Manzano is the sixth active manager with most games in the history of the Spanish League. He is currently living a successful adventure coaching Beijing Guoan in the Chinese Super League. During the off-season, he sat down to chat with MARCA.
The meeting with Gregorio Manzano took place in Madrid, in the famous restaurant Mesón Txistu. He is very satisfied with his current experience at Beijing Guoan (China). His team ended up second in the League and fought for the title until the last game. The coach from Jaén is now resting for a few weeks in Spain before starting preseason training.
Question. This is the first time you have worked abroad; what can you tell us about it?
Answer. My personal experience has been excellent. I have lived some amazing aspects of Chinese culture first hand, not just as a tourist. Professionally, I never imagined that we would have such good results. Making it to the last match with a chance to win the League against the all-powerful Evergrande was unthinkable. I remember that, at the start of the season, they made us sign a protocol in the team’s bus. My slogan said: “We will fight for the title”. Everyone was very surprised and told me I was being very ambitious.
- Evergrande has won four consecutive League titles. What was it like to beat them at their own stadium?
- It was amazing. It was the first time this had ever happened and afterwards we were greeted at the airport by 3,000 fans. The club’s president later told me “No matter how the League ends, you are now the king of China, even if you don’t have a crown”. That is what I cherish the most; the recognition from all Chinese football.
- You are the 13th manager with most matches in the history of the Spanish league. Did you need a big dose of humility when you decided to set out on this adventure?
- I have always been quite humble throughout my career, since I started in 1983. I don’t think it has ever gone to my head. I have tried to be humble in victory and to learn from defeats. When we started out in China, at the beginning players often didn’t understand what we were trying to say and I told my staff “we are the ones who need to make a change; we have to adapt to them”. From that point onwards they started to see us as part of the team; they realised we had come to work together a part of the group and all the barriers fell. I have no trouble with getting my hands dirty and adaptation to China hasn’t been a problem”.
MANZANO: “Beijing Guoan would probably be in the middle-bottom half of the Spanish League”
- How do you think your team would fare in the Spanish League?
- I recently saw a comparison that put our work on a par with that of Real Sociedad, in terms of statistics. On the pitch, I think we would probably be in the middle-bottom half of the League. But it is very difficult to make such comparisons.
- Are there any similarities between this Beijing Guoan and any of your Spanish teams?
- I have been asked this before: my Chinese team has played better than some of my Spanish teams. We have conceded the least goals, had more possession and completed more passes than any other team in our League. We have won through quality and personality. Our rivals have always had to adapt their game to ours. The hardest part was working on movement with possession. When you don’t have the ball, everything is easier to assimilate.
MANZANO: “Some Spanish players have asked me to take them to China”
- Has it been a heavy burden to represent Spanish football abroad?
- I have always tried to play good football; I do now and I did so before. Perhaps in China they have thought I was exporting that image. We have dominated every aspect of the game, not just attack. In some games the opposition hardly had any chances to score against us. Rival managers have told me that they were surprised by how quickly my players learned to press in the opposite box. That made me feel proud.
- Let’s talk about the Spanish League. Do you watch many games in Beijing?
- As many as I can, but the time difference is not very favourable. The Chinese channel that shows the Spanish League is not the most popular.
- What is your feeling for this season?
- The same as usual. The Spanish League has always been divided into three different periods: at the beginning all the teams start off at full throttle and the big clubs are still a bit unsteady because many of their top players are just returning from holiday after international duty. Then you get a period when the big guns find their cruise speed, and a final stretch when the best teams show all their cards. I think we are still in that first phase.
MANZANO: “I try to be humble and have no trouble with getting my hands dirty, so adaptation to China hasn’t been a problem”
- Sevilla, one of your former teams, has had a very good start.
- Emery did a great job in Valencia and I hope he can continue to do so at Sevilla. I have very fond memories. But at the end of the day, the level of the teams only leaves the fourth place to fight for; the first three seem pretty certain.
- The institutional situation at Mallorca is a real shame.
- The management situation has been very complicated recently. When you do things right at the administrative level, that is reflected on the pitch eventually. There have been far too many changes and the team has not been immune to it. If the waters do calm down, I am sure they will be able to make it the top part of their League.
- How would you persuade a Spanish player to go to China with you?
- Actually, there have been six or seven players who have called me saying “Coach, take me with you if you get a chance”. China is a market with good opportunities for Spanish players. It’s a shame that I can’t hire any more foreigners at the moment; I already have a full quota.
- When will you coach in Spain again?
- Circumstances will decide that. I have a contract for another year over there and, if an opportunity comes up, I would be happy to return to Spain. The chance to emigrate has been thanks to my trajectory in Spain, to the experience I built here. There’s plenty of time to return.
“The Spanish League is hardly followed in China”. Is the Spanish League popular in China or is it just a fairy tale? Is it worth changing the whole schedule of the Spanish competition for the sake of accessing the Asian market?
We didn’t ask Manzano the question so straightforwardly, but we did approach the subject.
Is the Spanish League followed in China? Nobody better than him, who lives there, to answer this: “At the beginning, when I first arrived, I perceived that Spanish football was hardly followed compared to the Premiership and the Bundesliga, which are the most popular competitions. Later, I have seen some following, but it is still a long way away from English and German football. The schedules don’t help of course, as Spanish games are played far too late for the Chinese audience”.
About the future, Manzano told us: “The management of football TV rights also counts, I guess. When [Spanish Prime Minister] Rajoy came to China, Javier Tebas, the President of the Spanish League, came with him and I suppose some meetings were held. It seems clear that the Spanish League should try to increase its presence in China”.
Juan Castro and Hugo Cerezo