He arrived at the Montilivi stadium with very little to his name, but he has since gone on to save Girona FC and take the club into the first division. Head coach Pablo Machín Díez (Gómara, Sòria, 7/4/1975) talks about the leap forward for the football club and what it means to him.
It all began on March 9, 2014. Was it an easy decision to come to Girona?
I was unemployed, the first time I had never worked and it was a little frustrating. I didn’t understand why after two fairly good seasons at Numancia that I was suddenly out of work. But then Girona called me and I took on this great challenge, which was more of a personal challenge to prove my worth than having any clear idea about saving the team. No doubt that if I had thought more about it or if I had listened to a lot of the advice I got warning me it would be too difficult, I wouldn’t have done it.
I imagine it wasn’t the salary that convinced you.
Obviously, the salary wasn’t the main thing I was looking at. What I valued was the opportunity, that they trusted in me. Oriol Alsina [technical secretary at the time] made it clear they would put their faith in me, even though I had to work on gradually convincing them, first with words and then with actions, that I could save Girona.
What was your first salary?
To be honest, I don’t remember. It was very modest, that’s for sure. I do remember that we talked about it, although not at the outset because I had a representative dealing with things and we began talking about everything else. Oriol explained the club’s situation to me, which made it almost impossible for them to authorise any sort of a decent contract. I answered that as long as it didn’t cost me any money! We looked for formulas to get round it, like them paying me with accommodation, which did not come from the club directly but rather a former owner, and there was also a series of agreements with some restaurants. At least my basic upkeep was covered. Yet, the salary itself was very modest.
Doesn’t that somehow devalue the profession?
I am very clear about how it devalues the profession, placing it at a very low level. The financial issue was the last thing I was looking at, and anyway I was hardly ever going to become a millionaire on a big salary because I initially only came for four months. It was more a question of personal affirmation than earning money. But I must say that I am not at all proud of the fact that I had to lower myself to that point. We coaches have a lot of responsibility, with everything going on in football, and the ones who get all the blame, to be so badly paid.
You are now in the first division, but when you look back over the previous seasons you always stress that survival was the most difficult objective.
Yes, especially because a lot of things had to be changed. The most important of all was the mentality of the players: making them believe that they were not the worst but had the capacity to be the best. Then the system had to be changed and had to be understood. A new training philosophy. And living with a range of adverse circumstances.
Does the success of promotion mean the focus on salvation has been overcome?
What is right in front of you always seems the most important thing. Historically, there will always be the promotion. And for my career, too. But when you analyse it, if the first thing had gone wrong, none of this would have happened.
Two years ago you signed up until 2018. Why have there been so many questions about you continuing?
Because that is normal when there are rumours going around. A few days ago, when it was all over, I spoke to [technical secretary] Quique Cárcel for a few moments and we committed ourselves to continuing as we have done so far. The only decision I can make is to continue.
You could have gone to a bigger first division team?
Did it only depend on you?
Yes. It is flattering when a team that wants you has enough respect to wait for you to make a decision. I wasn’t put under any pressure and my decision was respected.
If Girona had not won promotion, would you be with another first division team?
There is no doubt about that.
You will now be coaching in the first division. Are you ready for that?
The first division is a category in which any error is punished. The players are gifted physically and technically, and know how to make rivals pay. I want to get an idea, to take a step forward and to think about whether the system we have been using will continue to be a valid one. After that it will be a case of trying it out, but always with the possibility of making at least small changes to tactics to correct things that may turn out to be causing problems. Because our rivals, whether you like it or not, will always be looking to see where they can hurt us.
Are the three central defenders the starting point?
Yes, although it is still too early to say, I think the most intelligent thing is to be as versatile as possible. Because that means you can always change. By the way, though we have almost always played with three across the back, there has been the odd game when we have played with four defenders.
Cárcel has said that the squad wage bill will go from 5.2 or 5.3 million euros a month to 20. It will be like changing a good car for a racing car.
The television income will multiply and it’s true that changes the scenario. The type of footballer who will now come in will be different. But I always believe a lot in people. They have to be good footballers, but also understand what it means to come to Girona. It is very important that the player shows me that he wants to come here.
One of the saddest things will be letting players who got you here but who are out of contract go. Do you have a say in that?
Obviously I have to focus on training the players I am given, but one of the good things about these last few years is that we have done everything together. Until now, I have focused on the second division, while Quique, as is his job, has been looking at lots of other players. He knows a lot more about who might come here. We have to recognise and respect all the players who helped us get here, but it is something that happens in all teams. They better than anyone know that football is like that. We have to make the decisions together. No doubt Quique will help me 70% and I will help him 30%, but I take equal responsibility for those who will leave.
Pep Guardiola said he will loan you finished players. That sounds good.
To be honest, we haven’t talked clearly about which players might come on loan [from Manchester City]. There are more important things to think about, especially how they might fit into my system. But it is true that Pep has spoken about Girona, which is flattering, and moreover he is sincere and I totally agree with him. Yet, I also know that it is complicated when finished players arrive. If there is a willingness to cooperate on their behalf, then a lot of the work will be done.
There will be 15 or 16 new players on good wages to fill different positions. Will it be difficult to recreate the squad harmony that has been the secret of your success?
Players are people first. Some have an eye on their pockets, it is true, but the fact that a contract guarantees you lots of money does not mean that your behaviour will change. I think we have to make it clear to them where they are coming, explain the club’s philosophy to them, what the team is about. I intend to form a bloc that identifies as a team. I wouldn’t like it to turn into a sort of Tower of Babel, for people with a lot of potential to come, but everyone doing their own thing and not being clear from the start where they are and what they have come to do.