Hugo Cruz, head coach of Krakow Dragoons FC

Hugo Cruz: The Story So Far

Posted on Text: Dave Burch Visual Editing: Daniel Silva

Hugo is a true Dragoons stalwart. The Head Coach took some time out of his busy schedule to discuss his footballing journey so far ahead of the Dragoons’ return to action this weekend.

Hailing from the city of Águeda in his native Portugal, Hugo has been kicking a ball for as long as he can remember. “I lived in a house with two older cousins that were good ballers and we had plenty of space to play football outside. I was not particularly talented technically compared with them, so I used to be the goalkeeper. It’s no wonder why I ended up being a defender!”, Hugo laughs with his trademark smile. 

A Glimpse in the Past

On his earliest memories, Benfica fan Hugo added “I started to play early in my town club Recreio Desportivo de Águeda at just 6 years old. I absolutely loved it! I really enjoyed training and the football environment. It was here that I learned more and more on a personal level and gained personal skills. We had a good generation of players there and some of them could have gone on to play at much higher levels”.

Hugo further mentioned, “I was a centre back but also played in all the other defensive roles including defensive midfield. I made the transition to the senior team with RD Águeda and continued to play even though I was studying and living in a different town. During my studies was the first time I was not playing much but I still enjoyed football when I did play and it helped that we had a great coach. Finally, when I came into the starting line-up after a short break, the very next week I injured my knee”. 

Injury Curse Strikes

It would turn out that the knee injury suffered would be quite serious and would require an operation. “The first surgery was to repair the medial meniscus and an ACL rupture in the right knee. After some postoperative complications, I ended up having to have 3 surgeries in 2 years and had no alternative but to stop playing football”.

With football now at the back of his mind, Hugo concentrated on his studies and it was on a student exchange in France where he met Agnieszka, his now fiancée. With Aga living and working in Kraków, Hugo decided to settle in the city having enjoyed visiting on several occasions. 

Poland Bound

Moving to a new city is never easy and football is a surefire way to make new friends. Hugo explained “The Dragoons did not exist at the time. But I remember it was back in January 2016 when someone dropped a post in a Facebook Expat group trying to gather some players for a kickabout. I had just moved to Kraków so I found it a great opportunity to meet new people and play football”. He laughs, “I still had 1 knee so I decided to join in that day. That was when we all started to play more regularly every Tuesday and then eventually Thursday”.

Just as the Dragoons started to form into a serious entity, the injury curse struck again. “This time it was the medial meniscus in the left knee!”. With surgery required on his other knee, the unfortunate Portuguese national decided to call time on playing football.

As the Dragoons formed as an official club during his recovery from surgery, being a popular member of the friendship group, Hugo was offered the chance to help coach the team alongside Diego Villaneuva in support of Head Coach Ashvin Asani.

Krakow Dragoons FC staff wearing UEFA Grassroots Programme t-shirts
The Originals — Diego Villanueva (Asst. Head Coach), Ashvin Asani (Head Coach), Hugo Cruz (Coach) and Alex Băcica (President) lead the Dragoons in the early days | Photo credits: Pedro Viernes

A New Beginning

When asked about the transition from player to coach, Cruz said “The transition was quite natural. Many years ago, when I decided to stop playing football because of injuries, I wanted to have the opportunity to coach football. I found myself again in that situation, so when I was invited to coach the team I was very happy. Back then it was difficult as we had half a pitch to coach 25 to 30 players. A lot of the time with a few football training routines, instead of just playing one big game. It was a bit of a culture shock and I’d say the transition was especially difficult for the players that were there from the beginning just for a kick about. Suddenly, we were not just playing and having fun anymore because football had become a lot more serious being a proper club”. 

Despite his playing career seemingly being over due to serious injuries to both knees, in August 2021 he made a shock comeback. With the Expats depleted in numbers, Hugo went against the doctor’s orders and ended his enforced retirement to make his competitive debut for the Dragoons in the Puchar Polski. 

Krakow Dragoons FC having a warm-up run before match
Debut — Hugo leads the warm up prior to making his first appearance for the club in the Puchar Polski | Photo credits: Pedro Viernes

The Portuguese navigated the full 90 minutes in defence, coming through the game unscathed in a 4-2 victory against Iskra Krzęcin. Despite his appearance, Hugo was adamant at the time that this was very much a one-off… or so he thought!


That would change again when Hugo played for the club for a second time on 25th November 2022 against AFC DwS in the Fenix Trophy. Cruz had been feeling the itch to return to playing and with the Dragoons travelling party being short on numbers, Hugo came to the rescue to be added into the squad. 

Starting at centre-back, he led by example throughout the game by staying calm in possession and being a colossus at the back in breaking up the opponent’s attacks. With DWS proving to be a stronger outfit, the Expats trailed the game 2-0 at the break. Early in the second half, however, the Portuguese would snatch a goal back for the club to reduce the deficit. Staying up from a set-piece, Hugo took advantage of the opponent’s dallying at the back, to nip in and tuck the ball into the net past the stranded keeper for his first Dragoons goal. 

Hugo won the Expats Man of the Match with his display typifying the mantra preached in his coaching. A truly heart-warming moment for someone who should have been nowhere near a football field!

Hugo Cruz of Krakow Dragoons FC smiling as he puts on his team jacket, while wearing a UEFA Grassroots Programme t-shirt
Trademark Smile — It’s rare to see Hugo not wearing a smile on his face! | Photo credits: Pedro Viernes

On his comeback Hugo said “Well, that was a special moment. I had decided a couple of years previously that my career was over after my last knee surgery. But I was feeling good, so I decided to start training with the team and I joined the team that day in Amsterdam in our first Fenix match. I had very little expectations of my performance after so many years without playing properly. Unfortunately, we lost the game but still keep good memories of that moment, especially the goal”.

A New Start?

Having come through the game without any issues, Hugo had the bug to continue playing. He played a third time for the club, a second appearance against DWS in a 2-1 Fenix Trophy defeat. Coming through the game injury-free once again, Cruz felt strong and confident to return to regular football.

Krakow Dragoons FC in their dressing room at half-time
Ready for Action — Hugo (far right) and the rest of the team in the locker room at half time against DWS | Photo credits: Pedro Viernes

A fourth appearance for the club came in the league, starting in midfield to help guide the team to a 3-2 victory on a bobbly pitch away at Rybitwy. His fifth appearance in the next fixture against Krakus Swoszowice would unfortunately prove to be his final one, however. Just 20 minutes into the game, an innocuous tackle on the edge of the box saw Cruz go down clutching his knee and writhing in agony. Everyone in attendance had their hearts in their mouth as Hugo had to be helped off the pitch, with the pain and devastation visible on his face. 

Hugo Cruz of Krakow Dragoons FC opening his arms wide in disappointment during a match vs LKS Krakus Swoszowice
A Final Farewell — Hugo lets his disappointment be known before suffering his career ending injury against Krakus Swoszowice | Photo credits: Alex Băcica

Hugo knew as soon as the incident happened, that it was sadly game over from a playing perspective. Hugo remains upbeat however, chuckling “now this year I don’t want to know what the injury was but most likely both meniscus or what remains of them at least!” Whilst Hugo is happy to joke about the injury, it caused a headache for poor Aga, with whom he was due to travel on holiday the following week!

Head Coach Cruz

Fresh from his return from holiday a short time after in May 2023, Head Coach Ashvin Asani departed Poland. Alex Băcica turned to Hugo to step up from his position as assistant coach and become the Interim Head Coach in the Englishman’s place.

The Portuguese agreed to take on the interim role of Head Coach and during the summer of 2023, the position became permanent with the freshly retired Dragoons Scott Halcrow (England) and David Nicolas (France) stepping into the assistant coach roles to help out.

With a similar style of play employed as his predecessor, Hugo made a few tactical tweaks and had many new players join who needed to be integrated into the club culture.

Life of a Coach

Of the difficulties faced as the Head Coach, Hugo commented “Starting from the lack of time to do the things the way I wish! Back then, we were a different type of team with many members being around a long time and part of a social group. We cannot forget our values and our mission as a platform for integration. We now have nearly 40 players to manage. That is 40 humans with their own personality, culture and family, who at the end of the day pay for the privilege of playing”.

Hugo Cruz of Krakow Dragoons FC talking to the team
Gather Round — Hugo with whiteboard in hand preaches his mantra to the boys before a match | Photo credits: Friend of Adventures

“My job is to try to make it possible to have a competitive, but yet sustainable environment which is a challenge that I enjoy. Sometimes, I want specific things in our gameplay that we struggle to implement on the pitch. Occasionally, we have to take much smaller steps to adapt, due to the fluctuation of numbers available and present in the training sessions. Not only is it a learning process for the players, it is also a learning process for me too. To be patient and learn how to be more effective with decisions both on and off the pitch. Is it enjoyable? Definitely, and proportional to the amount of stress too! But overall, I love being part of this project”.

Future Plans

On his future plans for the club Hugo added “For now I take it training by training and match by match. Every game we try to be better and win every single competition we are entered into. My job is to build the right environment so that we as coaches and players can develop individually in order to play better as a team”.

Hugo continued, “For the rest of the season, I want to be able to add more to our gameplay and take it to another level. The work that was done in the past was very good, so we need to continue to evolve and develop our players’ understanding of the game. Generally, I need to make sure we continue to work as a family too. One big family with many different people and egos that can build this project and this club together. I am glad to say that I think I have the right people around me to make this happen”.

Favourite Moments

When asked about his favourite moments at the Dragoons so far Hugo said thoughtfully “I don’t like to choose one moment in particular. From the moment we started to play together, to the first official matches, to the Fenix Cup and definitely the day we won the league, all of it was amazing. Our trips to Warsaw and integration events are also special, it helps the togetherness of the group and the understanding that we are one big family after all”.

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