He was never a household name but was known around the league for his incredible work ethic and professionalism, and now A-League stars are going on their days off to see Diogo Ferreira for one-on-one specialised training.
Bruno Fornaroli is one of the best players in the A-League, but he is always looking to improve.
Despite scoring 57 goals in 83 games, and being by far the club’s record all-time goalscorer, he fell out with Melbourne City coach Warren Joyce during the 2018-19 season and the Englishman banned Fornaroli from training with the rest of the squad.
Fornaroli asked some friends if they knew anyone he could train with and they put him in touch with former A-League midfielder Diogo Ferreira, who Fornaroli had only ever known as an opponent at Perth Glory.
“It was amazing, he helped me a lot,” Fornaroli said.
After just a few sessions, the 2015-16 A-League golden boot winner could see Ferreira’s quality as a coach.
“I said to him ‘Diogo, please, I need you every day.”
Fornaroli and Ferreira started working on every aspect of Fornaroli’s game.
Ferreira was working day and night to help the Uruguayan, whether it was on the training pitch, in the gym, or analysing video of his matches.
“The way he works, in my experience, is much more like they do in Europe.”
“Diogo watched my matches, he looked at my movement and showed me how I can improve protecting the ball, turning and shooting.”
When Fornaroli joined Perth in March 2019, but was still based in Melbourne, he told then Glory coach Tony Popovic about Ferreira and the two coaches started working together to improve the marque striker.
That improvement in Fornaroli’s ability to protect the ball, turn and shoot is evident in this goal from Perth’s 1-1 draw with Brisbane in February.
“He has new ideas, he is always trying to learn, always thinking about football,” Fornaroli explained about Ferreira.
“Sometimes here in Australia, coaches think they already know everything, they’re not trying to improve. You always need to be looking at how you can learn more, and that’s Diogo.
But right now, Ferreira, who has completed his ‘B’ license and was hoping to complete his ‘A’ before COVID hit and postponed the course, continues to operate outside the A-League as a private coach.
Is he good enough to make the step up? Fornaroli has no doubts.
“For sure he could work at an A-League club. He has good ideas, a different way to train and would improve any club.
Fornaroli wishes he was still working with him, although the distance between Perth and Melbourne, as well as the border closures, makes it impossible.
“We’re not training at the moment with Perth since the season finishes and I’m thinking now, I need Diogo.”
He has worked with numerous A-League players on an individual level. Fornaroli recommended Ferreira to teammate Luke Brattan.
After working with Ferreira in Melbourne, Brattan went on to Sydney where he had one of his best seasons in years - winning the A-League premiership and Championship as well as being named Sydney FC player of the season.
James Donachie first met Ferreira at Brisbane Roar where they became good friends on and off the field.
“He’s the ultimate professional. Still to this day, he doesn’t drink when we’re out. He’s been like that his whole career,” Donachie said of Ferreira.
When Donachie returned to Melbourne Victory on loan in 2019, he approached his former teammate and asked if he could work with him one-on-one.
“I’ve done it the last year and a half, and it really helped me out a lot.”
After working with Ferreira, Donachie was voted Melbourne Victory’s Players’ Player of the Year this season.
Ferreira worked with Donachie on technical aspects of his game, improving his left-foot, his long-range passing in intense 45-minute sessions, as well as analysing his matches and pointing out aspects he could improve.
Donachie, like Fornaroli, was so impressed that he spoke to A-League clubs about bringing in Ferreira as a coach.
“I’ve put him forward personally to A-League clubs. I haven’t worked with anybody who understands the player and what a player needs so well.
“I’ve pushed his name forward because he is well and truly up there with one of the best I’ve worked with.”
Growing up in Melbourne in a Portuguese family, Ferreira was obsessed with football from an early age.
His work ethic and talent made some of the biggest clubs in Portugal take notice.
Originally going on trial at Benfica, Ferreira ended up joining FC Porto aged 16, just one year after the club had won the UEFA Champions League under Jose Mourinho.
While he spoke the language, it was a big shock going from suburban Melbourne to living in a house with 14 other players from all around the world as well as other parts of Portugal.
“Kids there are ruthless. We’re too nice in Australia. Until I gained the respect of the players. I used to get bullied there because I was there to take their mates’ position,” Ferreira said.
“I remember many nights ringing my parents crying. My parents told me to come home, but those types of experiences can make you stronger.”
At 19-years-old Ferreira came back to Melbourne where he joined Green Gully, before being quickly picked up by Victory.
But even at that early age, Ferreira had a passion for coaching and would run coaching clinics for kids.
Ferreira went on to have a fairly unremarkable A-League career, playing 82 games across three clubs, as well as eight matches in the Asian Champions League.
He won an A-League title in 2014 during his time with Brisbane Roar, but only managed 11 appearances with the club.
In 2016, he headed to Indonesia to play for one of the most fiercely supported clubs in Asia - Persib Bandung.
“There were things I’d never thought I’d experience, like going to games in army tanks.”
“The passion of the fans is incredible. When the team won, the city was happy, despite all the difficulty in their lives.”
There were spells in India and Japan afterward but at 29-years-old Ferreira was back in the Victorian National Premier League playing with Dandenong City.
However, you won’t hear any excuses from him for why he didn’t go on to bigger and better things as a player.
“I believed I reached my full potential.”
“There is nothing worse than hearing professionals say, ‘if I had done this or that than I would have had a better career.’”
So maybe he did reach his full potential as a player, but could his real calling be in coaching?
“Ultimately I want to coach at an A-League level and then who knows after that.”
Ferriera now runs his own academy in Melbourne, which prior to COVID restrictions he was working with young kids as well as A-League players. Running one-on-one, two-on-one, small group and big group sessions.
“I see myself being an A-League coach in the future. I believe I can work with both the top players and especially those players transitioning from the youth team to the senior team.
“I know what was lacking when I was coming through, and I’m always looking at the small percentages.
“If you look overseas, the players are lucky enough to have positional-specific training that they can do.
“Here in the A-League our clubs have a limited coaching staff, they don’t have as much time to break it down to that level. I don’t blame the coaches. They only have so much time.
“But that’s what I’m offering these players. I analyse their games, they come and see me on their days off. To make themselves a better player, and to make their team play better.
“There is a bit of a gap where players don’t have that in the A-League, and that’s why players are coming to me."