PEP CLOTET

Chris Dunlavy pro­files Ox­ford United’s Span­ish manager

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

PEP Clotet once spent months try­ing to ar­range an au­di­ence with Marcelo Bielsa, the leg­endary coach so beloved of Pep Guardi­ola.

Fi­nally, the day came. The pair watched a game, Clotet ex­cit­edly of­fer­ing his ob­ser­va­tions. The old Ar­gen­tine lis­tened for a few mo­ments, then waved a hand. “Come back,” he said, “when you have an­a­lysed 10,000 matches.”

For the new Ox­ford United manager, it must have been a hu­mil­i­at­ing blow. Yet no ad­vice would ever prove as pro­found.

Clotet was al­ready a foot­ball ob­ses­sive. Ac­cord­ing to Michael Calvin, in his book Liv­ing On The Vol­cano, the Spa­niard at­tended 160 train­ing ses­sions dur­ing Louis Van Gaal’s spell at Barcelona, purely to learn how the Dutch­man used a free man.

Stung by Bielsa’s barb, those ef­forts re­dou­bled. Con­fer­ences, sem­i­nars, coach­ing man­u­als. Matches re­duced to minu­tiae, phases of play foren­si­cally stud­ied. From Spain to Swe­den, Nor­way to Swansea, the pur­suit of per­fec­tion never ceased.

An av­er­age ama­teur player in Spain’s lower reaches, Clotet al­ways sus­pected that coach­ing of­fered his only chance of a ca­reer in the game. A se­ri­ous in­jury at 19 re­moved all doubt.

By 20, he was coach­ing chil­dren for lo­cal side, Cor­nella. By 26, he had a UEFA Pro Li­cence and was coach­ing Es­panyol’s Un­der-17s. By 29, he’d al­ready earned – and lost – his first man- age­rial post. If those early years were about seek­ing a phi­los­o­phy, Clotet didn’t have to look far. An avid Barcelona fan, he de­voured the teach­ings of Jo­han Cruyff, and later Pep Guardi­ola. By 2010, he’d also stud­ied in France, Ger­many and the Nether­lands.

What Clotet needed was a stage to test those ideas un­bur­dened by a pres­sure to get re­sults. It duly ar­rived in the shape of Swedish side Malmo and a post as as­sis­tant to for­mer Sh­effield Wed­nes­day de­fender Roland Nils­son. The pair were fire and ice.

Re­bukes

“Rolle was calm and de­tached,” said Malmo skip­per Daniel An­der­s­son. “Pep had this great ra­di­ance, a charisma. He was more tem­per­a­men­tal and showed his feel­ings.

Winger Jiloan Ha­mad was less diplo­matic. “He used to hand out re­bukes left and right,” said the 26-year-old. “But it was al­ways thought out. If he thought we were too com­pla­cent in a cer­tain ex­er­cise, he screamed at us. He was very un­pre­dictable, but it kept you lis­ten­ing.”

Most mem­o­rable of all, how­ever, were the ideas, the de­tails, the style. Malmo dom­i­nated the Allsven­skan, pass­ing and pos­sess­ing their way to only a sec­ond ti­tle in 21 years.

Tiki-taka was en­cour­aged by di­vid­ing the pitch into tiny squares, so con­gested that no player could move with­out touch­ing an op­po­nent. Like Guardi­ola, Clotet en­cour­aged to­tal dis­ci­pline in the first two thirds, to­tal free­dom there­after.

“That year, Malmo played foot­ball like no other team had played be­fore in Swe­den,” said mid­fielder Ivo Pekalski. “Rolle had great lead­er­ship but Pep’s ideas – that phi­los­o­phy of how to play foot­ball – took us to an­other level. They com­ple­mented each other per­fectly.”

Agon Mehmeti was a striker in that side. “Pep was tough and crazy some­times,” he said. “But he was burst­ing with new ideas. As an at­tacker, he gave you so much free cre­ativ­ity. ”

In Swe­den, Clotet was seen as a vi­sion­ary. Typ­i­cally ea­ger to ex­pand his hori­zons, he ac­cepted an of­fer to be­come head coach at Halm­stads. The four-times cham­pi­ons fin­ished last and were rel­e­gated for the first time in 19 years.

“I re­gret that I left,” he said later. “I felt I had to take the chance to grow. But I was too young and did not re­alise how many years I had be­fore me. I would have been hap­pier if I had stayed.”

Per­haps that is why, four years later, Clotet re­jected Brent­ford to re­main by the side of Swansea boss Garry Monk.

Clotet had ar­rived in South Wales in 2013. Keen to adopt the Ger­man model of a sin­gle sys­tem through ev­ery age group, chair­man Huw Jenk­ins had asked con­tacts in Spain for a coach who could im­ple­ment his vi­sion. Clotet, who by then had worked un­der Manuel Pel­le­grini at Malaga and de­vel­oped pro-li­cence cour­ses for the Cat­alo­nian Fed­er­a­tion, was the name that bounced back. The role wouldn’t last long. When Monk was ap­pointed in May 2014, he asked Clotet to be his No.2. The two young coaches bounced ideas back and forth, spend­ing hours at each oth­ers’ homes. Both were per­fec­tion­ists, worka­holics. With greater fi­nances, Clotet could in­dulge his ob­ses­sion with data, fly­ing drones over train­ing ses­sions to capture ev­ery an­gle. Dur­ing matches, Clotet would sit in the stands, di­vid­ing matches into five-minute seg­ments and analysing them to spot de­vel­op­ing trends or threats. Monk, on the touch­line, was in con­stant con­tact. When the pair were sacked – just weeks af­ter Clotet spurned Brent­ford – they re-watched ev­ery sin­gle game, de­ter­mined to iden­tify mis­takes. Re­united at Leeds last sea­son, the duo very nearly led the Whites to an un­ex­pected play-off berth. Now, he is again strik­ing out on his own and, as Ha­mad says, “He had an in­fec­tious be­lief in us. Even if we met Real Madrid, he said we should win and we be­lieved him. For a manager, it is a good com­bi­na­tion.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

OB­SES­SIVE: Ox­ford manager Pep Clotet has even used a drone to ob­serve train­ing from a new an­gle

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