Four years ago, I had one thing clear in my mind: I didn’t want to start my managerial career in Spain.
I had experience as a player, then experience as a national coach with the Spanish Under-16 team, and finally experience of working at the top level as assistant to Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid. It was the right moment for me to start, and to come to England was an amazing opportunity for me to show myself I could train alone.
I knew it was going to be a really tough challenge.
I was the first foreign coach at Middlesbrough and I didn’t speak the language properly. I think it’s really important to speak the language, to be able to transmit your ideas to the players, so for the first two and a half years I had a teacher.
“To lose that final, go back to my office and put another 46 games up for the next season in the Championship? That was a tough moment”
The crowd was always really important for me, because in the bad moments I felt the fans were always there. When we arrived there were eight, 10,000 people at the Riverside. Now, in my last games, there were 32 or 33,000.
At the beginning maybe they were a bit surprised – I was the club’s first foreign coach, bringing different shapes and a different style. But in the first season we stayed up easily, then the following season we reached the playoff final, and then the season after we got promoted. It was a build-up, step by step.
The worst moment was to lose the playoff final. We had been fighting for I think 55 games that season, because we had a good run in the cup. To lose that final, go back to my office and have to take every single game off the board, and put another 46 games up for the next season in the Championship? That was a tough moment.
But we created an amazing group there. Grant Leadbitter, George Friend, Dani Ayala, Ben Gibson, Adam Clayton – an almost English core of players, and when I arrived to the training ground for that season I felt them really looking forward to it. We were sure we were gonna get promotion, and we did.