After a playing career that started and ended at Ferro, taking him to Boca Juniors, Gimnasia, Fulham, Celta, Lorca, Racing, Arsenal and Quilmes and hitting over 130 goals along the way, at the age of 37 Facundo Sava starts his coaching career this weekend.
Replacing Daniel Garnero at Argentine first division side San Martín de San Juan, Sava has eight matches to lift the side out of the relegation zone. Before accepting the job, he turned down offers in Argentina and from across Latin American while preparing his career in management. In this interview, while he was still studying social psychology, Sava explains how he approached his first steps in management.
South American Football.co.uk: The first division is not an easy place to start out as a coach – there are immediate pressures to turn results around. Does that concern you at all?
Facundo Sava: No, I want to start out my coaching career here in Argentina and in the first division. The pressures and short termism don’t overly worry me. I have gone to a number of courses, not just the standard coaching course – I have tried to learn about group coordinating, leadership, and I also studied social psychology, to be as ready as possible.
You sound well prepared…
I’ve been thinking about being a coach for 20 years. When I started out, my coach Carlos Griguol told me to note down training drills, the team talks, and how different coaches worked. He said it might be useful later on. I started doing it and a week later I realised I wanted to be a coach.
So you’d barely started out as a player and you were already thinking about coaching…
Absolutely, although maybe that worked against me. As a player I was always thinking like a coach and about the team. I should have been more focused on my job and what I had to do, and there were even problems with coaches over this. I’d always want to talk about tactics. I had to stop thinking about that side of the game, and just play. It is one of the things I worked through with my psychologist.
It is very common in Argentina for players to openly speak about seeing a psychologist, about therapy, as you do, and in fact you studied social psychology. Why do you think that is such an important aspect in the game?
In Argentina it is very accepted. I have been going since 1994 – when I was in London playing for Fulham I found an Argentine psychologist. I was close to quitting football very early as a player. It wasn’t to do with the pressure, I just wasn’t enjoying it, and wasn’t get on with the coach… There were issues I had to work through. But then I started with therapy, and started seeing things differently. And it’s then that I started scoring goals, lots of goals. It was, and still is, a constant learning process.
The Masked Man: Facundo Sava became something of a cult hero during his time in English Football
And how do you see it helping you as a coach?
It helps because the most important thing for a coach is to put himself into the players’ position. It is something he has to do constantly. The coach has to see how the players feel and what they are thinking to get the best from them.
In Argentina there is a constant debate between differing schools of thought on how the game should be played. What can we expect of your teams?
I identify with how Barcelona play…
Everyone wants to play 'tiki tiki'… Doing it is another question altogether.
The thing is, ‘tiki tiki’ isn’t just ‘tiki tiki’ and lots of short passes. ‘Tiki tiki’ is the defenders closing down, anticipating the opposition, players swapping positions, fielding three strikers, midfielders getting forward into the area, but also studying videos, the manner in which the squad train… It’s a lot more than just short passes.
You went to Europe to study how some coaches work. Who did you go to see?
I met Guardiola and watched sessions at Barcelona. The preparation there is amazing. Watching edited clips is a strong side to the work they do – they correct mistakes watching their own games back, as well as the opposition. And the way Guardiola leads the group is incredible.
How much can you replicate that system here, given the pressures to get results immediately, not to mention lower budgets and a lower technical quality of players?
There are teams that do that in Argentina – Vélez for example. In the past couple of years there have been moments when they have played like Barcelona. The way they move from defence to attack, the fullbacks getting forward, midfielders making runs... It is similar. The defenders don’t close down as much as I’d like to see, but they show it is possible. Vélez have players who have been together for years, and the club has excellent installations. They have the sporting director, Cristián Bassedas, who brought new ideas to the club and it shows on the pitch.
Vélez is an exception in Argentina…
You can’t choose where you end up working. To start out, I’ll probably have to take on a team that is on the back of a run of poor results and with low morale. That’s the reality. But Velez wasn’t always in the position it is now. In terms of what I bring to a club, I’m preparing to take the best team I possibly can, and take that club forward.
Who else have you watched, or do you try to learn watching?
I also went to watch José Mourinho at Real Madrid, although I couldn’t meet with him. But I watched how they train and the set up at the club. And I met up with Unai Emery, who is one of the coaches who I learnt the most from as a player. His ideas, how he handles the group, the intensity he works with and how he prepares had a huge influence on me.
Looking ahead, you no doubt hope to work in Europe in the future, yet few Argentine coaches have left their mark. Why do you think that is?
I think its because they don’t prepare enough. In Argentina a lot of us think that that we know everything there is to know. Then suddenly you arrive in Europe, which is a whole new world, a new way of doing things, and it is hard to adapt. The coaching course here is not very strong either, it is not in-depth enough and is very basic. But the main thing is preparation. Hopefully I have done enough to give me a good foundation for when I begin working in Argentina.