Víctor del Sánchez Amo has always been a huge fan of English football. As a player he came very close to signing for Liverpool. Now as a manager, with five seasons of experience in La Liga, he wants to get another chance and since the end of last season he’s been analysing both the Premier League and Championship, making regular trips to the UK in order to meet fellow coaches, watch live matches and fully immerse himself in the language, culture and traditions of the English game.
At the very same time as Víctor was discussing the possibility of starting his first job as a manager in England, his former Real Madrid teammate, Clarence Seedorf, was in talks to become Deportivo head coach.
Were you surprised by the news that Clarence Seedorf had signed for Deportivo as their new head coach?
It's a decision that surprised a lot of people; the same as when I became Depor manager, with the team in a similar situation in terms of the league. At the time I only had experience working as an assistant coach, but everything went well and we managed to keep the team up. The next season, for a good part of the competition we were fighting for a European spot with the second smallest squad budget in the division. Fingers crossed the same thing happens again, Clarence has the ability to do it.
What do you think is happening at your former team, Real Madrid. at the moment? Do you think it’s a question of tactics, or do you think it’s more of a mental thing? How can a team’s ability to compete change so dramatically in such a short period of time?
Complacency is the biggest enemy of high performance. Real Madrid were in an uncomfortable place for a few years because they had to try to compete with the best ever FC Barcelona team. That situation is a motivating factor in itself, it makes you be more proactive and keeps you out of the comfort zone. In the last two years Real Madrid managed to achieve their target, becoming the number one team with a quality squad which allowed the coach to put out two completely different starting line-ups capable of competing at the highest level. What has happened since they achieved that success? Performance levels have dipped. While Barça have reinvented themselves, thanks to their newfound motivation to get back to the top, Real Madrid seem to have let complacency creep in. You need to combat complacency.
Once complacency has crept in, what can be done? Is it solely down to Zidane to deal with it?
It’s obviously one of the coach’s responsibilities, but the director of football and his staff also share part of that responsibility. The both they need to work within a defined strategic framework, so that everyone is working in the same direction. That’s one of the most difficult and exciting parts of our job. You have to maintain high levels of motivation, effort and commitment...you have to keep those levels as high as possible and avoid the natural human tendency to relax once you’ve achieved a target. You have to fight against complacency and stop anyone from entering the comfort zone. When you get that right, the players grow and their performances improve and you also help the club increase the value of its most important assets, its players.
In your experience as a coach we’ve already seen some good examples of what you’re talking about. Dani Ceballos is the most recent one, do you think he has the ability to make it at Real Madrid?
As far as I’m concerned that’s a big part of the coach’s job, we have to help players to develop and grow. At Depor we also had some good examples of that; Lucas Pérez, Luis Alberto, Mosquera, Fede Cartabia and Sidnei were being looked at by other big clubs, but yes, the most talked about in the media has obviously been Ceballos. Without doubt, Dani has got all the necessary qualities to make it at a club like Real Madrid, and last year at Betis he took a big step forwards in terms of maturing as a player. When you look at the quality he has on the ball and the football brain he possesses and then you add his youth, hunger and confidence into the mix, he can go as far in the game as he chooses to go.
"Leeds had a great team, with Viduka, Kewell, Ferdinand, Harte..."
What are your plans now? Your name was linked with English clubs last summer and you were spoken of as a candidate for the vacant Leeds United job last weekend...
Last summer there was contact from two English clubs; one Premier League team and one in the Championship. Two clubs have got in contact with me recently, one of them was Leeds, but in the end they went with another option. All we can do is wait, but we have a very active way of waiting.
Do you keep an eye on English football?
Over the years that we’ve been working in LaLiga we’ve built up a knowledge base that allows us to keep on monitoring our domestic league at the same time as going into more in-depth analysis of new leagues. From the end of last season we’ve been analysing English football, travelling there regularly to really get to know the English game from within. Our aim is to work in the UK, but we’re not ruling out working in LaLiga.
You must have some special memories of playing in the Champions League against English teams such as Leeds United, Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool. What do you remember the most about those games with Deportivo?
Yes, I’ve got amazing memories from those games, for a lot of different reasons. The importance of the competition, the size of the clubs we were playing against, the chance to play at their beautiful grounds...but the thing I remember most is the unbelievable atmosphere they generate at English stadiums. Funnily enough, my first experience there was against Leeds in the Champions League quarter finals. They had a great team, with players like Viduka, Kewell, Ferdinand, Harte...They were too good for us on the night in that first leg (3-0), but what most impressed me was the incredible atmosphere at Elland Road, I’ll never forget that for as long as I live.
How would you define the match day experience in England?
The atmosphere at English grounds is really special and you can’t help falling in love with it, whoever your team is. There’s a unique blend of excitement, passion and respect. On the trips I’ve been making to the UK since the end of last season, I’ve been lucky enough to experience the atmospheres at Wembley, Stamford Bridge, Craven Cottage, London Stadium, Hillsborough, Anfield, Old Trafford...
You came very close to signing for Liverpool during your time as a Depor player. Did you feel like you’d missed out on a big opportunity at the time?
Rafa Benítez wanted to take me there, but in the end Depor couldn’t come to an agreement with them. At the time, I wasn’t really aware of how big an opportunity I was missing, the chance to experience English football from within and at a club the size of Liverpool. I often think about it and it’s another thing which motivates me to find my next chance there, this time as a coach.
"Klopp beat Pep on planning the match and his players did the job"
So are you considering making the move to English football?
Of course, as I said, we’ve been focused on preparing for it since the end of last season. We’ve been following the Premier League and the Championship, analysing matches in order to identify different models of play, tactics, and players. We’ve been going on regular trips to the UK to practice and perfect our English and also to see how teams work on a daily basis from within. Thanks to the generosity and friendship of coaches like Mauricio Pochettino (Tottenham), Slavisa Jokanovic (Fulham) and Nathan Jones (Luton Town), we’ve had a lot of really enriching conversations, sharing our ideas on football and debating different issues, as well as being lucky enough to be able to watch how they work on the training ground and on match day. The great results they’re getting are no coincidence at all.
How do you see the Premier League title race, do you think any team can catch Manchester City?
I don’t think so. There's such a big gap. Definitely, Manchester City are firm favourites to win it. They’re a truly outstanding team and you can see that they are in constant evolution. The players really understand what Pep Guardiola is asking of them, and they play some fantastic football. Actually, I saw City play at Anfield recently in an absolutely incredible game. It was probably their worst performance of the season but it shows how you can always find a way to win if you have the right plan and the players execute the plan correctly. Klopp beat Pep on planning the match and his players did the job. It was a great game for the fans, Anfield was spectacular in that match.
And which other Premier League teams have you been particularly impressed by?
I’ve been very impressed by the job Carlos Carvalhal has done since arriving at Swansea. I really like the way Swansea knew what they were looking for in a manager and I think they’ve found the right coach for them in terms of his management style and his style of football. And I’d also like to mention Javi Gracia, who’s only just landed in the Premier League but we’ve already seen the effect he’s had at Watford. The way they played against Chelsea the last Monday Night Football was excellent, they were brave, they played their football, and they fully deserved the result they got. He’s a great example of a young Spanish coach, I believe he can go on to be really successful in the English game. I have to tell you something else, Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher are brilliant on the MNF show, I love the way they link professional football with their audience.
What do you think of the Championship?
It is such a tough division. There are 24 teams so it’s a long season, and there’s the possibility of the play-offs at the end It’s extremely competitive and it’s very difficult to predict the results each weekend, every team is capable of winning any match if they are at their best.
I’m impressed by the huge variety of tactics and playing styles you can find. You get teams who play a more direct, traditionally English style, and then you get teams like Fulham who seem like a Spanish team in the way that they keep possession and play out from the back. Jokanovic is showing his high capacity to manage teams in UK. I think that’s very exciting for any manager, knowing that each week you’re going to face a completely different style and be asked different questions by the opposition.
But it seems as though English clubs don’t normally go for foreign coaches, they prefer British coaches. Is that something that worries you?
Well, it’s something I completely understand. We should remember that football was born in the United Kingdom and that’s why they see it as they do, it’s natural to think like that. But on the other hand, a lot of foreign coaches, many of them Spanish, have got opportunities and done very well in English football over recent years. Roberto Martínez, Rafa Benítez, Guardiola, Pochettino, Mourinho, Wenger, Klopp, Conte...
What do these coaches bring to English football?
They’re bringing new coaching methods and new tactics which are helping to enrich English football, not just at first team level but also in the youth system. I think that is also going to help England to grow in terms of international football, you can already see the results England are getting in the younger age groups. I’m convinced that we’re going to see England competing as a favourite once again for European Championships and World Cups soon.
That’s why I’m certain we’re going to get our chance in English football. We already have good experience competing at the top level in the Spanish league, we’ve got experience of working abroad, and we’ve worked in extremely difficult situations where you really forge your way of working and learn a lot of things…
While we're waiting for our chance we’ll carry on studying English football from all angles. We’ve been preparing for this challenge for the last year, now I can say we are ready to start.