What about Diego Maradona being sacked as head coach? I was worried. OK, the results weren’t great, but his relationship with me and the other coaches was very good. He gave us lots of support, he helped us with everything, and it was great that he came to watch us training. I always said he was doing fine and there was no need for any change, but now we don’t know what’s going to happen to the first team, that’s why we’re feeling a bit down.
Was your idea of Maradona different to the one you found? Totally. He’s a lovely man, affectionate, very proper with us, he was always very correct in his way with dealing with 19 years olds with a chance of making the first team, very professional. No problems, quite the opposite. “Hey, Diego, this lad’s broken his leg”, and he’d come over, visit the player, whatever we asked, he’d do it. So I have no complaints. Whenever I saw him he’d have a kiss, a hug, we’d ask how we were. Very nice, honestly. I’m sorry, because it was great for me to work alongside Diego Maradona and it was good for the club because Al Wasl was famous because of who he is, and now we won’t be in the media as much.
Albert Benaiges is back in Barcelona on holiday after his first year coaching youngsters at Al Wasl in Dubai. He joined FCB in 1991, where he coached at a variety of levels, coinciding at different times with the likes of Xavi, Messi and Iniesta. His roles included those of youth football coordinator and head of FCB Escola before he decided to head for Dubai last year in search of new challenges.
During his holiday, the youth coach spoke to Barça TV. How has the experience been in such a distant country and is the football that different? What is it like? Personally, it’s been a magnificent experience. Great in a sporting sense. It was the first year and we’ve had to reorganise the whole club because it was as if they were stuck in the 60s. It was quite hard, but I think we’ve made a good start. And we won the award for the best academy in Dubai. So I think it was a job well done.
Is it hard to take the Barça method to such a different place? It is, but the kids watch Barça play on TV and try to copy them. Even some of the other clubs have started playing the ball from the back. That means the thing’s catching on. In the Spain team and in Barça, this style is catching on.
What’s the hardest thing about taking a methodology to another place after it has made so many stars at Barça? The difficulty is fitness associated to the ball and to football, something unknown to them. They found it hard to believe you could work on fitness while playing football. That was the hardest thing.
There are a lot of Barça coaches around the world. Is it positive that our ideas are being taken elsewhere? Sure it is. I think these countries look at Barça and want to play the way that’s in fashion, the same with futsal. There were seven Spanish coaches there. Spain is the fashion in football, and we have to exploit that and be professional, try to do things as well as possible, because these people are very grateful for the work we’re doing.
Is it not hard to show that this is not an automatic process, that you can’t just go there and turn them into Barça, that they have to be patient? They know that perfectly well, we have a five year contract. The hope is that 13 year old children now will play like that when they are 18 and then move up to the first team. The contract makes that clear, it’s a long-term project.
What about the decision to make Tito Vilanova manager of FC Barcelona? I was surprised when I heard, but after 10 minutes of thought I realised it was the right decision. The Barça players were probably wondering who was going to come. Tito brings continuity, and there are no men who belong more at the club than Jordi Roura and Altimira. I didn’t expect Tito to be the choice, but it was the right one. The players are happy because they know there will be no big changes.
What do you remember of Tito Vilanova when he started coaching, when he was in charge of the Cadet B team for two years? Everything I can say about Tito is good. We spent three weeks together with that Cadet B team and he was very respectful. He taught me some important things about football. For example, warm-up drills and the 5x3 positional game that he implanted to such effect. Then I moved on to the Juvenil and he stayed, but we still maintained a great relationship. He was top class in a football sense.
Did he have the right personality? “Yes, he felt like a coach. He was a lad making the best of things. If you’d asked me then if I’d thought he’d be the first team coach, I wouldn’t have known what to say, but you could tell he had a future in coaching, he had clear ideas and got them across well