This coming weekend we will play an important match against Guangzhou R&F, a tough opposition who have the same goal as us; to play in the AFC Champions League next season. This will be a very special match for me, as it will be my 600th official match as a coach in top-level competitions between Spain and China. Looking even further back, I remember 14 seasons coaching in lower divisions from Regional to Second Division, adding up to around 450 more matches.
My number one emotion associated to these memories is GRATITUDE. I am grateful to the 18 clubs that I have coached in this long journey for giving me the opportunity to develop this beautiful professional and personal experience. Like Cicero once said “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others”. That is why I wish to thank all the club Presidents who placed their trust in me from the bottom of my heart.
I began my career as an amateur coach and never gave a thought to where my work would take me. The first players I coached saw football as a hobby, not as a profession. During the day they were students or worked in construction sites, offices, farms, etc. They played football out of passion and to enjoy themselves. This is where I learned to see people instead of players. I somehow managed to achieve good results with all those first modest teams and gradually climbed up the ladder of regional football, always based on my main distinguishing trait as a coach: creating a good team spirit.
In those first years I always attempted to instil a winning mentality in my teams. Of course, this is always much easier when the team has great players, but one must still try to do it even if that is not the case. All of my coaching courses taught lessons on tactics, technique, physical training… but they never mentioned how to establish a winning mentality.
Throughout my amateur career I continued to learn that constant encouragement brings good results. I tried to learn from each success and each failure, and always came to the same conclusion: a team’s success is based on the self-esteem and confidence of its players. Each season I continued to learn through experience, observation and reflection. My aim was to be a better coach each match and although my ideas and concepts grew and evolved throughout this process, I always maintained the same enthusiasm and perseverance as the very first day.
Eventually I reached the elite of Spanish football. My personality had been formed over time but I always considered that I should never forget my beginnings. Humbleness, hard work and perseverance.
From the beginning, I presented myself like this to my professional players, as a calm and composed person, and aimed to maintain healthy affective relationships with them. I always tried to understand what professional players want from their coach: a boss with extensive theoretical knowledge or a sincere and honest person who trusts them? I believe it is the second.
Goethe used to say “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you will help them to become what they are capable of being”. That has been my philosophy in all the teams I have coached. I have always tried to involve every single player in the project and develop a good team dynamic. My group talks tend to focus on the basics, as I consider that coaching is the process of bringing together a group of varied individuals in order to achieve a common goal.
Destiny has now brought me to China, a completely new country in the way that football is conceived and understood. For me, this meant having to analyse and review all my previous experience. My conclusion was to apply simplicity and basic football concepts, create a group based on shared effort and commitment and, above all, promote mutual trust among all my players. These last three years coaching in China, first Beijing Guoan and now Shanghai SHENHUA, have been an unforgettable experience that I had never envisioned.
And so, next Sunday I will enjoy reminiscing about those ONE THOUSAND matches and will feel extremely grateful to all the players I have coached and whom I carry in my heart, because this is my job, my career, my profession.
All the best,
Gregorio Manzano Ballesteros
Head Coach of Shanghai Shenhua Football Club