Almería: From Guti to José María Gutiérrez

"Don't call me Guti, call me José María Gutiérrez," the former Real Madrid star demanded at his unveiling as Almería coach. I can see where he was coming from. As Guti the footballer, he had earned the reputation of being gifted but inconsistent, a tag that doesn't really go with the job he now has. A great player, capable of flashes of brilliance such as a backheel at Riazor that remains etched in the memory, he maybe should have been a bullfighter, a profession in which individual moments of magic are remembered better by the watching public than performances over the piece. But a footballer he was, coming through at Madrid at about the same time as Raúl, and by the time we'd grown weary of seeing the latter pile up the goals, the former was still a talent of unfulfilled promise.

It's probably better his players don't see him as Guti

José María Gutiérrez (left) greets Lugo coach Curro Torres before Almería's Segunda División clash with the Galicians.

He was most certainly still Guti when he came out with his famous line, "If I don't go out at night now, when am I going to?" He now finds himself at the helm of a group of players from whom he must demand discipline and hard work, so you can see why it might be better for them to see him as coach Gutiérrez and not as Guti. And he's doing well, despite the initial doubts about him. After all, Almería weren't doing at all badly when he arrived: under his predecessor, the Portuguese Pedro Emanuel, they had got themselves into the play-off places. The suspicion was that Turki Al-Sheikh, the Saudi sheikh who owns the Segunda División club, was blinded by a desire to make a media splash, and the new coach came in for no shortage of criticism in his opening weeks in charge. But he has silenced the doubters.

His decision to play out from the back (he even dropped his anchorman into central defence) was criticised for being too dangerous, but is now starting to be accepted. He has also got people on side by getting the forward partnership of Juan Muñoz and Darwin Núñez delivering the goods. Almería now sit second, in an automatic promotion spot, and are within range of leaders Cádiz, too. It's only been two months, but, having shown a willingness to take risks and been vindicated in doing so, José María Gutiérrez is proving he's got what it takes to be a fine coach. Curiously, he is blossoming just as Raúl, a performer of such consistency in his playing days, is unexpectedly faltering in the Castilla dugout. Life's funny that way.