Granada went up to First in 2019 led by Diego Martínez (Vigo, 40 years old). He was accompanied by a squad of players whose core will be the same as tonight (9:00 pm, Movistar LC) will receive Manchester United in Los Cármenes to play the quarterfinals of the Europa League. Few times has Spanish football recorded such a dizzying collective journey.
Question. What does the tie with Manchester mean?
Answer. We have to face it as a prize that we have won. It would be difficult for Granada to play a preseason friendly with United. With all my respect. Getting here is a success. All that is added is success multiplied by ten.
P. Granada have played 47 official matches this season. More than anyone in Europe. Is the plague of injuries a consequence?
R. There are many factors: the Covid, the atypical preseason, a squad that is not used to this density of competition … We have been playing three games a week since September. In our squad only three players were used to playing that often and all of them are over 30 years old. Soldier with 35, Jorge Molina with 38, and Gonalons with 32. In order to be competitive, we need to overexert ourselves. We needed it last year and now we need it multiplied by three, because we had three competitions up to quarterfinals. Our weakness is our virtue because the team there has taken an opportunity. Which one? Well, adapt and optimize your resources to the maximum.
Q: The only advantage of this situation is that in your dressing room no one bothers for not having minutes?
R. That always! Because there are always some who play more and others less. I am very lucky to have a great wardrobe. We have generated, after three years, a very honest and sincere coexistence and communication. This year we have had to interpret the information because even if the player is tired and should not play, he wants to play. Everything is mixed: his desire to play and his commitment to the team, with the medical fact of when he should play and what risk we take. That is an art: we build the bridge while walking on it.
P. Is creating empathy with the player an art or a science?
R. We have to generate a climate of performance that is done with empathy and also with conflict, with debate, with opposition of ideas. It is clear that the most beautiful things in life cannot be measured: they are intuited. Love cannot be measured. We have a part of data management and the possibilities that science and technology give us, but that is only a complement. Here is a question of smell, of art. Intuition is given by non-conscious knowledge accumulated for a long time. The sensitivity of the moment is important. I had a volleyball teacher at the faculty, Toño Santos, who took us the first day and said: “Do you want to know who is the best coach?” He took the board and drew us a very large face with very large eyes, a very large nose, very large ears and a very small mouth. “Speak the fair and get all you can!” It is always difficult to speak fair.
P. Can the coach become invisible in this age when everything that happens on the field is so calculated?
R. If I am speaking here now, it is to respect my authenticity and my essence. Each one has its own way of acting and the player detects it. Detect authenticity. Authenticity forgives the mistake. Superficiality does not forgive error. When you are authentic, you handle mistakes in a more human way. Speaking just is not the same as speaking little. You have to give each person and at all times what is necessary. I have been with my team for three years: I am lucky to know quite well what some of my players need; but their needs have changed over the years. We technicians have to detect the changes. This is very simple: we are together to try to win games, in order to win games we need to speak a common language, for that we need to agree.
P. In recent years football has become more complex because it is increasingly difficult to receive the ball in time. Does that make the work of technicians more important, insofar as they must provide solutions to an increasingly difficult problem to solve?
R. The starting point and the finishing point is the player. Everything we do is by and for them, so that in an organized way they can choose to win more games. This is not achieved in the same way on all teams. Not all players have the same characteristics. But if every day there is less space and less time, in the long run there will be a technical improvement, because you will have to get used to playing in less space, at a higher pace. This inflection has occurred in basketball, handball and other sports.
P. For a time Granada played very well with 4-3-3. If you had the entire squad, would you think 4-3-3 would be the best scheme to respond to these new demands?
R. I don’t believe that every coach has a model. I think in looking for an organization that is suitable for the characteristics of my players, so that together we can be better. I believe in the facilitating trainer of a language or an organization. We vary a lot the distribution axes, the structure, the drawing, whatever you want to call it. We have been chameleons. Even during games. This year, given the possibility of incorporating Milla, and having everyone healthy, we understood that the 4-3-3 was the best way to structure the team because we had different midfielders and complementary interiors. For example: Milla, Montoro, and Yangel, can play in the three middle positions. Gonalons, Ramón Azeez and Eteki, are more specific to a certain position. That allowed us to free the extremes more: Kenedy, Darwin, Soro, Puertas, or even Luis Suárez… It was a bit what we wanted. The 4-3-3 was the only system that we needed to incorporate but we needed to continue feeding the systems that had brought us here. We are not a very dominating team and there will be times when we are interested in doing other types of games and varying the drawing helps us a lot. That in a team is wealth as long as you can do it in a stable and harmonious way within the same game. Sometimes you change the game system and that does not translate into automation or recognizable stability. We have nothing to do either economically or at the squad level with teams that precede us in the table or that have fewer points. We come from Second with a limited budget and we have to use all our resources to the maximum and feel that we are squeezing ourselves.
P. Chelsea-Atlético generated a debate about the rhythm of the game. Do you think that the League is played at a slower pace than in England or Germany and that makes us less competitive?
R. I do not have so many elements of judgment to make comparisons exclusively on the basis of rhythm. Each League is conditioned by the profile of the predominant player. But if you examine the champions and runners-up of European football in the last decade, we conclude that the health of Spanish football is the best in our history. The present always devours the debates: we focus on the present. Germany was world champion brilliantly in Brazil. But in 2008 and 2010 they were eliminated in the final and semi-finals when they were on the right track. Only one can win! Then each league has its culture: the Premier has always been more ‘box-to-box’. The key is the adaptation of each team and I think that in recent years Spanish football has always known how to be competitive. From there, there are years better than others. Let’s not forget that we are in a very particular social moment. Teams that live in temperamental cultures, with greater social contact, are suffering a little more from those empty stadiums.