INTERNATIONAL | CHILE | SAMPAOLI
Sampaoli: "Right now, the new project with Chile is my priority"
The coach says the national team comes first: "That’s what I have told all of the clubs who have called me".
Job offers is one thing Jorge Sampaoli isn’t short of at the moment. Chelsea, Real Madrid, Roma, Fluminense, Cruzeiro are just some of the big name clubs which the 55-year-old has been linked to but he told AS this week that his priority is to continue taking forward his project with the Chile national team. Sampaoli will discuss his plans, including March’s dates against Argentina, with the new president of the Chilean Football Federation (FFC) on 4 January.
You have received numerous offers from some of the world’s most respected clubs, what does your continuity with Chile depend on?
It depends on whether the new president likes our project. My continuity will depend on what changes take place at the Federation on 4 January. Each side will put forward their plans and ideas. I’m sure that certain things will need to be modified, and that new guidelines will be established. Right now I am just focusing on what happens on that day. Before listening to offers from elsewhere, first I have to present my new project for the Chile national side – and that is what I have told all of the clubs who have called me.
Do you think there is a ‘before and after’ following your nomination as one of the three best coaches of the year by FIFA?
I’m incredibly happy to have been considered. The nomination is the result of all of the collective work we have done with Chile. I am only the representative figure of a team which plays with great determination and a real rebellious streak. Chile have played against some of the top nations, they are acknowledging the person who has guided the team but there are lot of people working in the background. And the players have been able to adapt to excessive attention from the media. The consequences of all of the good things the team did this year is my nomination.
For you, who is currently the best team in the world at this moment? Which team do you enjoy watching most on TV?
If I had to choose, Barcelona are probably one of the teams which I enjoy watching most but for me the best team in the world is Bayern Munich because their coach looks for all of the tactical nuances which brings out all of the qualities in his players and allows them to find solutions to every problem they might encounter in a game. And Bayern do that is a very natural way. Beyond having players who possess great individual talent, the team is converted into a collective force which lets them overpower their opponents. They suffocate their rivals, they don’t give them a chance to catch their breath. Pep is a master at making his sides completely dominate every game, and that’s something I enjoy watching. After that, I enjoy watching other sides like Real Madrid or Barcelona who both have players with contrasting styles in their teams who can resolve a game on their own. Or sometimes I watch games from a long time ago because that was when you saw players enjoying the game, rather than the tension of the game you tend to see today.
What did you learn from your meeting with Pep Guardiola in Munich?
I found myself face to face with a coach who has a great capacity to manage big name stars, like Pep did during his time at Barcelona and like he is doing now at Bayern, and he makes them function as a team. I was interested to learn how he is able to modify structural aspects of the team’s positioning which don’t have an adverse effect on the general idea of how the team plays. It was a very interesting chat. And Guardiola sets parameters to make one player maximize the performance of another. That was another thing which especially interested me about our chat – he was very generous with me.
Do you think that modern-day players don’t enjoy the game as much as in the past?
No, because the majority of teams now just pass the ball between themselves – before, teams would pass the ball to play. Today’s football isn’t about enjoyment; all of the team are pressurized and tense... friction is the constant characteristic in most games. We have lost the art of what playing football is about. Creative players are in danger of extinction and we have to recover the kind of habitat in which players who we all enjoy watching can develop.
After developing your teams in line with Marcelo Bielsa’s ideas, why are you now so intent on promoting freedom of individual talent?
Bielsa’s initial influence concerns trying to dominate play –all of Marcelo’s sides tend to play with a very attacking style, but there is another element which goes beyond that. For me, Marcelo is a coach who could manage any team in the world and will confront any team in the world without fear, without complexes. In today’s game, the complexes are just getting greater all the time. Look at River Plate against Barcelona - Luis Enrique’s team won easily. Those kind of games make me a bit uncomfortable because you see one team attempting to make history but which has to face reality. There are situations when you know you are going to have to deal with uninhibited players – the likes of Messi, Ortega, Maradona, Cruyff, Pelé, players who have the personality to stop play, to dribble past half of the opposing team... they don’t have any hang-ups about losing the ball – they may lose the ball 10 times but they will be back attempting the same thing without fear. Today, there’s no time, you can’t lose the ball, and the criticism you get for losing the ball is excessive and way out of proportion. It generates fear, and hinders eye-catching football, and spectators are only left with the friction of the game.
For an Argentine coach, it must be special to face Argentina?
Playing Argentina is always special. Listening to the national anthem when you are on the opposing bench is really tough. That’s why I didn’t celebrate winning the Copa América with my players. The nice thing about our March meeting with Argentina will be everything that goes on around the game, at the Monumental. But we will be up against players who are very difficult to control, who play to a very high level and we will have to be at our best to beat Argentina in March after how they recovered in the meeting with Colombia.
Will you be trying to neutralize Messi again, likr Chile did in the Copa América final? You’re one of the few coaches who have managed that…
Against Argentina, we didn’t want to neutralize Messi, we wanted to isolate him so that he didn’t have continuity to his game. We tried to cut all of the circuits of the game so that he didn’t receive the ball in front of goal. And even so, Leo created a clear chance on 90 minutes which Higuain didn’t manage to control; he’s the best player in the world. By isolating Leo we could push forward into their half and it stopped him from showing the best version of Messi. I will never understand the criticism which Leo gets. It’s just that we manage to resolve the various situations of the game better than Argentina. The plan against Argentina was to avoid moves inside our area because in attack, Argentina have much better players than we do – they are also better than us at defending. All we tried to do was ensure that Argentina had less time on the ball and we generated situations in which we were dominating the game to make them uncomfortable, the game developed how we wanted it to and we ended up beating them in the penalty shoot-out.
Guardiola says that one of the keys to his job is knowing when to press the button to activate each of his players, would you agree with that?
Yes. A football coach is someone who manages emotions. You need to be close to your players, talk to each one of them in a different way. Every player is different and have arrived with the national team in different ways. Today’s coaches have to manage the emotions of the whole group. We try to find ways of making them enthusiastic; I could develop a gameplan but it has to be compatible with the players. We involve the players with the plan. Technology has advanced so far now, they have a lot of external stimuli, they’re millionaires, they can have anything they want and that creates conflicts. I travel two or three times a year just to see how they all are. And I am very straight with my players. We talk about everything – it’s a daily exercise. But I involve them. It’s good to be close to them because we can try to remind them about what football is at amateur level – playing for the shirt, for the flag, for the happiness of the people in the country. I my case, I think the Chilean players have taken that on board really well.
Some modern-day coaches see themselves as being more important than their players...
That’s something I don’t agree with. In football, the most important people are the players. Sometimes, a coach might make plans for himself and not his players. I have learned that I have to plan to extract the best out of a player. That also means convincing them, encouraging them and so on. Years ago it was much easier, football was more pure and players enjoyed playing football – more than today. Whoever gets called for Chile knows that in our team, they will enjoy football.
As a River Plate fan, did you suffer watching the Club World Cup final against Barcelona?
Yes, a lot. I suffered in exactly the same way as all River fans did watching our team not being able to beat Barcelona. It was an opportunity which all River fans had been hoping and waiting for. It was a shame that it wasn’t to be.
Would you like to be coach of Argentina at some point in the future?
Yes. To be Argentina coach is a dream because it’s the national team of my country. I dreamt about playing for Argentina when I was younger, but it never happened. You have to understand that it’s a difficult position to get to because of the competitiveness between Argentine coaches, but I will never stop dreaming that one day I might be coach of my country’s national team.