In the wake of Pep Guardiola’s stunning treble with Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain turning to Luis Enrique, it is clear Spanish coaching is in vogue.
The duo, both treble winners at Barcelona, are joined by plenty of compatriots at other top-flight sides on the continent.
Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta, Guardiola’s former assistant, ran City close for the English title last season.
With a different approach to the game, Unai Emery has pulled up trees with Aston Villa, Bournemouth sprang for the exciting Andoni Iraola, while Julen Lopetegui helped Wolves avoid the drop and Marseille appointed Marcelino Garcia Toral in June.
Spanish coaches have been increasingly appealing since the country dominated world football between 2008 and 2012, La Roja winning European Championships in those years, as well as the 2010 World Cup.
Nations League victory this summer, under Luis de la Fuente, who replaced Luis Enrique in December, is a further boost after a fallow period.
With Spain’s football so dominant – at club level LaLiga teams have won 11 of the last 24 Champions Leagues and 12 of the last 20 Europa Leagues – overseas clubs watched with covetous eyes.
That interest leads to a “brain drain” effect but the Spanish FA’s coaching school quickly produces replacements.
“We are the reflection in the federation of how they work at the clubs and in the youth academies,”
“The level of Spanish coaches is the best in the world, and I’m not saying that about myself, obviously.
“I try to take advantage of the work of the Spanish coaches.”Said Spain U21 coach Santi Denia after leading his team into the Euro 2023 final for that age category.
TECHNICAL AND TACTICAL
LaLiga currently has 17 Spanish coaches among its 20 sides, as well as four operating in England, three in France including Luis Enrique, and one in Germany.
Almost 27 per cent of teams across Europe’s top five leagues have a Spaniard at the helm, as of July 2023.
Without the spending power of other leagues – outside of Spain’s big three of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico – many clubs focus on coaching players rather than buying new ones.
Instead of the power, speed and frantic nature English football is known for, in Spain teams have often looked to hone some of the more technical and tactical aspects of the game.
Even though elsewhere teams defend with more brawn, backlines in Spain are often tougher to break down because they control spaces superbly.
In the Premier League supporters sometimes derided passing the ball out from the back or considered it too risky, but an increasing majority of teams now employ the strategy.
While the “tiki-taka” style in its purest form has faded, with even Guardiola moving on, the key elements of it still propel City’s game.
Combining that level of technique and positional play with the physicality and velocity the Premier League is known for has found the apex of the two styles.
Guardiola’s treble-winning team has an imposing spine, from Erling Haaland to Rodri to regularly lining up with four central defenders, but still dominating with the ball.
That union of styles is reflected in the personality of Luis Enrique, a forceful presence both as a player and in the dug-out, but a staunch advocate of possession football while in charge of Spain.
Perhaps it also explains how so many coaches have come from one province of Spain’s Basque country – Guipuzcoa.
Iraola, Emery, Lopetegui and Arteta all hail from there, along with current Real Sociedad coach Imanol Alguacil and Bayer Leverkusen’s Xabi Alonso.
The weather in that region is closer to England than the scorching south and the teams historically played in a more physical style than their LaLiga counterparts.
“I don’t think it’s coincidence, we must have some common thread,”
“I don’t know if it’s the Basque character connecting well with the English, our style, our way of being, or our seriousness.”Arteta told Marca in an interview in June.
Regardless of whether Spanish coaches lean towards attacking or defensive styles, they are tactically rigorous.
One outlier is Jose Luis Mendilibar, who led Sevilla to Europa League glory last season with a back-to-basics approach – at least that’s how he describes it.
As well as the appeal of Spanish coaches to foreign sides, the attraction is mutual, not least because many coaches can earn more abroad than in Spain.
LaLiga teams have been tightening their purse strings for years while Premier League spending continues to rise.
That means coaches can have access to a higher calibre of player than back home and have more requests met in the transfer market.
Spanish is also the second language spoken in many Premier League dressing rooms featuring South American players – including Portuguese-speaking Brazilians, who are often comfortable with it.
Rafa Benitez was the first Spaniard to coach in the English top flight, leading Liverpool to Champions League glory in 2005 – and even he was criticised for his zonal marking defensive set-up.
Since then Spanish coaching influence on football in the Premier League and other top divisions has steadily risen, and Luis Enrique’s arrival in Paris is the latest example.