FourFourTwo

CLUBS ( PLAYER)

1973- 1986 Universida­d de Chile

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COUNTRY ( PLAYER) 1986 Chile

CLUBS ( MANAGER)

1988- 89 Universida­d de Chile 1990- 91 Palestino 1992- 93 O’higgins 1994- 96 Universida­d Catolica 1998 Palestino 1999- 2000 LDU Quito 2001- 02 San Lorenzo 2002- 03 River Plate 2004- 09 Villarreal 2009- 10 Real Madrid 2010- 13 Malaga 2013- 16 Manchester City 2016- 18 Hebei China Fortune 2018- 19 West Ham 2020- Real Betis

the club, but recommende­d him. I met him and told him the way I like to play, and what I wanted from an assistant. I told the president that I’d test Ruben for a month or two, and I did. I was very happy with him and we’ve worked together ever since, from San Lorenzo to today. He’s really good. I don’t want an assistant who repeats what I say, and he has a different personalit­y to me. He doesn’t want to be a manager; he’s happy in his position. He knows so much about football. When I came to Europe, I wanted Ruben to come with me. I listen to him, but know that the final decision is my responsibi­lity.

How exciting was your spell coaching Villarreal from 2004- 09? How did you manage to improve them so quickly? Josh Winter, Plymouth

I was there for five years but nobody knew me when I first arrived, nor did they expect success at a small club. But we finished second [ in 2007- 08] and third [ 2004- 05] in the league, and also reached the quarter- finals and semi- finals of the Champions League. That wasn’t easy to do, but it’s a great club with a fine president. When I left Villarreal in 2009 to go to Real Madrid, the club was at a high level, and they have stayed at a high level for most of the time since. We managed to sign Diego Forlan in my first summer [ 2004] – he was still young and hadn’t been playing much at Manchester United. I knew Diego from Independie­nte when I was in Argentina; Villarreal’s sporting director told me about him, and I confirmed that he was a very good player. His displays for Villarreal were brilliant. In his first season, he scored 25 league goals.

How do you look back on Villarreal’s Champions League run in 2005- 06? Everton supporters will never forgive referee Pierluigi Collina for ruling out Duncan Ferguson’s play- off goal – how did you view that incident? Jamal Eastwood, Liverpool

We were a better team than Everton. We beat them with a controvers­ial decision in one moment, but we could have scored more goals in Spain. The team that deserved to go through was Villarreal. After that Everton game, we had a very good run in the group and reached the knockout stages. In the semi- finals, we lost 1- 0 to Arsenal in a very equal match; in the second leg at home, we should have scored two or three goals, then we had a penalty saved. You experience these moments in football. I don’t blame [ Juan Roman] Riquelme – he had the responsibi­lity and courage to take the penalty. He was a special player; one of the finest

I ever managed. At 24 or 25, you can have a difficult character, but really he was no problem. He was effective on the pitch and that was what mattered.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Xabi Alonso and Kaka all joined Real Madrid in your single season there. How did that squad compare to your Manchester City players later? Were they easier or tougher to manage? Lucas Ward, via Instagram

The responsibi­lity to coach any team is the same: to try to have the best year of the club’s history. That’s what I try for at every club I go to. Real Madrid are one of the biggest teams in the world, whereas City were growing and didn’t have the history of Madrid. At Madrid, we got more points than ever before in the history of the club, but we could have done a bit better [ Real Madrid finished second with 96 points to Barcelona’s 99]. We had a fantastic squad. Ronaldo is a great profession­al; maybe the best I’ve had in my long career. For him, it wasn’t about being great for five years, but becoming the best player ever. He’s so ambitious – he was never going to be happy with one or two titles and a lot of money. He always wanted more for himself. So did Lionel Messi. I could have been a better manager, though, and the club could have been better with their human relations. I knew six or seven months before the end that I wasn’t going to stay there, as I didn’t have a good relationsh­ip with the president [ Florentino Perez]. That was one more issue that I had and tried to resolve. Sometimes life is like this.

“A ROUNDABOUT IS NAMED AFTER ME IN MALAGA! A BIG ONE NEAR THE STADIUM – IT MADE ME HAPPY”

Did you enjoy working at Malaga? How tough was it to miss out on the Champions League semi- finals after Borussia Dortmund grabbed that incredibly late winner... which was also incredibly offside? Louis Goodwin, via Instagram

My career is always a challenge. I had a lot of options after Real Madrid, but Malaga had a project. They weren’t in a good place at the time, but going to Malaga was one of the best decisions of my life. The city is so beautiful, the team played in Europe and all the fans were amazing. One referee’s decision [ in Dortmund] sadly cost us a place in the Champions League semi- finals. If there had been VAR back then, the goal would never have been allowed – it was clear. And there were times at Malaga when the players weren’t paid for months, when we had to let six important players go, but we still had an unbelievab­le team spirit. Isco was just starting his career, we had Martin Demichelis, Willy Caballero, Joaquin... it was an exceptiona­l group. I’ve even got a roundabout named after me in Malaga! A big one near the stadium, which I was very happy about, though I don’t know if I deserve it. I still have a house in Marbella. I always go there.

It’s been said that you’re a boss who doesn’t live exclusivel­y for football – that you try to do other things with your life, too. Such as? Miguel Gonzalez, Clapham

When I finished my career as a player, I started to play tennis, though I didn’t reach the level I hoped for. I started to play golf, too, for something different. I dedicate a lot of hours to football but I need to do things away from it. My mother read more books than anyone I know, while my father was interested in classical music – we used to listen after dinner. My family had interests in culture, in art, and I do as well. I think this complement­s football. I still have a book at all times, though I haven’t read so much in recent years. With the TV, there are so many matches I need to watch, so I have less time [ to read]. And then there are all the series on TV that everyone keeps talking to me about. I was finally able to see a lot of them during the pandemic...

Which other modern coaches do you admire the most? Rob Howard, Luton

The word isn’t ‘ admire’ as such. There are many superb managers out there who have a different style of play: I’m speaking about Pep Guardiola, Diego Simeone, Jurgen Klopp and several young German managers from the new generation of very good ones.

In your first season at Manchester City, the team scored 102 league goals en route to winning the title. How were City different from clubs you’d managed before, and what was it like coaching Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure, David Silva, Edin Dzeko and others in their pomp? Hamish Macrae, via Instagram

It was a very good season and I had a good start at that great club. In that first season, we won the league title and a cup, we scored a lot of goals and we played beautiful football. We had some bad luck in the Champions League, when we had to play the best Barcelona side in 2014 and then 2015. We lost both times. Or maybe I should say the best Messi, rather than the best Barça – because while they did have a good team, Messi was unbelievab­le during that time. He was outstandin­g

when I was at Real Madrid, too, and that’s why we didn’t win the league despite getting [ what was then] the record number of points. At City, we couldn’t keep growing because we had some punishment from UEFA and couldn’t strengthen, so that held us back in my second season. In my third season, we won the League Cup and reached the Champions League semis, where we lost to Real Madrid with an unfortunat­e own goal. Maybe that was the moment to win a first Champions League with City.

I read somewhere that you learned English from Enid Blyton books – is that actually true? Tom Partridge, Chester

I learned English as a child, as I went to an American school from the age of five to 11 and you were obligated to speak English all day! If you spoke in Spanish in the last hour of the day, you were given a stick to hold. You passed it to anyone who spoke Spanish. The last boy holding the stick had to stay at school for an extra hour. Then my brother changed me to another school, a French one. Whenever I join a new club, I always prepare by learning the country’s language, so now I can speak Spanish, English, French and Italian. I tried to learn Chinese when I was at Hebei China Fortune… but it’s difficult. During the pandemic I started to learn German, but that’s also hard, especially when you’re not living in the country. [ FFT: Could you understand the strong accents in England?] Absolutely not! It was just a noise. [ Laughs] I started to understand a bit more Mancunian, but with people from the north of England, I understood maybe one word in five or 10 – as I moved south, it got easier.

What would you consider to be your best moment and your biggest regret in football? Umar Musaazi, via Twitter

My best moment is my whole career. I’ve been abroad for 22 years in six countries, winning titles. I had a good reception at every one. No regrets – maybe I shouldn’t have started at the club I did in Chile, but as I said, it was a motivation. I’d like to have stayed at Real Madrid a bit longer, but then the opportunit­y wouldn’t have been there for Malaga. In football and in life, you have some bad moments. That’s life.

What were your expectatio­ns when you signed Kevin De Bruyne [ right]? Did you ask the club to recruit him, or was he a board deal higher up? @ Khalifamcf­c, via Twitter

One of the big challenges you face at clubs where you can buy any player you want is to have excellent relations with the sporting director. I had a very good one with Txiki Begiristai­n. City are so well managed: they don’t change coaches after only one bad result, and everyone who works there knows their position. And City don’t think that just because they have money, they can go and buy whoever they need. Txiki never bought a player that I didn’t want, and when I arrived we bought four or five. I knew De Bruyne from Chelsea, where he didn’t play much, then Germany, so I thought he could be a really good player for us. There was Fernandinh­o, too: I knew about him from playing in Ukraine. Raheem Sterling was a very good youngster, who we knew had a lot of things to improve but could become a standout player. It was impossible to work like this at Real Madrid. I also had players such as [ Vincent] Kompany, Kun Aguero and David Silva, which helped me a lot. I think Kun Aguero was the third- best player in the world at that time.

How was it, managing City from February 2016 knowing Pep Guardiola was taking over the following season? Allan Riley, via Instagram

I knew that Pep was coming and didn’t have any problem with that. City had told me that they wanted Pep when I first arrived. When I was going to leave, it wasn’t an ideal situation because the players knew I was going, but we still qualified for the Champions League and reached the semi- finals in my final season.

Is the Premier League as good as it’s hyped up to be? Dean Russell, via Instagram

Yes – it’s the best league in the world. You’ve got organisati­on, players and money through the league. The best football is in Spain, though, and this is why La Liga clubs have been so dominant in Europe. Barcelona had Messi; Madrid had Ronaldo. Spain must improve now and have the Premier League as an example – I’m talking about the distributi­on of TV money, so that the gap between the biggest teams and the smallest teams isn’t so big. If any small team in Spain has a good player, they don’t stay there long because the biggest clubs take them. In England, it’s not so easy to take a player from the smaller clubs.

From what you saw in China with Hebei, what kind of future does the game have over there? Do you think money has distorted the situation? Marcus Miller, Crewe

China was a good experience, for both football and culture. It’s an impressive country. I also travelled to Japan and South Korea, and I never would have visited these places otherwise. I could have stayed in Europe, but I liked the idea of a new challenge. I finished at

Manchester City in May [ 2016], then headed to China in September. They gave me time to plan a new team, which had only a couple of years in profession­al football. We had one and a half seasons of good performanc­es, but then the club started changing and I decided to finish my contract. It still needs a few more years to grow, and unfortunat­ely I don’t think China are spending quite as much money on football at the moment, but it’s true that clubs were spending too much on players at one time.

Where do you feel it went wrong for you at West Ham, and do you think you could have turned things around if you’d had more time? Matt Young, via Instagram

I knew West Ham were interested in me after City. I look at my time there as two different moments. In the first season, it was good for the club: we finished 10th, playing good football. We beat Tottenham away in their new stadium, which was important to the fans. I wasn’t so happy after that first year, though, because it was the first time that I’d failed to take a club into European competitio­n. In the second season, we had some problems in our squad. We started quite well but then struggled to get results. The owners decided not to continue with me, and I understood that. I didn’t enjoy the way they did it, but overall they were behind me and I had good relations with them. I was sorry for West Ham supporters – and there are so many of them – because they deserve to have a competitiv­e team.

How impressed were you with Declan Rice as a youngster coming through at West Ham? Was it you who said he should play in midfield instead of at centre- back? Charlie Stewart, Dagenham

I believed in Declan from the first time I watched him play. I knew he would be a top player, not just because of his talent but because at the age of 20 he had the personalit­y of a 35- year- old experience­d profession­al. He also had this desire to improve in every area, and in every training session. The club weren’t so sure and maybe wanted to send him on loan. But I always told David Sullivan my opinion, and I think he’s already a much better player for staying at West Ham.

You took charge of Real Betis last summer and helped them back into Europe by finishing sixth in La Liga. How have you found it? Will Joaquin ever stop playing?! Pete Coyle, Southampto­n

I discovered a club in a tough moment economical­ly. Betis had been spending too much money, so I could bring only three players in. We won the first two games, then lost seven of the next nine – similar to at West Ham. But I wasn’t sacked. The players continued working and improving, and that’s why getting back into Europe after a poor previous season was a great achievemen­t. The players believe in me now. We had some very good moments last season and some very bad ones, too, but we finished strongly [ Betis lost just two of their 22 league games in 2021, against Barcelona and Sevilla]. And Joaquin? He can continue playing! He knows he isn’t going to play every game, but he still performs well because he’s a top player. Physically he’s excellent, and his mentality is perfect as he plays for Betis, the club of his life. There was no reason not to offer him another year’s contract. He’s always laughing. He will tell me a story, but before he’s even finished it he’s started laughing. Then, a few days later, he tells me the same story and laughs at the same place. So then you start to laugh, because it’s all so ridiculous. [ Laughs] Everyone knows about his smiles and his pranks, but he has another side. He’s profession­al and works really hard, rather than simply joking around on the pitch.

What can we expect from your team this season? We’ll have crowds back in stadiums, and that’s particular­ly big for Real Betis… Abdul Khan, London

The Betis crowd is similar to West Ham: working- class, loud, passionate and in a big stadium of 60,000. They need to see their team work hard, and it will be wonderful for them to be back again. Our supporters have ideas that we can do well in Europe, but it will be tough. The Europa League is harder than the Champions League: the teams aren’t as strong, but you play on a Thursday and get home at 6am on the Friday before a weekend match in a difficult league. We’re hoping to have a great season, though.

“WE HAD BAD LUCK IN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE – WE FACED MESSI AT HIS BEST IN 2014 AND 2015”

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Cousillas, “happy in his position”; Pellegrini’s Villarreal, en route to an unlikely semi- final shot; “Rebuilding houses after an earthquake was less stressful than this”; Real Madrid’s 2009- 10 saw the stars arrive but not align; “Yes, very clever”
Clockwise from right Cousillas, “happy in his position”; Pellegrini’s Villarreal, en route to an unlikely semi- final shot; “Rebuilding houses after an earthquake was less stressful than this”; Real Madrid’s 2009- 10 saw the stars arrive but not align; “Yes, very clever”
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Pellegrini lifted City, and vice versa; “China was a good experience”; somehow, this was Pellegrini’s only league title in Europe; at West Ham, the bubble burst; revitalise­d at Real Betis
Clockwise from above Pellegrini lifted City, and vice versa; “China was a good experience”; somehow, this was Pellegrini’s only league title in Europe; at West Ham, the bubble burst; revitalise­d at Real Betis
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