The coronavirus and its impact on the world of football. The small thorn that has remained of his passage through Girona, a club that does not hold a grudge. The talent of Samu Saiz and the importance of a shooter like Cristhian Stuani. His relationship with Chicho Pèlach, Eusebio Sacristán and Luis Enrique Martínez. Of this and more, and with all the naturalness of the world, he speaks of what was until the white-and-red technical October. There are interviews that are a seen and unseen. Rigorous questions, four clichés and many thanks. Others, quite the opposite. With well-twisted answers, minutes and minutes of chatter without much sense. Talking to Juan Carlos Unzué (Pamplona, 1967) does not fall into either of the above two categories. He was already promising at press conferences, during his time at the helm of Girona, cut off from socarrel in October. Every two by three he offered some headline, spared no anecdotes, and was of a kind, close tone. This multiplies if the attention is directed to a single journalist. For about three-quarters of an hour on the phone he has time to talk about everything. Of its passage by Montilivi, of Chicho Pèlach, Samu Sáiz or Cristhian Stuani. Of how he sees the future of football and his own. And when you hang up, the feeling of having talked to someone you’ve known all your life floats in the atmosphere.
There are interviews that are a seen and unseen. Rigorous questions, four clichés and many thanks. Others, quite the opposite. With well-twisted answers, minutes and minutes of chatter without much sense. Talking to Juan Carlos Unzué (Pamplona, 1967) does not fall into either of the above two categories. He was already promising at press conferences, during his time at the helm of Girona, cut off from socarrel in October. Every two by three he offered some headline, spared no anecdotes, and was of a kind, close tone. This multiplies if the attention is directed to a single journalist. For about three-quarters of an hour on the phone he has time to talk about everything. Of its passage by Montilivi, of Chicho Pèlach, Samu Sáiz or Cristhian Stuani. Of how he sees the future of football and his own. And when you hang up, the feeling of having talked to someone you’ve known all your life floats in the atmosphere.
Is the confinement paint right?
Given the difficulties this poses not only for me, but for everyone, I can say that both personal and family feelings are very good. We find ways to entertain ourselves every day. At home we are very active people. We are facing it well, thinking at all times what we can and should do. I’m a person with a very practical mindset, I don’t waste time thinking too much about what I can and can’t do.
What is life like without football?
It gets weird. At the same time, I also tell him that at the beginning of all this I was a little further away from football of my own free will. Situation that has changed in the last three weeks. I had a lot of fun preparing for a conference for Norwegian coaches, and yesterday I gave a talk through Barça on various aspects of the game. So I’m entertained.
It is not yet known how it will end, if it finally ends, this season. Which solution would be ideal for you?
To me, and I think the same thing happens to everyone, I wish the League could end. May what we started in their day be maintained so that all teams have the opportunity to meet their respective goals. Let it be real and not let the leagues stay, so to speak, capades. At the same time I am very clear that now the health of everyone must be prioritized, especially that of the protagonists. There is a lot of interest and this sport moves a lot of money. People want to watch football. As long as it can be carried out in circumstances that do not make us believe that we are above everything that is happening. Football helps and entertains, but it is not essential to living. What I hope is that the right decision is made.
The football that is coming, at least in the short term, will be without an audience in the stadiums. Will it also be football?
Yes, but it will be different. First for the protagonists themselves, the footballers. It will look like they are in a workout. After all, everyone plays to show off and everyone’s narcissism shows up. That of saying “I’m going to show what I’m capable of.” And if with this performance people have a good time and are happy, the players feel involved, making them feel privileged. As he said, if football resumes it looks like it will be without people and yes, it will be weird. We know at the same time that it will be a temporary situation and that it is done for the sake of health. People will accept it. Let’s see if we all find an ideal balance.
Are they hard times for this sport?
Like I said, football makes a lot of noise. It is surrounded by a lot of people and moves a lot of money. It is expected to be complicated to keep everyone as they were doing so far. From the televisions to the players, also through the fans themselves, the consumers. The return will not be easy. However, football is still an entertainment. There are vital things, such as that companies can recover, that there is work. People need to feel useful in society again, be able to have a job and a responsibility to make money. If this happens, that money will be spent. Among other things, by consuming football. We’ll see how it all goes.
Months have passed since his dismissal. What do you think went wrong for Girona to end up making him out in October?
The rush of the leaders appeared, who are the ones who make the decisions. I understand that previous experiences end up conditioning us all. That’s how it happened. We knew where Girona came from and that this year would be very difficult. The only thing that makes me sad, the little thorn I have nailed and that is a very personal opinion, is that the most difficult part of the season we had already overcome. And we were not far, but close to the goal. We just made 15 or 16 changes to the staff! The preseason was very atypical because it was not known if many players would stay or not. This uncertainty prevents you from being one hundred percent. Everyone had to adapt to the new situation, land in the category. But hey, these are all football stuff. I am very clear that my dismissal was thought to be the best for the club. I wish Girona all the best and I have no grudges against him. Other way round. This short experience has helped me to have a very close and felt vision of what Girona is. The club and the city. It has been a fantastic experience as a coach and as a person, in which I have made friends. I stick with that. The ideal is to catch up on expectations, to achieve success. That’s why we work. But sometimes that’s not what ended up happening.
Tell me why you consider it the hardest part of the season?
It’s a bit of everything. For the amount of change there was in the summer, as I told you. This above all. We’re not talking about chess pieces that are put on top of a board and everything works. We are talking about people who have feelings. The preseason was atypical for some important players on the team. We were already competing and still didn’t know their future. This, whether you like it or not, conditions you. You have to add the time to adapt to a new scenario after going down.
Was this adaptation more difficult because the speech, from day one, was too bold? Just arrived you talked about bringing Girona to Primera …
I do not agree. It’s that a real illusion must be generated! When I landed in Girona, the first day, I already knew that a team would be made that would have options to go up. Considering all the difficulties we would encounter. We were aware of that as well. That’s just what happened. All this requires some time. If I got the chance again, I would bet on the same message because that’s how I felt. I was made to see that it would be this way and the club complied with that part. I have no complaints. None of the players who signed were a player who did not come to join. They came more for the knowledge of the technical secretariat than for what I could know. I must also say that I always ended up corroborating that these were valid footballers for us.
Earlier he commented that during this brief period in Girona he had made a few friends. I guess Chicho Pelach is one of them. They worked together for a few months and would end up walking out the back door shortly after their dismissal. Was the club unfair to him?
Yes. He didn’t deserve to go out that way. At first he conveyed to me a huge confidence in his person and I had no doubt about it when I met him. We worked together and I corroborated that. Then what happened happened and on the one hand I am surprised by this change of vision. But I know the world of football and I understand, if you can call it that, that decision. Once the first bet does not work, you opt for dismissal. I understand that it can be passed from one end to the other because this happens in circumstances like this. It goes from white to black. What surprised me was what was experienced on the day of Alcorcón. That he was not given the role of head coach that week.
Did you have time to talk to Eusebio Sacristán about his time in Girona?
Of course we talked. We are good friends and talk often. Of this and many other things. Eusebio, and he has made it public since the first day he left, had a fantastic experience in Girona. He has a phenomenal memory of it. For a good part of the season, the percentage of points was very good. The problem is that a bad ending left a very bad aftertaste. He is a person who is overly responsible for things. He felt completely responsible for what had happened. But I repeat: it keeps a fantastic memory of the club and the city. I don’t think either of us, neither he nor I, hold any grudges against him.
It may not be easy to value his replacement in office but he was replaced by Pep Lluís Martí. What do you think of the club’s commitment to the Balearic coach?
He is a coach who is in tune with the line marked by Girona. I am very clear that a person was signed who knows the secrets of the situation that this team is living and must live. He has coached teams that have struggled to climb. This does not guarantee anything, but if they signed me in his day, for some other circumstance they did the same with him. I thought it was a good decision. He is a coach with interesting characteristics and experiences. It will recognize all those situations that can occur from now until the end of the season.
One day, at a post-match press conference, he explained that Samu Sáiz’s was a special case. That he had to be taken care of and that he spent a lot of time preparing it so that its best version would come out. Why was it so special?
I tried to convince Samu that he had to go one step further. I’ll be frank. I was surprised that Girona could have signed a player like him. I asked him at all times to be with us. He told him: “A footballer with your talent should have no choice but to sign for Girona who have just been relegated to Segona. In Primera yes, but after a descent, no ». I was very clear with him. I had to go one step further if I wanted to be able to play every day. And that would only get him growing. He had the age, ability, and conditions to be better. In Girona or even looking beyond this season. We shared some very sincere talks. That’s one of the reasons I’m a football coach. Because I like to leave places knowing that I’ve tried to help players grow. I don’t know if I’ll get it or not, but it’s my intention. Years ago, when I was playing, the coaches that caught my eye were the ones who made me feel like I was growing. And Samu had to improve a lot. We all like immediacy. To him too. I wanted to get results in just two days and so habits can’t be changed. He felt like he was playing less than he wanted to. One day I commented to him that he had shown us that, coming out as revulsive, he was giving us what we wanted. And that I was even considering keeping it that way. But I didn’t want to, I didn’t feel like it. “I want you to be ambitious and want to improve. I want to put you in from the first minute, ”I told him. I was reassured that he did his best to pay attention to me. I have no complaints. His attitude was always right.
The team has been very erratic this season, especially at the beginning. Do you think there were players who didn’t live up to it?
But at the height of what? From whom?
From a team that aspires to move up to the First Division.
Okay, the expectations were high. And by conditions, we certainly generated them. But then there are things that go beyond the capabilities of each, their technique as footballers. We are all people. Sometimes we forget that. Feelings are mixed, moods that change every two to three. This template came from a huge blow. Just as the locker room felt strong after the ascent and staying in Primera, the mental state was just the opposite with the descent. No matter how much you wanted to give your best, you could not live in full conditions to offer the best level. This was the difficult time of the season I was talking about at the beginning of the interview. I might be disappointed if the day-to-day attitude didn’t go in line with the level of the staff. I never had that feeling. In addition, we lived a preseason in which the younger boys helped us a lot. His competitiveness helped me a lot. Because it was a pleasant surprise and because it generated a lot of competition. It’s one of the most positive things I’ve experienced.
He believes the team missed the famous defensive midfielder?
As with everything in life, it all depends on everyone’s priorities. I, as a coach, give more importance to attack. I am more attracted to footballers with an offensive vocation. I think a Gumbau or a Granell are balanced players. They will not be the best in attacking or defending, but they have characteristics, as well as Diamanka, that allow them to act as pivots and occupy other positions in the middle. A profile of a more defensive midfielder may allow the team to be more consistent, while weakening him a bit on offense. And that could have helped us. Yes, I’m not saying no. In the end, what you sign is related to the requirement and the goal you have. Also with the possibilities of the club. I must say that, in all my experiences as a head coach, Girona is where I spent the most time working on the defensive aspects!
Is Stuani as good as his numbers say?
Numbers never cheat. But in his case, beyond these numbers what is remarkable is that what he is doing this year has immense value. People may think, “Okay, if he has scored so many goals in the First Division, he will score many more goals in the Second Division.” Well no, it’s not that easy. And then there’s the emotional part. On the day of my presentation I said I wanted to keep the best players on the roster. That he would do it if they wanted to stay, of course. Cristhian’s numbers not only confirm his quality as a striker, but also his mental quality and decision-making. It’s not at all easy to bet on staying, doing it, and living up to it. Stuani is afraid of rivals and is a striker. The one who puts the cherry on the cake. It can be played very well, but the most important thing is that the goal opportunities end up inside the goal. He multiplies this by a thousand.
To what extent did he come to fear his departure in the summer?
I don’t think Stuani himself was very clear about what he would end up doing. What I tried was that while he was training with us, he understood that I understood him at all times. I have also been a footballer and I remember my last year at Sevilla, right after going down to Segunda, when I was in the pre-season and I felt here and there that other clubs wanted me. I lived in a situation like that. That’s why I tried to make the players who were in a situation like that calm down. Make them understand that the doubts they had were completely normal. I told them to be selfish. “Think of yourself.” And why is that? Because if they didn’t stay and leave, having a good preseason would allow them to reach their new destination in full capacity. And because if they finally chose to continue in Girona, we would all benefit. With Stuani and the rest I focused on what I could control, I already knew there would be uncertainty.
What are your short-term plans? Do you want to train again?
I had a few things on the table. But I considered that, after leaving Girona, it was the ideal time to take care of a health issue that was making me cringe. These months have gone very well for me. I don’t close myself to anything, but I also tell him that I live the present a lot, the day to day. I think what can I do today, not tomorrow. I feel privileged for everything I have been able to do so far. I could repeat things, but I no longer have personal challenges to achieve. I played all the roles, doing whatever I wanted in life. Now, first of all, I hope we overcome this virus and the deaths that are to come are as few as possible. From here, life will tell. We must realize that we are more vulnerable than we think, that we do not have as much power.
Did you have the opportunity to join Luis Enrique in the Spanish team? And if so, why didn’t he accept it?
If we talk to Eusebio, even more to Luis Enrique. We are close friends. We spend many hours together with something we are passionate about: cycling. We talk often, we meet. He knew perfectly well what my intentions were when I left Girona. If anyone knows him, he will know that around him he needs people who are 120 percent. He is very demanding with himself and his team. I, at the time, didn’t feel able to offer him that performance. Whoever went with him was my son, Aitor. It ensures a person with knowledge and skills, who can perform to the fullest and help him.