On the pitch, we try to make sure that our players don’t see the ball as a problem; they don’t have to get rid of it. That’s why we look at and select players who perceive football in that way. Our belief is that this way of playing is going to help them to grow, to become better and more resourceful footballers who can play for big teams.
We want to play with bold centre-backs, for example, because we believe that it won’t be difficult for them to play in a team that operates with a more withdrawn shape. If we do it the opposite way round, it will then be difficult for them to adapt. If we tell them to get the ball away, play it long and look for the result, what happens if they end up playing for a coach who asks them to play in a more daring way? They won’t be able to do it.
The other way around, they can do it. If, at the age of 25, a coach tells them to play long, it’s no problem. That’s the easiest thing to do.
We believe this is the way they are going to develop best, and the easiest way for them to adapt to any way of playing in their career. What we are doing is simply enabling players to become better, seeking individual growth in each and every youngster.
“If a coach can convince 20 players of an idea, that team becomes very difficult to beat”
I don’t know what would have happened if, as a young player myself, I’d have gone somewhere other than Valencia. I had come from River Plate, where we often had 70 per cent of possession. At Valencia (below), I was in a team that played much less with the ball.
I enjoyed the team’s style of play, but I had to grow up, adapt and understand how we could compete – which we did for several years, even winning the league in 2002 and 2004. That was how we competed with the big clubs, so I learned to make the most of playing less with the ball.
I saw that the way we could compete with Real Madrid and Barcelona was by not conceding. It worked, and we ended up building a tough team that competed well with the big teams. I was only 21, 22 years old when I arrived at Valencia, but I wanted to win. For Valencia, defending well was the path to victory. We had very good players, and we attacked little – but when we did, we did so quickly and decisively, finishing a lot of our plays.
I also learned that a coach could convince 20 players that was the way they were going to compete. As a player, that is what you most want: to compete. So, if you have a coach who convinces 20 players of an idea, it becomes very difficult to beat that team. This is the difficult part of a coach’s job, though, and their task is titanic. You have to convince 20 players, but then only 11 can make it on to the pitch.