Born in Cambrils in 1968, Albert Puig Ortoneda has been a football coach since the age of 16 and for four years (2010-2014) he was the sporting director of grassroots football at FC Barcelona. After being technical director in the Gabon national team and second coach in New York City with Domènec Torrent, he has coached four seasons in the Japanese league.
How has this experience been in Japanese football?
— The first year with Albirex Niigata was very hard because of covid. We played one game and then we went five months without doing anything, and everything we hadn’t done we played in four months. It was brutal. I tried changing the style of the Albirex. It was very complicated but they followed me. There were problems and people fell out with me. The second season we started first and then dropped a bit. But the team evolved very well in the style of play.
Are we talking about the Barça style?
— I focused a lot on the positional style. Going into the third year, I thought that if I got an offer from one of the top eight teams in the First Division, I would give it a try. The offer from FC Tokyo arrived, which has the worst budget, but it was that of the capital. I accepted Albirex continued with my second coach and everything he had taught, with a short passing style. They went up to Primera.
He left a good legacy there.
— A statistic arrived that said Manchester City was the team that made the most short passes, followed by Albirex Niigata. Tokyo was a team that for many years had only dedicated itself to counter-attacking, like Atlético de Madrid, but more beastly. It cost money to change it. In addition, there was no financial investment in the first year. We were sixth. In the second year there was supposed to be investment, but there was none. We started well, but we chained together a very strong streak of injuries. We recovered, but the team didn’t finish the push and I decided to call it quits.
Does Japanese football have any outstanding characteristics?
— It is very technical and intense. As a defect, decision-making is complicated because they have an obedient nature. And it is not very physical, compared to that of the American MLS, where I was second coach of New York City, which is not very technical and very physical.
Going to the beginnings, how did you get the offer to train at Barça?
— I was in Reus Deportiu’s base football team and in the second season I was there I got the offer to do scouting for Barça in the Tarragona area. In 2003, I already joined Barça’s base football team. I started from the bottom and worked my way up, until from 2010 to 2014 I was coordinator of Barça grassroots football. I was nominated by Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova.
How was that stage?
— It was stable, very good. We changed the whole professional theme of grassroots football, which did not exist. It was all very amateur, with coaches who only went to the club in the afternoon. We made all the trainers professional. We managed 0.5% of Barça’s one billion budget and, in those four years as coordinator, we managed to generate 300 million euros in value and sales.
Which players did they sign?
— We had the best talent in Spain: Iñaki Peña, Ansu Fati, Cucurella, Dani Olmo, Abde… Oriol Romeu I signed before, in 2003, as a catcher. We did a tremendous job. And we did it because there was great stability and a person in charge, who was Pep. He would come into my office and ask me which player was going up and which wasn’t, where we should sign. Pep’s great characteristic is his ability to work. He is obsessed with football.
All the players who get to the top are obsessive and only think about football and themselves”
For a guy like this to make it to the first team, what does he need?
— There are two fundamental things: mentality and progression. High-level competitive mindset, as in any job you do. Football is no exception. All the players who make it to the top are obsessive and only think about football and themselves. To overcome all the difficulties, you have to have a very strong mentality. And then, the ability you have each day to be better than the last. An exceptional case in this is Sergio Busquets.
He also attaches great importance to sportsmanship.
— Sportsmanship is mainly in humility, which is what makes you grow. In high competition, only the result counts. On the football field you have to have a warrior mentality, but off the field you have to be humble and have values. And this will help you grow a lot. The most important thing is outside: you have to train and progress. And when you stop progressing your career goes downhill.
And have you seen many of these?
— Many, as in your profession. Football is nothing special. It is special because it is media. If you are dropo or think you are the best, you are wrong.
What difference do you see between Barça today and that of his time?
— It is a refoundation. What was surprising about that Barça was the number of years it was successful. There was a great coach, with a brutal work capacity, who is Pep Guardiola. And he joined several generations of great players and the best player in the world, Messi. With all this talent, it may seem that Barça won few titles, despite winning many. If you reflect it in the Champions League, maybe yes, but, as Pep says, a good coach gives more value to the League, on a day-to-day basis, to what you work on during the week. There are a thousand factors in the Champions League. Look how long it took Manchester City to win it. How many millions invested and how many years. Madrid? It has a broken hand with the Champions League, either because of the mentality, the history… Madrid has more tactical disorder and is based on individuality and comebacks. And in the Champions League format, it’s brutal. Barça or City need the team to play excellently to get results.
Madrid has more tactical disorder and is based on individuality and comebacks”
What will your future be?
— I have already done all the functions up to the elite, except that of sports director. My dream was to be a Barça grassroots football coach and I have far surpassed it. From there, I wanted to add sports and life experiences. Now I am in a period of reflection to see, within this world of football, which path I follow.
#Humility #grow #progress #player