What is so special about Spanish coaches?Article
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FEATURE: Seven coaches from Spain take charge of teams in the VELUX EHF Champions League Last 16 this weekend and they discuss why they have been so successful around Europe

»EHF CL Channel »2014-15 Men's News

What is so special about Spanish coaches?

The VELUX EHF Champions League Last 16 begins this weekend with seven Spanish coaches at the helm. Xavi Pascual (FC Barcelona), Jota González (Naturhouse la Rioja), Manolo Cadenas (Orlen Wisla Plock), Juan Carlos Pastor (Pick Szeged), Talant Djushebaev (Kielce), Antonio Carlos Ortega (Veszprem) and Raúl González (Vardar Skopje) are all competing to reach the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in May

Since 2005, when the Spanish team won its first World Championship in Tunisia, the “Hispanos” have become to be one of the most important handball teams of the world, but their rise has coincided with a major fall of fortunes for the Spanish Asobal League.

This fall forced many Spanish players to move abroad in order to find a suitable club and a number of coaches have gone the same way.

The coaches in particular have had a major impact on teams in Europe and the fact that seven of the 16 remaining teams in Europe’s elite club competition have a Spaniard leading the way speaks volumes for what their style of handball can achieve.

All seven spoke to ehfCL.com to define the reasons behind the rise of Spanish coaches in Europe and explain what qualities in their handball philosophy make them so successful.

More tactics, less power

Veszprem coach Antonio Carlos Ortega was the first of the seven to leave Spain and has enjoyed immense success since, reaching the VELUX EHF FINAL4 last season thanks largely to his tactical imprint on the Hungarian champions.

“Our generation have lived and learned in a school that has given much attention to the tactics in handball. For that reason, the Spanish handball is much more tactical. We had to adapt in order to bring our ideas to a team with more physical and powerful players.

“I think handball is becoming more physical than tactical, but if a physical player can play well tactically, he has many more advantages than the rest,” explains Ortega, who will visit Spain for the first leg of their Last 16 clash against Naturhouse La Rioja.

Jota Gonzalez has brought La Rioja to the Last 16 for the first time in the club’s history and is looking forward to an all-Spanish coaching duel.

“It's funny that seven Spanish coaches have made it to the Last 16 of the Champions League. It is very nice for coaches and for Spanish handball, because it means that the most important teams in Europe rely on Spanish coaches.

“I don’t think there is a Spanish school, but I think there is a certain style of handball, with different nuances. I think this started with the World Championship title won by Spain in Tunisia with Juan Carlos Pastor.”

Pastor himself has moved abroad and last season led Pick Szeged to EHF Cup success. Szeged will take on Rhein-Neckar Löwen in the opening knockout round and will be looking to execute the perfect brand of handball against them.

“From our victory in Tunisia, in 2005, began a big change in handball. Teams wanted to avoid exclusions in defence and pressure to cause errors in the opponent’s attack. In the attack they began to play quieter handball.

“The Spanish coaches are more tactical than the rest of Europe, because Spanish players are not as big and strong. We had to find other ways to play, with tactics, strategy, intelligence and preparation for matches.

“In Hungary, for example, all the players are physical. My goal is to combine the physical with Spanish tactics and strategy. I think this combination leads to perfect handball.”

Difficult to apply

Another all-Spanish coaching encounter will see Manolo Cadenas’ Orlen Wisla Plock take on Vardar Skopje, coached by Raúl González.

Cadenas attributes the rise of Spanish coaches to three factors: “When the Spanish league started to attract the best players, the coaches had to be at the level of these players and the league competition.

“The style of coaching which we all learned, mainly thanks to Domingo Bárcenas and Juan de Dios Román, was important. Finally, the last push was when Spanish teams began to win major titles in both club and national team competitions.”

The opposing coach this weekend, Raúl González, gives credit to another reason for the emigration of Spanish coaches and speaks about the challenges facing him and his fellow coaches abroad.

“It is not a change in mentality of European teams, but Spanish coaches used to have everything they needed in Spain. Now, the Spanish league is not like it was before and we have to cross borders. European clubs have also seen that they can sign a Spanish coach to improve their team.

“The Spanish culture loves teamwork, not only in handball, but in all team sports. We know how to integrate players into the teams. We can get engage the players.

“It is very difficult to apply the Spanish style abroad. You have to go slowly and know that not everyone thinks like you. You cannot go breaking the mould from the start.”

Not all Spanish coaches think alike

Kielce coach Talant Dujshebaev believes that the likes of Juan de Dios Roman and Juan Antón gave rise to the current crop of successful coaches, who are very different from the rest.

“Spanish coaches are different, we have a unique style. The Spanish league used to have 18 very good teams, so it was a very competitive competition. There is something special that makes us different.

“With the rise of Spanish coaches in Europe, we realise the good level we had in our league and our country. Unfortunately, most of us are bringing everything good from Spain abroad. I'm sure this will hurt Spain and handball there.”

However, Xavi Pascual takes a very different stance. The coach of Spain’s most successful club side and perennial contender in Europe’s premier club competition, FC Barcelona, maintains that his club is different.

“I think in Barcelona, we play different than the Spanish model. We did not play like Djushebaev, Jota, Pastor or Cadenas.

“In handball, like in the life, there are trends, and now the Spanish handball style is a trend. We have great people with a different kind of handball. The centre backs are very important, especially for understanding our game concept, which is based on the collective and not one against one.

“There is no handball perfect style, there are different kinds of styles to play handball. Not all Spanish trainers think alike,” concludes Pascual, who hopes to be one of up to five Spanish coaches to progress to the quarter-finals with victory over Aalborg Handball on 15 and 22 March.

TEXT: Adrià Barrio / cor