This week I had an interview with the Tactical View section of La Pizarra del DT. We had a nice chat about the intricacies of football, I gave my opinions on interesting themes whilst looking back on various stages of my career as a manager.
The importance of possession in my teams
When I started to manage, I had an idea. I had been focusing on Chelsea’s 4-4-2 formation, with a few variations. In my first job as head coach, I realised that it wasn’t just about the position on the pitch, but also the need to create situations.
After a while, the ball became the most important thing for me, and scoring goals was always the aim. I don’t understand those managers who say that they can control the game without the ball. They may be able to say that they can sustain pressure without the ball, but not that they can control a game.
We give great respect to the ball, it’s a sacred object, and we try to win the small battles all over the pitch. A two on one is better than a three on two. But there needs to be attacking intent, not just maintaining possession without threatening.
The psychological side of my teams
These days, the differences between the best teams in the world, and the rest, are mental. Individually, the players at Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are not much different from the rest in terms of quality, but some of them are so used to winning everything and their mental strength is much stronger throughout the match. This is what sets them apart.
Psychology is constant. I analysed a phrase on managers a while back: “this manager is good because he treats all players equally”. This is a lie. You can say that a manager respects all players equally, but a manager wouldn’t treat Messi the same as the right wing-back.
There are always players who are brought up differently, in different environments to the rest. This means you have to treat them differently. Some need to have a closer relationship with you, others just need you to lay down the rules.
Is training more physical or mental?
It’s a combination of both. I have had some great fitness coaches and you need to have a good connection with them; they need to understand how you work during training, and you need to understand how they work.
Today, fitness training has gone through the roof at all levels. The players are athletes. When I played football, we didn’t do weights, we didn’t go to the gym, I had tiny arms!
My training sessions last an hour and a half, the same as matches. They are very intense, because I want my players to be used to working at their max for an hour and a half. This is also good mental preparation for the match at the weekend.
When Braithwaite came to my office to speak to me
This gesture from the player was great. It had never happened to me before. Braithwaite has some very specific characteristics: he likes to lose his marker and run diagonally behind the defence. To do this, he needs midfielders to look up and seek him out.
We didn’t have players around him who could do this, we had them further down the pitch, but this made it difficult to get the ball to him. He came to see me and told me that he was losing his markers and making good runs, but that he wasn’t getting the ball, and he was right. After discussing it and watching some videos, I asked him to speak to a player close to him on the pitch (Lukas Lerager), who is also Danish, so I thought they would be able to establish a connection. And they did. There were times when Lukas knew that Braithwaite had lost his marker, and he would pass him the ball without looking.
Thanks to the player’s approach (he understood the situation), I gave him a solution and encouraged him to speak to another player, which in turn improved performance.
The team over the individual?
Those who say that you can only win as a team are wrong. The great Guardiola himself will explain that without a few players in the group who make the difference, the team would not win.
I am a lover of all things different. A manager so different to the rest, like Diego Simeone, won La Liga at a time when everyone else wanted to play like Guardiola. This shows that you can play any style. Don’t get me wrong, I never missed a single game of Guardiola’s Barcelona, I loved watching them, but there are other styles of play.
My assistant likes players who make you smile, run themselves ragged and get stuck in… and I know that there are players who have to be the difference in order to win matches. We had Malcom, who had a sublime left foot, and we had to create situations for him. Malcom was like my favourite son, because we needed him. When he played in my team, I would always try to help him.