1-0 and crumpled to the ground in tears at the final whistle.
Dogged by injury in the years that followed, he never fully regained his explosive pace and though Pauleta had by now retired, his international career was winding down.
He played his last game for Portugal on 11 October 2011, against Denmark, and following short and largely unexceptional spells with Braga and Blackburn Rovers he finally turned the page, accepting an executive position at Benfica.
As he explained to FIFA.com, however, he is missing the game already: “It goes without saying that I miss it and everything that comes with being a professional player: the training, the team-mates and the atmosphere of the dressing room – all the things that make the life of a footballer what it is.”