This was not how it was supposed to end. The greatest two months in Costa Rican football history just came to a close with the departure of head coach Jorge Luis Pinto. And his final press conference has set off controversies that will linger for months or even years.
The press conference started out amicably enough with Costa Rican Football Federation (Fedefut) President Eduardo Li saying that after a couple days of serious talks, Pinto and the organization failed to agree on terms for a new contract. Li — sitting next to the Colombian coach — said the doors remained open to a possible return for the 61-year-old coach in the future.
That might no longer be the case. When it was Pinto’s turn to speak to the media, he blasted Fedefut and members of his coaching staff (without revealing names) for the way they treated him. His most furious allegation accused an assistant coach of trying to get him fired before the team qualified for the World Cup. Pinto, who’s well-known for his explosive temperament, has sparked a firestorm.
Li, in comments made after the press conference, sniped back at Pinto by calling his tenure “anarchic.” He said players, coaches and Fedefut officials had issues with the way he ran the national team. He added that Pinto wanted to fire his coaching staff and bring in four or five Colombians to replace them.
Pinto — who previously was fired as coach of Costa Rica’s national team in 2005 — now leaves the Ticos on his own accord after taking them to the quarterfinals of the World Cup for the first time in the country’s history. His exit was expected as he’s a likely candidate for a trio of head coaching jobs in South America. But nobody could’ve predicted the fiery last press conference, including Fedefut. Li said Pinto brought up topics they had agreed to not mention to the press.
Still, the coach leaves Costa Rica as a hero. The majority of fans certainly take his side in the early-goings of a discussion that likely is far from over.
Fedefut faces enormous pressure to name a manager who can build on Pinto’s success. Li said the organization will make a decision on Pinto’s replacement in some 90 days. Until then, the coaches that Pinto bashed will lead the team at the Central America Cup in September. How Costa Rica performs there can help quell the controversy or inflame it.
Here are the best quotes from Pinto’s final day as head coach of La Sele:
1. “I slept with the enemy for a year and a half.”
-Jorge Luis Pinto, on how he worked with assistants and Fedefut members who were out to get him.
2. “If we had not demanded committed players, I am sure that we would not have gotten where we did.”
-Pinto, on how his methods might be demanding, but they work.
3. “Yes I’m fussy, and I keep an eye on everything, and I’m not going to change. I have won, and we went to the World Cup quarterfinals.”
-Pinto, on how the ends justified the means.
4. “With the coaching staff, I have had differences. They don’t share my style and form. I am demanding. And they don’t share my style.”
-Pinto, on the issues with his assistant head coaches.
5. “I would never ask for a coach’s head.”
-Assistant head coach Luis Marín, in an interview with La Teja, denying that he was the member of the coaching staff who “betrayed” Pinto and asked for him to be fired. Pinto and Marín have a relationship that goes back more than a decade. Pinto coached Marín to multiple national championships in the early 2000s as a member of Alajuelense. For that reason, many speculate that it was the other assistant head coach, Paulo Wanchope, who clashed with Pinto. Wanchope is arguably the greatest Costa Rican football player in the country’s history. Late Thursday evening, he denied the accusation.
6. “We gave him the opportunity to work things out, but I’m not going to talk anymore about this topic. If he wants to get rid of five people so that he can bring in foreign staff [from Colombia], of course we’re not going to be happy. It’s not fair to Wanchope that he’s getting blamed.”
-Li, after the press conference, on Pinto’s unfair demands. The Fedefut president said he felt backstabbed by Pinto.
7. “I hurt because we have done important work here.”
-Pinto, on his bittersweet exit.
8. “If I couldn’t pick my own assistants, ones I could trust, I couldn’t continue.”
-Pinto, on the main issue that led to his departure.
9. “We never talked about money, and we never will.”
-Pinto emphasizing that money was not a factor in his decision.
10. “I promised Costa Rica the first option. Beginning today, I start to look at my future.”
-Pinto on if he knows where he’ll go next.
11. “We have suffered, we have fought, we have won. A big hug for the people of Costa Rica.”
-Pinto on what he wants to say to fans, adding that the team has great players and La Sele can succeed without him.