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Sampaoli visits AS

Jorge Sampaoli: “I see more matches, but less football.”

Jorge Sampaoli visited AS’s offices for an interview this week. The Argentine coach earned his stripes in Peru and Ecuador before his big break in Chilean football.
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Jorge Sampaoli: “I see more matches, but less football.”
Jesús Aguilera / AS

—What did you make of the two games you saw in the Camp Nou? The Barcelona-Real Madrid match and the Barcelona-Atlético match?

—Well, I saw that Barcelona is having a tough time of it right now. It is a team too exposed to counter attacks and it’s quite easy to score against them. Had Torres not been sent off, I think Atlético would have won. They really felt his absence.

—Did the second yellow card seem fair to you?
The truth is that there were other incidents more worthy of a sending off. The referee is supposed to understand and manage the emotion of the match and he didn’t do that in this case.

—What is clear is that the decision changed the game. Atlético Madrid was a different team from then on?
Yes, from then on Atlético spent 75% of the match in its own half. They allowed Barcelona to play in that half of the field. It was an especially different Atlético team once Carrasco went off. From then on they didn’t have an out ball; there was nobody up front.

—Do you like Diego Simeone?
I don’t believe in the same kind of football as he does and I think we have very different outlooks on this sport. That said, you cannot deny how good Atlético are. The level of commitment the players show towards him is praiseworthy. Only with that commitment is the Atlético machine able to always play well.

—And what is going on with Barça?
Recently they’ve become a team that is too individualistic. It may also be the case that the off the field issues affecting Messi and Neymar are affecting them on the pitch. The most serious issue, though, is that they struggle in defence. They let in goals almost every match.

—But they have Messi.
Of course. And Neymar. We’ll soon see if they manage to keep them both because offers will definitely arrive and it will be hard to turn them all down.

—Real Madrid beat Barcelona with ten men.
Yes, but they weren’t great in their first half, even if they ended up winning later on. To come out so indulgent, and at the expense of their rival, was not the kind of message a club like Real Madrid should give.

—Zidane was reinforced by the approach that he took.
I thought Zidane had a different footballing culture and a different way of feeling football, but he has surprised me. I think Real Madrid has yet to reach its peak. If they fulfill the project, for which they have the budget and the history, then Real Madrid can end Barcelona’s dominance.

—What are Real Madrid missing?
Ambition and the same commitment that the players showed at the Camp Nou. The reality is that right now Real Madrid’s best player is their goalkeeper. Keylor Navas is playing at an incredible level. I also think the wide players Ronaldo and Bale should play more for Benzema, who would score another 25 goals if so.

—Who is the model team right now?
I look at Bayern Munich and Pep Guardiola and I notice their way of doing things. In the same way that you noticed the style of Bielsa in his teams. This is an important thing and not something that you notice with every manager. I don’t know if they’ll win the Champions League as that comes down to fine details. In general I see more matches than ever, but less football.

—Do you consider yourself a promoter of the Bielsa way?
At first I really liked Bielsa. I worked in a bank, but whenever I could I would watch the matches and training of Bielsa’s teams. I’m talking about the original Bielsa, when he coached in the third and fourth Argentinian divisions. Later I have taken some things from Guardiola. I like to use ideas from both Guardiola and Bielsa. When there are ten religions and you only follow one, you miss out on the other nine. I came to understand that as well as playing direct, you need to master possession.

—Did the fact you weren’t a professional footballer stall your managerial career?
Well, I had to leave football when I was young because I injured myself. Living in Rosario, 600 kilometers from Buenos Aires, and without having been a professional footballer, I had no opportunity to start a career in management. I had to leave for Peru, Ecuador and Chile, but it served me well.

—You reached your peak with Chile when you one the 2015 Copa America,
It was a well-deserved victory as we played against elite teams with elite players, without being elite ourselves. It was tough to play against my own country Argentina in the final. We set up to play the final away from the penalty areas, where they are obviously better. Argentina has the best team in the world, as well as Messi.

—You’re from Rosario. Did you know of Messi when he was young?
Of course, we all did. He was eight or nine years old and playing against 14 and 15 year olds. He was spectacular. They would only play him ten minutes so that the opponents didn’t suffer too much.

—What do you think of the Messi v Maradona debate?
It’s tough to compare two players from two different eras. The difference for me is that Maradona played more of an amateur-style, of pure passion. Messi is more professional.

—And Di Stefano?
He is very well-respected in Argentina. All the news coming from Europe to Argentina at the time was all about him and his performances.

—Let’s go back to your triumph with Chile. There was a key moment when Vidal was arrested for drink driving and you decided to keep him in the squad despite the huge opposition to him.
He made a mistake. But I said to him I trusted him because he had risked his knee at the World Cup to play for his country. Everyone, even the president, was calling me to see what decision I was going to take. It was my decision only and I decided to keep him in the squad.

—How do you manage such problems and egos in the dressing room?
You can’t fight against those with big egos. That means that if you have Messi you must do everything in your power to make sure Messi loves you. You need to win their affection. In general, if you always repeat the same message it can get tired. You have to mix it up. Us coaches are like lawyers who say whatever the judge wants to hear.

—So you have to be a good motivator. Which you are.
I try. Before a big game, I show the players a movie rather than talk to them. I like the cinema and with movies I keep the players distracted.

—Why, as a champion, did you leave Chile? What happened?
The directors who arrived after the departure of Jadue made my contract public. The broke the clause of confidentiality. So I arranged with them that I would leave.

—How do you see Chile’s future going without you?
What I most treasure from my time with Chile is the affection from the public and the respect they showed to me. I wish them good luck and hope they qualify for the World Cup. But it won’t be easy. Qualification is very difficult, especially the away games.

—And what about the Spain team. Can they win Euro 2016?
Spain is good, but might need a change. I saw them against Italy and I didn’t particularly like what I saw. The trouble with a national team is making the players work as a team. It’s not easy, but when you achieve that the players work well with the coach.

—Del Bosque has always spoken very highly of you…
I remember he once told me after a friendly match that we play a very kamikaze style. I took it as a compliment and it gave me the idea to go right at the best teams.

—And what’s next for you Jorge Sampaoli?
Well, I’m having meetings to see if I’ll accept any of the proposals I’ve received. I hope that one works out.