Mauricio Pellegrino, the complete coach who hates losing and frets when he wins | Sid Lowe


Southamptons new administrator, highly regarded for his man-management and tactical nous, preoccupies about the damage succes can impose on players hunger

There were around 40 people on the coaching course Mauricio Pellegrino took when he was a musician at Valencia in 1999 and he wanted to know what it was that moved them to be there, so he did something he has done ever since football took him from his home in the Argentinian pampas: he asked and he listened. There were all sorts of reasons but amazingly few matched his. For some, it was just something to do. For others, it was about money, just a undertaking. Not for Pellegrino. He asked a friend there whether he would take it if a tiny third divide fraternity came for him. No, he said. Coachings not your vocation, then, Pellegrino replied.

It is Pellegrinos. Had it not been for football I would never have left home, he once mentioned. He was a little introverted, at least to start with, and one former team-mate says football is his life while he told a player who worked under him that through football he found a route to express himself. Especially through coaching, his calling. He has emerged and evolved over the years but even as a musician he was a manager. Louis van Gaal once told: Hell make a great coach. Although Pellegrino was not pleased, joking that signified the Dutchman did not think he was much of a centre-back, Van Gaal is not a boy paid attention to handing out praises and he knew he was right.

Pellegrino did not ever think he was much of a musician, either: he was too tall, too skinny, too clumsy, he had problems with his back. But there was something about him that team-mates and coach-and-fours appreciated that took him to Barcelona, Valencia and Liverpool, and a coaching job that now brings him to Southampton via Spain and Argentina. He builds you think, his former centre-back spouse Roberto Ayala mentions. He induces himself think, too, particularly about others.

The goalkeeper Santi Caizares, a team-mate at Valencia, tells: He shared his experience with everyone: he listened and advised, analysed, put himself into people skins: he was practically a psychologist. He was not our best centre-back but he was the centre-back the coach-and-four most valued. He ever had a positive position, he had no resentment at all , no anger, it was always, always about the team. He understood tactically, he was obsessed with the team, he took responsibility: too much. He was ashamed by defeat. Ive known very few musicians like that. He has three things: unbelievable humility, complete professionalism and he never celebrated victory.

Pellegrino once admitted: Football was my school of life but I had a big deficit as a musician: I didnt enjoy it. Now he belief he can help players do so and he has changed a little but that mind played a part in shaping him. In Argentina football is cultural, he explained to El Pas . Losing is a drama; winning is only good because it entails not losing. The social abandonment “youre feeling” when you lose stimulates us very competitive. Winning, by contrast, blunts your rim and avoiding that is something that preoccupies him. Preoccupies him, according to one friend.

Caizares shared that attitude and laments its loss in the game but laughs where reference is recollects Pellegrino asking before the 2001 Champions League final: What if we win? How will we get our humility back? Bloody hell, Flaco , he responded. Let merely win first, yeah?

Mauricio Pellegrino, playing for Valencia, has his penalty saved by Oliver Kahn in the shootout of the 2001 Champions League final to produce Bayern Munich the title. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/ Reuters

They called Pellegrino Flaco , the Skinny One, everywhere except at Barcelona, whom he had is participating in 1998; Johan Cruyff was the only Flaco there. Pellegrino never ran under Cruyff but he did work with Van Gaal, who swiftly saw something in him.

At Valencia, Claudio Ranieri saw it too, as did Hctor Cper. Under him they did not win that Champions League final, and Pellegrino missed the decisive penalty in the shootout, but Caizares insists: To win, you have to lose first. Two consecutive European Cup final defeats were followed by two league names in three years, Valencia overcoming the galcticos , and the manager who led that historic side certainly saw something in him. Rafael Bentez took Pellegrino to Liverpool with him in 2005 as much for what he could do for the team as what he could do in it.

He remained simply a season but returned as Bentezs assistant in 2008, although one former musician says he was still a peripheral figure, occupying a backseat. He watched and listened, as he ever had: as a musician, Pellegrino would question every decision not because he was accusing his tutors but because he was analysing them. Never standing still, never satisfied that he had find a definitive answer.

He has said he learned organisation from Marcelo Bielsa, space from Van Gaal. With Bentez, he saw the obsession with tactics, and England from within, how it is played and lived, what it intends culturally. The feel for video games and for his musicians, though, is his own and theres a moral element to it. People have less religious belief and less notion in legislators: the only thing we have left to identify with is the shirt, he has said. Thats for life: grandad, father, grandson unified by a colour. Im not against business, but I dont want that cultural part to be lost.

Players confirm Pellegrino, the son of farmers, repeatedly tells them that athletic challenges the values of civilization, where individualism predominates. Culture, he says, demands that you win, that you have the best auto, the most fund; football demands that you help your team-mate, even if that means not scoring , not playing , not being in the spotlight. If the team are better, you are better. Yet achieving that signifies engaging with people, understanding. When I grew up tutors never asked: How do you feel? But if I dont ask a musician, how am I going to know his nightmares? he has asked.

Mauricio Pellegrino, right, with Rafael Bentez, left, and Xavi Valero in 2009 during a spell on Liverpools coaching faculty. Photograph: Paul Ellis/ AFP/ Getty Images

At Alavs last season, that dream was a Copa del Rey final only the second beaker final, after the 2001 Uefa Cup which they lost to Liverpool, in the 96 -year history of the fraternity from Vitoria in the Basque Country. He transmits to the players what the club and the city signify: he has built a side the fans identify with, says the captain, Manu Garca, born in Vitoria and a lifelong member at Mendizorroza. Hes a very complete tutor; not many have the tactical awareness of video games and also so much flair for group handling. He and his staff have a lot of left to right; they have the whole team plugged in, they avoid conflict, everyone gets an opportunity.

Pellegrino has two aide coaches, Carlos Campagnucci and Xavi Tamarit, writer of a book on the assumption of periodisation parent by Vtor Frade and must be accompanied by Jos Mourinho, among others. His fitness coach, David Rodrguez, and the goalkeeper coach, Javier Lpez Vallejo, complete the team who have had a huge impact in Vitoria.

As Garca talks enthusiastically through Pellegrinos tactical alterations, his model as it switchings from 4-4-2 into 4-3-3, the multiple functions of the full-backs, the two central midfielders becoming one, the striker falling in, the search for numerical superiority, you get a feel for the depth of realise, the lane it is mechanised, parts interlocking, every component interdependent. Im 31, and of course Ive learned a lot from all my tutors, but in just one year he has taught me to understand the game so much better than I did before and thats not such an easy thing to do, Garca says.

He reads the game very well. He is a strategist, he analyses adversaries closely and he believes in juego posicional [ a positional play ]. He has a lot of faith in that approach, in defence but also in assault: respect the positions, a well-ordered team, everything under control. He likes his team to express the way he is: intelligent, insight, ordered. He runs hard during the week and the things he plans for usually happen at the weekend.

Not that there is any guarantee, Pellegrino knows: the opposition play-act, too, and overcome awaits. He spent his playing job desperate to avoid it but he has come to accept it and learn from it, too; it induced him who he is. He also knows that it has an impact on the way he is visualized, even if he does not change. He knows “they dont have” single answer and that moralities can soon be seen as vices.

Football is like two people dancing: if the other person treads on your toes, you cant lift your heels, he tells. Its 22 , not 11. There is what you want to do and what you can do. Experience shows that good results and bad results are part of the same packet. If youre tranquilize and you win “theyre saying”: The team is doing well because hes calm. If you lose, they say: Hes so calm he cant get the team going. You can see a prince or a frog in every musician, every coach-and-four, and everyone.

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