“A good coach is one that, when he takes a good player, he doesn’t make him worse.” These are words I will always go back to.
They belong to a former mentor of mine, Manel Casanova. He was director of the academy in Espanyol and one of the best academy directors in Spain, who developed more than 130 players for La Liga.
I had so many influences and mentors during my early years as a coach. Because I never had that experience as a professional player, I couldn’t get the knowledge from within the game.
Instead, I had to seek it out. Extract it from others, and hope that, one day, I would get the chance to apply it myself.
My search for knowledge started in Spain. In the beginning I would try to learn why a team does this. Why a coach thinks like that. At Barcelona, I saw how Johan Cruyff changed the game. He was the first one – at least in my country – who managed to play one-touch. He created a team that could attack on a one-touch basis.
I knew I needed to expand myself, though. In early 2000, Bayern Munich were playing really good football under Ottmar Hitzfeld. He caught my eye because he could make the team play in either a 3-5-2 formation or a 4-3-3 formation, but the philosophy – the idea – stayed the same.
“My phone rang. ‘It’s Michael Laudrup here. Pleased to meet you. I would like to talk to you about coming to England’”
At that time, everyone was thinking this coach plays 4-4-2 or that coach plays 5-3-2, and that’s it. I was interested by the way he was stepping outside of this and, like I said, once I’m into something, I have to get totally into it.
So I jumped in my car, drove to Munich and spent three months camping there – I couldn’t afford to stay for so long in a hotel. During that time I went to every Bayern training session, trying to learn as much as possible from Ottmar.
The next time I left Spain was in 2010. I’d worked at Espanyol, but now I wanted to explore football somewhere different.
Experience a different culture; expand myself further. I went to Sweden.
It ended up being my introduction to English football. At Malmö I was assistant to Roland Nilsson, who had played in England for Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry City.
He told me a bit about the English game and mentality. He gave me an idea of what football in England was like.